Mind and Soul. Better together.

List of 8 news stories.

  • Israel Trip 2015 - Yom Hazikaron & Yom Ha-atzma'ut

    April 22 – 23, 2015

    We intentionally plan the eighth grade trip so that our students could experience Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom Ha-atzma’ut (Independence Day) in Israel. From early childhood through seventh grade, we observe these days at school with real sadness and real joy. Guided by our core value of Tzionut (Zionism), our teachers help their students to love Israel and feel a connection to her. Because of what we do so successfully in Farmington Hills, our eighth graders aren’t tourists or bystanders when they come here; they take part in the grieving, and they celebrate Israel’s independence with all their hearts.

    It is both meaningful and emotionally challenging to observe these holidays in sequence, one after another. Not everyone is able to celebrate whole-heartedly on Yom Ha-atzma’ut; bereaved families, especially those whose wounds are still fresh, can feel left by the wayside as the entire country switches from mourning to celebration while their grief remains strong. Many of our eighth graders expressed to me their understanding of how hard it must be; their emotional awareness was touching and profound.

    Yesterday morning, we attended a ceremony at the Frankel School, a K-5 school in Jerusalem with which we have a relationship. One speaker suggested a connection between the two days; she said that both days are about gratitude and unity. I understood the link of gratitude immediately—we are grateful to the soldiers who lost their lives, and to the state for all it has given us—but at first, I didn’t see her point when it came to unity. Grief can isolate as much as it can unite! But then I realized that Yom Hazikaron is like a day of shiva where every Israeli is both a mourner and a consoler. Our eighth graders too filled these roles; we mourned, and offered consolation. Even families who feel alone in their grief end up feeling united with other Israelis because we all support each other.

    Alli wrote the following about Yom Hazikaron:

    Today was Yom Hazikaron, the saddest day of the year here in Israel. It is the day that we remember all of the soldiers who fell for the sake of their beloved land, Israel. Yesterday (Tuesday) night, we went to an amazing ceremony just outside of Jerusalem. We heard six amazing stories about soldiers who didn’t even live in Israel but decided to join the army because they felt a special connection with Israel, being Jewish. This morning (Wednesday), we first went to the Frankel School to watch and be a part of their Yom Hazikaron ceremony. We said many different prayers and laid a beautiful wreath. During this ceremony we also heard the siren that was blasted throughout Israel. We all stood in silence. It was a very powerful moment. We’ve all heard the siren at school, but today we actually got to hear the real siren in Israel.

    After the ceremony we went to Ammunition Hill. We saw an amazing movie about the soldiers who survived the war and were able to show and teach their families about the battle they fought to unify Jerusalem. We also played a very fun game reenacting the Six Day War. We all crawled in trenches and climbed on army tanks trying to save Israel. It was a blast!

    Then, it was time to go to Mount Herzl. We were all a little nervous to go because we have never experienced something so sad and powerful. We saw many famous graves for fighters like Hannah Senesh, Yoni Netanyahu (Benyamin Netanyahu’s brother), Max Steinberg (an American volunteer who died last summer in the war in Gaza), and many others. Walking through this cemetery was extremely sad and depressing. All of us being from America, we don’t really take our memorial day as serious as the Israelis do. Walking through Mount Herzl really helped us appreciate what all of the soldiers had done for Israel and it taught us to be more grateful and appreciative that we live in such an amazing place, and that we have freedom, rights, and that we don’t need to be scared of living in such an amazing place. Yom Hazikaron was truly an incredibly sad and powerful day that we will all remember for the rest of our lives.

    Alli’s words powerfully demonstrate the impact this trip is having on our students. They are absorbing everything with mind and soul.

    Last night, we went to Ben Yehudah Street to celebrate Yom Ha-atzma’ut; our students loved being out in the crowds, buying food, getting sprayed with shaving cream, and having fun. Today, after a spirited minyan that featured Hallel and a special Torah reading, we went to the Old City for the first time. We visited the City of David, walked through a 2,500-year-old water tunnel that saved Jerusalem from an Assyrian assault, toured the Jewish Quarter, and more. Having mourned the cost of Israel’s wars, we were able to celebrate Yom Ha-atzma’ut with real appreciation for the miracle of Israel’s existence and success.

    Time is flying by; by this time next week, we will be back at Detroit Metro. We still have many amazing experiences ahead of us, but we are already starting to feel sad about coming home. This sadness, though, is good; it pushes us to make the most of every moment we are here!

