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Academics

7-8 Learning Community

In our 7-8 community on the second floor, you feel an exciting shift. Students increasingly take ownership of their learning, and teachers increasingly act as facilitators guiding students, rather than directing them. A multi-machine Rube Goldberg challenge encompassing the work of several groups of students will fail or succeed on its own merit; students as a class will determine which Detroit-based non-profit organization to support through Campaign for A Cause.  

In courses including American History and Shoah, Diyyun and Siyyum, students grapple with essential questions of democracy and theology, and begin to discover how they will fit into the world as citizens. They create their own society complete with laws and a system of justice, they study world religions, and they deliberate the great questions the Jewish people have visited and revisited throughout the centuries: what does it mean to be a Jew? How can we maintain our individuality in the face of assimilation? How can we thrive?

Their sequence of Judaic studies leads them to the unforgettable eighth grade Israel trip where their learning literally comes to life as they trace the footsteps of our ancestors, return to the Zion of our prayers, and meet the modern-day heroes who protect and defend the State of Israel. They internalize that Israel is the true home of the Jewish people, and cannot wait to go back again.

In math, students are placed in courses that enhance skills at the appropriate level, including algebra in seventh grade and geometry in eighth grade. The science curriculum continues to foster a love and curiosity for science including units on cells, viruses, genetics, physics and robotics.

In tandem with their academic growth, the 7-8 community takes on leadership roles throughout school. As the become b’nai mitzvah, they run morning minyan. They act as student ambassadors, they participate in student government, and they lead their teams to victory in soccer, basketball and tennis.

Ultimately, they leave Hillel as graduates who embody our core values, and who are resilient lifelong learners prepared not only for high school, but for life.



Israel Trip Blogs 2019

List of 16 items.

  • Eighth Grade Israel Trip 2019 - Day One

    Eighth Grade Israel Trip 2019 - Day One
    By Leah Gawel, Judaic Studies teacher

    Somewhere Between Monday the 29th and Tuesday the 30th - time unknown in the friendly skies:

    I am typing away to the loud chatter of teenagers, the constant jostling of kids running up and down the aisles, and the incredibly patient-bordering-on-about-to-lose-it “please take your seats” warnings coming from the haggard flight attendants.  

    Me?  I am smiling.  Broadly, contentedly smiling. We are on a flight with two other large groups of teens, and those teens, the ones making the racket, are not mine.

    Our Hillel kids are quietly catching up on the latest (circa 2016) television shows and movies, chatting with their neighbors, and munching on and sharing with their peers a variety of overpriced airport candies; Canadian Cadburys are the real deal.

    Several of our kiddos are sleeping, and one fine Hillel fella is entertaining a 16-month old by letting him pull his hair, and playing Peek-A-Boo for the 199th time since take off. He just reached 200 and his smile is yet to wane.

    I did not hear a single complaint about the meal, which the airline was kind enough to make sure was still Kosher for Passover lest anyone might still be observing the holiday, and they even tried a new culinary delight on us: frozen “fresh” salad.

    Flexibility and patience on the part of our eighth graders have been going strong since we left Hillel’s parking lot, and I have not heard a single sharp word or cynical complaint.  While I realize there is still time, I am taking this as a win, and enjoying the overarching feeling of peace and acceptance that is emanating from our fearless group.

    Moms, dads, bubbes, zaydes, brothers and sisters: we have washed our hands, taken our meds, helped make a minyan, slept, and shared our toys and food.  We are good. 

    Singing off until we reach the Holy Land.

    Full disclosure: we did NOT eat our veggies.
  • Eighth Grade Israel Trip 2019 - Day Two

    Tuesday Night(ish) in Mitzpe Ramon:

    I am sitting on a deck chair watching nine kids sitting “criss cross applesauce,” playing a complicated card game (they lost me at about the 7th direction), wearing their pjs, their hair wet and squeaky clean, and smiles abounding. I just heard, “Hey, can I play, too?” and the kiddos all scooched over to make room for one more. These eighth graders have scrubbed off hours of travel dirt, come to our meeting spot on time to play, and my heart warms watching the ever-shifting card circle expand for one more friend.