    Lailah tov from the outskirts of Jerusalem,
    Rabbi Berger
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  • Israel Trip 2015 - Day Nine!

    April 21, 2015

    The tears that were running down our faces only a few hours ago have dried, but during the Yom Hazikaron ceremony, they flowed steadily from our eyes. Now, back at our hotel, it is a good time to reflect on the rest of the day, which was full of interesting, uplifting, and fun experiences that are worth remembering. Still, it’s hard for me to think back to the morning when my mind is still wrapped up in Israel’s Memorial Day.

    Our day began in Tzippori, where Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi compiled the Mishnah 1800 years ago. At Hillel, our students begin studying Mishnah in fifth grade; it is an essential source of the way we live as Jews today. We spent most of our time in a house that may have been his; it contains a beautiful mosaic floor, and other luxuries that mark it as the home of an elite and wealthy leader.

    We then made our way to Kfar Kedem, where a charismatic educator talked to us about why we had come, how we were linked to our ancestors, and the role of Mishnah in our lives. I was so proud of our students; they had beautiful and accurate answers to each of his questions. Later, he privately praised them to me and told me he felt they were really on shlihut, meaning that they have a sort of mission to perpetuate and strengthen Jewish life in America.

    But Kfar Kedem wasn’t just serious. Here’s what Hannah, an eighth grader, adds about our time there:

    Today we went to Kfar Kedem, and did many cool things that everyone enjoyed. The highlight of the day was donkey riding. First, though, we had to wear turbans on our heads, and weird smocks with stripes. We had a seminar on how flour was harvested and made. The kids made a rock go in circles which made the oats turn into flour. We then went to eat lunch; the food was really good, and I thought it was better than any other meal we have had here. Once we were done we finally got onto the donkeys. We ended up having a really great time!

    From there, we drove to Caesarea, the Roman-style city King Herod built on the coast of the Mediterranean. Here are Sami’s words on our experience there:

    So far, this day has been phenomenal. My favorite place we went to was Caesarea. I was infatuated with the ancient city for the same reason I was with Masada. Seeing the remnants of the past so clearly before my eyes was truly breathtaking. It’s incredible to think that hundreds and hundreds of years ago, people stood on those very grounds who wore different clothing, thought different things, and spoke a different tongue, but were still people like us—Jews like us. As a group, we got to experience (in a very different way, fortunately) what they had felt by racing on the path that the chariot racers battled upon. We also got the opportunity to sit in the original ancient theatre. We learned so much about the history of the harbor city, and got a great peek into the culture of the ancient times.

    From Caesarea, we drove to the outskirts of Jerusalem for dinner and then the Yom Hazikaron ceremony. I will write more about it, and about the day as a whole, in my next letter; for now, I will just say that the eighth graders were wonderful. They brought with them all the love of Israel they’ve absorbed, and the understanding of Yom Hazikaron’s meaning that they have attained, in their years at Hillel. They were mature beyond their years; we were united in respect for those who fell, and sadness for what has been lost.

    Lailah tov from the Jerusalem hills,

    Rabbi Berger
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  • Israel Trip 2015 - Day Eight

    April 20, 2015

    Some trips to Israel have itineraries that are organized thematically; they might devote one day to ancient Israel, another day to Israel’s water sources, and another to minority cultures and religions. There is some value to this kind of planning, but it often requires lots of long drives between far-flung sites. We would rather spend as much time as possible on the ground, not on our buses, and so our days often contain a wide variety of activities and destinations that are near each other.

    Today was typical; it included something spiritual, something physical, something military and something fun! From start to finish, it was terrific—and there was something for everyone.

    Our first stop—for morning minyan—left us incredibly proud of the skills our students gain at Hillel; I want to share the story with you so that you can be proud, too! We had chosen to pray outdoors, on the edge of a beautiful valley, but doing so meant that we couldn’t read Torah from an actual sefer Torah; instead, we read from the printed text at the back of our siddurim. On the bright side, this meant that instead of a few pre-designated Torah readers, we could all join in together.

    And they did. It was amazing; it felt like the entire eighth grade was singing along. But they had no advance notice or time to practice; how were they able to do it? Well, they first learned those aliyot in fourth grade, with Morot Levy, Leibovich, Littman, and Wilner; each child learned one of the four portions. But today, most students read more than just one aliyah; to do so, they drew on their Hebrew reading ability, which came from every Ivrit teacher they’d had from kindergarten up; the Torah reading skills they got from their synagogue-based bar/bat mitzvah tutors; and from all their memories of hearing their peers read Torah on Rosh Hodesh from fifth grade on up. So, the simple act of reading Torah from a siddur testified to the number of people who had brought them to this point.