    Since we have left Detroit, we have caught up with extended relatives who brought us homemade cake during an impromptu family reunion for all 55 travelers at baggage claim (only in Israel), negotiated lunch at a curbside shwarma joint that touts the “best falafel in the country,”  picked our own organic produce at a moshav, and ate the hotel’s dinner buffet to the point that there was not an ounce of food left, including A LOT OF OKRA.

    While I am sure that this first-day itinerary seems frenzied, take my word for it; there is a calm that settles over our eighth graders as we engage in each activity; at first the kids are surveying each new experience with curiosity and hesitance, and then they are “diving right into the deep end.”

    Alas, back to the card game, which has shifted to some convoluted version of Go Fish, which allows them enough brain power to simultaneously deliberate on their day.  “I am writing the blog,” I tell them. “What do you want me to include?”  At first I hear crickets. Just the sound of shuffling cards. And then: “I had the chance to repair, no.. to strengthen… and to develop a relationship that was broken. We are roommates.”

    “The amount of work it takes to pull a carrot from the ground.  Really. My shoulders hurt.”

    “Bomb shelters in the Negev.  I mean I guess I knew they had them, but…”

    And perhaps my favorite, which I will leave you with: “ The wide desert. The enormity of it.

    And then it is lights out.  Your loved ones are tucked in and safe.  Their bellies are full with wondrous new foods, and their minds are swirling with the delights of the day.  Tomorrow we will be up early to daven on the edge of the Ramon Crater, to rapel, jeep ride, hike, and explore.  But for now, we slumber with only the sounds of the desert and the restless crickets lulling us to sleep. Indeed, it is “a big place to be.”

    Morah Gawel
  • Eighth Grade Israel Trip 2019 - Day Three

    From Mitzpeh Ramon

    So the adults had our tushies kicked today during our three-and-a-half hour hike to the base of the crater. Currently the only thing making me not feel like I am 100 years old is that P.E. teacher Brad Freitag, who is 15 years my junior, is also sporting a matching ankle ice pack. It is a little humbling to watch Yonaton, our guide, who is doing a one armed handstand / pushup move across the courtyard.  A group of kids are also showing off some of their gymnastics meets yoga meets Crossfit moves.  They are in their jammies; I’m not going to lie - it’s pretty cute.

    Suffice it to say, we had a full day.  Our 6:20 a.m. wake up call was followed by a quick walk and minyan at the edge of the Ramon Crater.  From there, we went rappelling off of a cliff, jeeping through the basin, swimming at the hotel, followed by the hike, traversing the crater. And that’s just what happened before 7:30 p.m.  Needless to say, not everyone was in the mood to do one-armed push ups. 

    Today was filled with lots of firsts: jumping off of a cliff that is not a proverbial one; davening by the side of a crater; riding in a 1967 Land Rover Defender with 525,000 miles on it and a leaky engine; trekking through the desert. However, what stood out more were the lessons that the desert taught us. In order to survive, vegetation needs to be scrappy.  The flowers set their roots under rocks in order to avoid exposure, and crouch down in the blazing sun to conserve water.  It does not rain a drop for eight months, and yet in this craggy and desolate environment, these beautiful flowers thrive.

    Here, Israelis are rugged; they have built a life that is hard, that demands adaptation. Yet like the flowers who grow under the shade of the rocks, they are stunning.  Beautiful. Simple and complex at the same time.  I was intrigued by their casual mannerisms that slipped in a nanosecond into profound seriousness and then back again to the mundane as if there were no shift.  

    One moment that sticks out was when our Jeep driver made an off hand comment that on Erev Yom Hashoah the Israelis in this area get together in living rooms to sing, dance, and tell stories of the Shoah.  However, he went on, “it is not like our Memorial Day.  That day. You would not understand.  That day has weight. Everyone. And I mean everyone in Israel has lost someone to a war. It is the saddest day.” With that he made a sharp left into the crater’s basin and then told us that his daughter wanted to go to the movies for her birthday and then he began a diatribe on the benefits of driving a stick shift.