    And this has been the case throughout the trip. They hear about plate tectonics, or the Ottoman Empire, or a story from Tanakh, and they make connections to when they learned those topics at Hillel. They converse in Hebrew with Israelis, or talk confidently about Israel’s geography, or sing an Israeli song while hiking down a mountain, and they are using skills and knowledge they acquired at Hillel. The trip is great that way.

    We then went on a long hike—approximately 3 ½ hours. It was beautiful, and took us into and out of a valley. From there, we drove to Mount Bental, a good place to learn about Israel’s relations with Lebanon and Syria. Finally, we rafted two miles down the Jordan River; we splashed each other and relaxed as the current propelled us to our destination. It’s late, so I will say goodnight. Tonight is our last night in the Golan; tomorrow, we make our way to Jerusalem!

    Lailah tov from the north,
    Rabbi Berger
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  • Israel Trip 2015 - Days Five through Seven!

    April 18 – 19, 2015

    Since I last sat down to record my thoughts, we have enjoyed a wonderful, peaceful Shabbat and a fun, thrilling Sunday. It’s now late Sunday night, and I want to set down my thoughts before I fall too far behind in my journaling. I will begin with some reflections by one of our eighth graders; I hope to include more of their thoughts in the week to come.

    I asked Bebe two questions: What did you do on Shabbat, and how did it feel to spend Shabbat in Israel with your fellow eighth graders? Her response follows:

    We’re staying at Kibbutz Afik in the Golan Heights, and it’s beyond gorgeous! On Friday night, we all got dressed in our Shabbat clothes, and then met up in a grassy area to daven. Everybody was singing together. After we davened, we went to have Shabbat dinner, which was super yummy! The next day we got to sleep in until 8:00 a.m., which was very refreshing because we have been waking up at 7:00 a.m. every day. Many of us had friends and family who live in Israel who came to the kibbutz to visit us; I didn’t have any visitors, so I just hung out with my friends for a few hours.

    For havdalah, we all stood around in a circle, and we felt like a community. In America, Jewish people are the minority, while in Israel you don’t feel like that; it was really cool to experience that sense of belonging. That night, we went on a boat ride around the Kinneret, and it was so much fun! We were all dancing and jumping on the boat, and looking at the city lights surrounding the lake. We then were able to eat and shop. Israel is so amazing, and I’m beyond happy that I was given the opportunity to be here with my grade!

    Consider how much is expressed in just these two short paragraphs! A love of Israel, of Shabbat, of her Hillel friends; a connection to the Jewish people; and above all, a tremendous sense of gratitude. So much of our mission and core values finds expression in these two paragraphs. Speaking both as a Hillel educator and a Hillel parent, it seems to me that Bebe expresses exactly what we want for our students.

    Today—Sunday—we resumed our travels. Rosh Hodesh began today, and so our prayers included both Hallel and a Torah service; the students, of course, led everything with skill and spirit. After breakfast, we proceeded to the Arbel, an amazing hike that involves descending down a cliff with the assistance of cables and ladder rungs embedded in the rock, followed by long, sloping trails down the rest of the hill. The eighth graders were equal to the challenge; they had a great time making their way down, and were justifiably proud of themselves by the end.

    From the Arbel, we drove to Tzfat. We walked through the city, visited an important medieval synagogue, stood at the spot where the Kabbalat Shabbat service was created 500 years ago, and shopped in some of the beautiful art galleries that can be found there. The eighth graders had their first chance to buy gifts for their parents and siblings, and many found beautiful and heartfelt presents.

    Finally, we headed to Kibbutz Yifat for a chance to meet Israeli kids from our Partnership region who had been to Camp Tamarack for a summer. They took part in an educational activity together—the topic was Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day—and then just hung out together. Many eighth graders knew these Israelis from camp, while others were meeting them for the first time. It was wonderful to watch old friendships being renewed, and new ones being forged.

    On Monday we will hike, raft, and learn more about the Golan Heights and Israel’s neighbors to the north and northeast; we will also send out our laundry. I look forward to writing you again tomorrow night!

    Lailah tov from the Golan,
    Rabbi Berger
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  • Israel Trip 2015 - Day Four!