    Our eighth graders took it all in - wisdom about chameleon grasshoppers, desert tea plants, inactive volcanoes, even carburetor maintenance.  They walked, sweated, earned a few scrapes and bruises, and talked their way across the desert crater, energetic and exhausted at the same time.

    Now, back in the courtyard of our hotel, the stories of the day will grow and live in their minds, and the all-knowing desert will hold them tight, low beside the rocks, and deep within the limestone.

    Next, a Bedouin tent.

    Morah Gawel
  • Eighth Grade Israel Trip - Day Four

    Israel Trip 2019 - Day Four

    We began our day with tefillah at Prime Minister David Ben Gurion’s grave followed by marking Yom Hashoah at 10:00 am when the country falls into silence while a siren sounds for 60 seconds. Our guide spoke to us about the significance of this moment.  “A nation’s strength,” he began, “is tested by its ability to do the same thing at the same time.”  We recognized this moment - our People’s strength - while perched at the edge of the desert; when we turned to the left, the mountains, which follow the highway, were speckled with dark green figures, as Israeli soldiers lined up alongside the road. The guide shared that “being Jewish means to remember,” and with his wise words in mind, we paid homage to Ben Gurion, and placed stones on his grave, and thought about the vision and fortitude he had to build a homeland in the desert.

    From there we went to Ein Avdat, where we hiked from the desert floor, following a river that carved its signature through geologic time, creating wavelike striations along the slate and limestone.  The kids sat for a minute in absolute silence!, and listened to the sounds of the desert.  An acoustical wonder, the whispers of the wind and chattering of the birds created a cacophony that was literally deafening. Again, we were struck by the motif of Israel as a nation of opposing harmonies.

    This hike was hard, but we persevered, and after we slogged up our last metal ladder and stone staircase carved into the cliff walls, there was a miracle of sorts: an ice cream truck.  Magnum Lavan was in full supply: manna from heaven.

    And then, it rained.  #desertmiracle

    Hot, sticky, dirty, a little roughed up from the hike, we drove through the desert to our final stop of the night: the Bedouin Tents.  Here, we were greeted by a coarse burlap tent the size of Hillel’s Gym, and quickly whisked off via camel into the desert.  For those of you who have not had a camel ride, I can think of some other things that might be more comfortable. I cannot imagine how our ancestors used this method of transportation and then were able to successfully reproduce. However, the camels - whom the kids all affectionately named -  took us out into the heart of the desert, where we were all struck by its vastness.  My favorite line from one student was, “It feels endless. I feel so small and also so big.”

    While this comment backed onto jokes about camel elimination, it struck me as profound, and spot on.  You cannot help but wonder how the ancients, whose understanding of the world’s borders were infinitely smaller than ours, must have felt that Earth was enormous, and that their place within it had meaning. To be so small and yet the only entity or object within one’s line of sight must mean that you are meant to be there.

    We enjoyed Bedouin hospitality, sipping on muddy coffee and learning about the gender dynamics, power struggles, and cultural etiquette within the Bedouin community.  The kids were enraptured as our hostess told us about how she emotionally and financially helped support her husband’s second wife. They took in her story with curious openness. (While the coffee was not exactly our kiddos’ jam, I was pleased by how polite they were.  One sweet boy actually pretended to drink it.)

    We ate a hearty meal while sitting on the floor on pillows, spent a fair amount of time in the communal bathrooms where we pretended to brush our teeth and wash up, and then sat for hours in front of a bonfire laughing, sharing photos, exchanging stories, and joking around.  As I surveyed the enormous campground, I could not help but be struck by the groupings of kids who do not hang out together at school. Here they were, laughing together.  They offered hugs to those who were homesick, high-fives to those who needed a little moral boost, and offered seats to those who needed a place to belong.  This exemplified Hillel hospitality: But this is no miracle. It is who WE are.

    Before I came to Israel, I did not like the desert.  However, Israel has taught me that the desert is a place of wonder, and where miracles happen. The desert is where we push through and become strong. When we are at our most thirsty, hungry, and dirty, out of control of our environment,  laughter fills and heals. Israel has remindedme that our children are filled with wonder and goodness.  

    When I saw all of our PJ clad kiddos adorned in dust, I knew that despite the mild discomforts that a night in a tent would bring, sleeping under the stars, we were going to be alright.  


  • Eighth Grade Israel Trip - Days Five & Six

    Israel Trip Days Five & Six - Masada and Making Our Way to Jerusalem

    For some reason I had vivid memories of previous Masada expeditions — climbing for hours, slogging through heat, and a never-ending rocky path.  This time, as one student also remarked, it did seem smaller to me than before. And I made it to the top in 8 minutes - with a bum ankle! Of course, a gaggle of kids and teacher David Venning RAN up the mountain and were “bored” by the time I made it up...so much for patting myself on the back.

    On top of the mountain we prepared for minyan; there is nothing more heartwarming than watching tefillin-clad teenagers with sunscreen streaks daven with intensity.  In fact, the kids were arguing over who would lead.  I was about to interject until I realized they were arguing over who would lead us in prayer.  I took this as a cue to sit down, and four children led us in passionate and heartfelt prayer.

    Then we toured the fortress, and the kids were fascinated by the bathhouse.  As the Diyyun teacher of most of these kids, I was interested in how much they remembered about our study of Rabbi Gamliel and a statue of Aphrodite in the bathhouse. ZERO. Clearly I missed the mark on that one! However, they did find this tour exciting, not, mind you that the ancients built this on a rock in the middle of a desert, but that “steam actually rises up the walls. That’s awesome.”  I always chuckle when I see what draws them in.

    They were also drawn to a story that teacher Josh Cutler shared about watching soldiers being sworn in to the IDF, and hearing them make an oath to “never let Masada fall again.”  This resonated with our group. A silence fell among them when he finished speaking, and it took a few minutes before “regularly scheduled programming” began.

    Similarly, the kids were intrigued by the Roman camps.  One boy asked, “Why would they build a wall if it was only a foot high. It could not keep anyone out?”  “Because,” our guide replied, “it showed what they could do.  If they could build a siege wall around the perimeter in 2 hours, imagine what else they could do. It was about power and fear.” Another child added, “So it was psychological warfare?!”  I was impressed by his thinking. “It showed that the Jews were not coming out alive.”  Something so small told a story that was so big. This sat with the kids.  It made the experience feel larger.

    Inspired and moved, we headed down the snake path, and again, we finished in record time. I could already tell that Masada was growing in stature.  And in a way, this is the truth, as Masada is enormous in its importance and in its imprint on our people.  By the end of the trip they will remember being so high that they felt like they could reach out and touch the stars — because in a way, they could.

    At the Dead Sea, we floated. We learned that salt might heal cuts, but it also stings. A lot.  The kids actually seemed a little meh on the Dead Sea, but again, as we waited in line to purchase Dead Sea lotions, it became cooler in their memories, more fun, and the physical discomfort turned into stories vs. inconveniences. What stands out, for me, at least, is that this was a time where the kids came together. Collectively they bargained at the spa store, and brainstormed ways to buy multiple items and split the cost to save shekels. It also was a place where our kids’ kindness and love for their families really shone. “My mom works so hard. Morah, what can I find that will help her relax?”  “ Morah… I even asked for them to wrap this lotion set; my grandma is going to be so excited.”  “Did you see anything a young girl might want? I want something for my sister.”  I did not hear a single mention of a personal purchase. They were in a giving mood and buying for you made them feel good.

    As we lined up to leave, we decided it was “the best day ever.”  En route to Jerusalem, eyes closed, a moment of respite in this race to fit it all in, to  push ourselves mentally and physically, we saw that they have come together, grown. Your children are giants in every way.