    April 17, 2015

    I’m sitting on our bus on Friday afternoon; we’ve been on the road for two hours, and we are perhaps an hour away from our destination. As readers of my journals in years past may remember me saying, we are all excited for the best showers of our lives. Not because they are so luxurious, or because they have fancy massaging shower heads, but because we’ve never been dirtier! We couldn’t shower last night, so we are layered with: yesterday’s sunscreen, sand from the dunes, some sweat, smoke from the bonfire, sunscreen from Masada, more sweat, and finally sunscreen, mud and salt from the Dead Sea. You can imagine why we can’t wait for these showers!

    The grime will quickly wash away—but I think it’s fair to say that our memories never will. Like yesterday, today was an amazing day.

    We woke up at 4:45 a.m., quickly packed, and snacked on tea and biscuits; we then boarded the buses and drove to Masada to watch the sunrise. It was a glorious morning, and the beauty all around us was almost overwhelming. Yonatan, one of our guides, played a gorgeous acoustic Israeli song about the sun as it peeked over the horizon. After a few moments of silence, we got ready for minyan, and proceeded to have one of the most quietly spiritual services I can remember. Ask your eighth grader about the minyan on Masada; I know you will hear how special it was.

    We then toured the mountaintop, learning about how Herod built palaces there, and how zealots used it as their last fortress when fighting the Romans. We descended down the Snake Path—so named because it winds back and forth down the mountain—and walked a short distance to our breakfast. The students learned about Masada in seventh grade Jewish History; today, they saw it come alive before their very eyes.

    We then went to the Dead Sea, where we enjoyed smearing ourselves with mud, floating in the salty water and relaxing. After lunch, we boarded the buses and started driving north. Showers, clean beds, and a peaceful Shabbat await us. We are so, so ready; we have earned the rest!

    Shabbat shalom from the Galil,
    Rabbi Berger
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  • Israel Trip 2015 - Day Three!

    April 16, 2015

    We thought we were too far away to hear the siren; we thought we were in an Israeli no-man’s land. We had briefly stopped at some sand dunes on the way from Mitzpeh Ramon (central Negev) to Kibbutz Keturah (southern Negev), and all around us was only sand and rock. No electric lines were visible, and the only sign of civilization was the narrow road on which we had been driving. We knew the siren marking Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) would sound at 10 a.m., but we thought we were too far from any of the towers to hear it. Our plan was to listen to the siren via our buses’ radios.

    And yet, as we were about to board the buses, we heard the sirens begin to sound. Everyone stopped in their tracks to honor and remember the six million. We became more somber as we thought about the Holocaust—and we had learned something new about what it means to live in Israel. In Israel, you are never too far away.

    If that were all we learned today, dayenu, it would have been enough. But then, at Kibbutz Keturah, we discovered that the cows were gone. This made no difference to the students at first—they had never seen those cows!—but to me, Mr. Wolf, and the Schuchmans, who had been there before, it was a big deal. Only last year, there had been more dairy cows than people on the kibbutz! And once our guide explained the significance of the decision, everyone understood something about the changing world of kibbutzim.

    Keturah is a relatively traditional kibbutz; socialism is still strong. They operate various businesses, and all the income is put in their collective pot. A few years ago, they began a high-tech operation to grow algae that produce valuable anti-oxidants, and it has become more and more profitable. Meanwhile, dairy farming—a labor-intensive activity—earned far less money. Ultimately, the kibbutz decided to sell the cows in order to invest in more high-tech, high-yield projects. This is emblematic of so many changes on kibbutzim, and of Israel’s economy in general. We learned a lot about this country from the missing cows!

    From Keturah, we drove north to the Bedouin tent. We rode camels—always a hit—learned about Bedouin culture, and had a delicious meal. After a bonfire at which we roasted marshmallows, it was bedtime. I told them all a favorite personal story about how I made the sun rise seven times in one morning—ask the eighth graders, and they’ll explain—and then we went to sleep.

    With no cell service or wifi network, I won’t be able to send this until Friday, but it’s still the end of our day here, so I’m signing off. Lailah tov, for the last time, from the Negev!

    Rabbi Berger
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  • Israel Trip 2015 - Day Two!

    April 15, 2015

    Shalom from the Negev! We just finished our first full day of activity, and it was a great day. We hiked and rappelled, swam and soaked, and visited memorials for two Israeli heroes. Perhaps the most important part of the day, though, wasn’t a site visit—it was a mental adjustment. For some students, it came on the hike, while for others, it happened at Ben Gurion’s grave: the full realization that we were in Israel. “Rabbi, it just hit me that we are here!” one student told me. “I know this sounds crazy, but only now did it sink in that we’re actually in Israel,” said another. Yesterday, we landed; today, we truly arrived.