    On Shabbat in Jerusalem, weslept in, and then embarked on a day of rest that was somehow devoid of rest.  That said, we swam, played ball, and endless card games, visited relatives, and took a walk into the neighboring town to climb the Har Adar water tower that overlooks the JNF forest. From the top, it is clear where the line of demarcation is from where Jordan used to be, and our guide told us about the Palestinians and Israelis through the lens of forestry and cultivation. This is a motif that we hear often in Israel: the land has a story to tell. In this instance, the trees recount the struggles of our People, and it is a tale that like nature, circles around again and again. “Just look at how close those cities are.  Neighbors are lifting up swords against neighbors.” One child astutely noted, “So it is a matter of narratives: there are two, and they don’t seem to align.”  His comment made me stop in my tracks: so much wisdom from a 14 year old and the use of the word align --  an English teacher’s dream!

    After Shabbat ended, we frolicked on Ben Yehuda Street, where EVERY SINGLE CHILD had “the time of my life.” Consumerism, “the world’s best shawarma” that each eatery claimed, and the palpable energy of the crowd filled them with renewed energy and joy, and quite a few tchotchkes as mementos. I ran up and down the street trying to catch their joy in photos.


  • Eighth Grade Israel Trip 2019 - Day Seven

    Israel Trip Day Seven - The Old City
    As I sit here typing from the comfort of my bed in our Jerusalem hotel, I hear squeals of laughter from up and down the halls.  Laundry comes back tomorrow, and there is anticipation over the arrival of this blessed event; we are all crying tears of joy.  I have taught a few “momming” skills to tide us over: don't change four times a day just to “look cute,” baby powder can mask a world of odors, and finally, when all else fails: buy a new one.  There is nothing like bonding in the shuk while shopping for cheap socks and Hanes. 

    Yesterday we began in the Old City, passing the Hinnom Valley, where an ancient religious sect once lived and performed child sacrifice.  In fact, Dante refers to this spot in the Inferno, as the entry point to the circles of hell. From my standpoint, hell looked pretty idyllic - carob trees, wild flowers, and rolling hills - completely devoid of fiery pits and horned demons.

    The significance of this spot is that Jerusalem is a “cube that bonds what happens above and below… our world, the heavenly world, and the world above.”  Yonaton, our guide, went on to describe that one needs to ascend from below to the heights of the city, and that all three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, share connections relating this city to ascension to heaven. He explained that in the city there is “constant traffic going up and down. The city is the center point.”

    From the entrance, we climbed the hills overlooking the city.  We said “L’Chaim” over juice, and Shehechiyanu upon our arrival.  As the kids silently sipped, our guide explained the importance of Jerusalem. “ WHY,” he asked, “would the Jews settle in Jerusalem?  What is here?” The kids looked at the lush landscape of greens and gold hues and made some guesses: God lives here;  it is pretty; God told them to live here.  Yonatan went on to explain that it was simple geography: Jerusalem is on the junction of three continents, and hence, it is a central access point to the trade routes and major cities in the known world of our ancestors. It was an economically logical solution. The kids nodded their heads, showed off their history skills (shout out to Josh Cutler’s Comparative Religions Project), and seemed to have “found the answer.”  

    And then Yonatan added “AND… there is another reason, which is more spiritual.” He told the story of the two brothers who jointly owned land and would wake up in the middle of the night to move grain into the other brother’s pile.  One night, they met on the top of the hill and realized what had been happening. This kindness was recognized by God, and hence this exact spot was chosen for the building of the temple.

    And then, we entered the City of David, where Yonatan added another layer to the tale.  He explained how Jerusalem was chosen for a city because it actually was insignificant; “it is in the middle of nowhere. There are no roads, water sources, or food available, and hence, it was left alone.” When the tribes divided up the land, this area was a no man's land, and when David decided to be the leader of ALL of the land, it made political sense to move his kingdom from his tribe’s province to an unclaimed area.  The kids mulled over this paradox of insignificance as the origin story of the most significant city in the world while learning about the ancient ruins of the town, and preparing to embark on an underground tour of the water system that David constructed.