    We hiked at Ein Avdat, which has been our first hike for several years because it is beautiful, interesting, and just challenging enough that our students can all complete it and feel proud of themselves when they reach the end. First, we walked along a desert stream to reach a beautiful waterfall and pool, and then we ascended a steep slope/cliff, where our buses had driven to meet us. Some stretches were so steep that we had to use ladders set into the rock! We also talked a lot about water resources in the desert, saw some adorable ibexes (native Israeli mountain goats), and talked about the role of the desert in Israel.

    From Ein Avdat, we drove to Ben Gurion’s grave and learned about his amazing combination of vision and action, and then to Neveh Midbar, a spa built around natural mineral springs. We played, swam and relaxed in the pools—a nice bit of down time in an active day—and then returned to Mitzpeh Ramon for our final two activities of the day, both of which took place on the rim of Mahtesh Ramon. (A mahtesh is a rare type of crater formed through a combination of plate tectonics and erosion, resulting in a gorgeous, multicolored, eerie landscape.)

    The first of the activities is a Hillel tradition: rappelling into the mahtesh. For students, the highlight may have been successfully making it over the edge and down into the crater; for the teachers, it was hearing the students encourage each other. Rappelling isn’t for everyone, and not everyone descended—but everyone was supportive.

    We also went to the new visitor’s center, which features both a powerful exhibit about Ilan Ramon, the Israeli pilot who flew and perished in the Space Shuttle Columbia, and a multi-media explanation about how the mahtesh was formed. Students were fascinated by the latter and moved by the former—it was a powerful ending to a great day!

    Tomorrow we journey south to Kibbutz Keturah and the Kassui sand dunes, and then up to the Bedouin tent near Masada. Internet and cell access is extremely poor there, so it is likely that you won’t hear from me again until Friday; by then, I will have a lot to share! For now, just know that the eighth graders have been amazing—full of enthusiasm, an openness to new experiences, and a love of Israel.

    Lailah tov from Mitzpeh Ramon,

    Rabbi Berger
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  • Israel Trip 2015 - Day One!

    April 14, 2015

    Shalom from Israel! On Monday morning, we gathered at Detroit Metro Airport to begin our journey, and over 27 hours later, we finally arrived at our hotel in Mitzpeh Ramon. When we got here, we were hungry, grimy, and sleepy; in short order, students enjoyed a tasty meal and a hot shower, and a clean bed. Most are sleeping by now, but some are still awake, so excited to be here that they need a bit more time to settle down.

    The bulk of those 27 hours was spent on planes and buses; we did make a brief stop in the Valley of Elah, site of David’s battle with Goliath, just as a way of beginning to acclimate to this beautiful, old-new, inspirational land. But it would be a mistake to imagine that all we did on those planes and buses was sit around and get carried off to our destination. Here are a few examples of beautiful moments I observed:

    We traveled with wonderful Derekh Eretz. The sight of almost fifty teenagers boarding a plane together can make adult travelers tense and concerned; our students, excited as they felt, were never too loud or rowdy, and we received several compliments .Students helped each other with bags that were heavy, and generally looked out for one another.

    On the flight to Israel, we never have a minyan all together; it is simply too hard to arrange, and would involve waking up sleeping students. Instead, we simply encourage them to pray, reminding them that instead of worrying about which direction to face, they can simply face forward—because the plane itself is heading to Israel! I had two students let me know they were going to the back rows to pray; I joined them, and found another six of our students already there. By the end, a good chunk of the grade had davened, totally voluntarily, demonstrating how excited they are to be on this trip.Finally, when we landed, the applause was deafening.

    We can already tell that this is going to be an amazing, unforgettable two weeks. I can’t wait to share more in the days ahead!

    Lailah tov from the Negev,
    Rabbi Berger
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CORE JEWISH VALUES ערכים יהודיים עיקריים
Welcome to Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit, a vibrant community Jewish day school filled with joy, rooted in core Jewish values, committed to halakhah, and devoted to academic excellence. Our families are diverse in their beliefs, affiliations and observances; we work together to create a welcoming community based upon mutual respect and shared values.
Early Childhood Center, Ages 2-5 | Day School, Grades K-8 | 248-851-3220 | 32200 Middlebelt Rd. | Farmington Hills, MI 48334