    Tevas on, head lamps dialed to bright, and nerves bubbling over, 30 of our fearless warriors headed into three feet of cold water, and trudged nose to neck for half an hour.  Meanwhile, I and 15 kids who promised to keep me safe on the dry land route, took a shortcut that allowed us to finish in time to beat the crowd to the bathrooms.  (Sometimes, you take your wins where you can get them.)  All kidding aside, it was still a little harrowing, as the walls are very narrow, and the ground is slick with seeping water seeping through the stones. Everyone was relieved to see the light at the end of the tunnel (meant literally, for the first time in my life).

    From there we walked through the gates of the Old City - “baby gates” that are 400 years old.  When the city is 3,800 years old, “it’s a matter of perspective,” one sharp student remarked. “It depends on what lens you use to measure time.”

    We meandered toward a central area bursting with cafes, bodegas, and tchotchke stores. Kids darted in and out of storefronts comparing deals, successfully bartering, practicing their Hebrew, and learning the disappointment of losing a few bucks because someone else got the same item for less.  Again we talked about a “perspective.”  One girl said her “earrings were 30 shekels, and I did not haggle because they were worth that, and they would be twice as much in the States.”  Other children were fueled by the bargaining game, and they offered to procure “the best deal” on “best quality” items as a proxy buyer for more timid friends.  

    The girls among us then donned long skirts and we all went to the Kotel.  Then, as we experienced at Masada, at first the students said it looked smaller than they had envisioned. “Is that it? It’s not very big,” said one. “We’ve been talking about this moment since first grade,” clarified another. The wall had grown in statute in their minds over several years, but as at Masada, the Kotel doubled in size after we touched its warm stones. We placed notes written by our Hillel community and our families (“my grandpa wrote his in Yiddish! I sure hope that God understands” ) into the wall. It was powerful.  Unlike other activities where the kids are quick to take selfies and discuss, we lingered. We reflected upon how 45 minutes at the Kotel was life changing.

    In those moments, it felt like we were standing on themidpoint of the world that is Jerusalem.  We could feel the connection between the divine and the profane, and the tension that pulls us between that which tempts us and that which we aspire to. And there, in the presence of the divine, we ascended.  Our minds, souls, hopes, and dreams climbed up the ancient stones as our eyes rose toward heaven.

    Sunkissed and filled with contentment and awe, we boarded the bus and made our way back to the hotel. Little by little, our emotional weights lifted, and we were teenagers again: carefree and invincible, for our souls were nourished and our hearts were full. Today we created another narrative.  Why is Jerusalem where it is?  Because it was waiting for us, and we were there.
  • Eighth Grade Israel Trip 2019 - Day Eight

    Israel Trip Day Eight - The Hills of Jerusalem

    Today we began our day much like yesterday, but in reverse.  We began at the top of the hills outside of Jerusalem, and hiked down to the bottom.  The landscape was terraced and rocky with dusty green trees and shrubbery, and a scattering of red and gold wildflowers.  

    Some of us explored the natural springs that required crawling through a foot-by-foot cave wall opening. This natural spring supplied water to the ancients, and the marks from where they carved out a larger opening to increase the water pressure is still visible.  There is something chilling about touching a stone and thinking that someone made the chisel marks on it 3,000 years ago.  Mr. Venning was the only staff member brave enough to go, and he was richly rewarded with soaking wet shoes and socks.  Mr. Freitag and I guarded the entrance as the kids crouched down and screamed, “Why am I doing this? Wait. It’s wet… don’t come in. Not worth  it,” and then the next child in line shrugged and thought “Why not?” I love the optimism!  Mr. Freitag and I were impressed with the kids’ willingness to crawl into the unknown, and we enjoyed pestering Mr. Venning throughout the day about how comfy warm wet socks feel.

    One of the hallmarks of this trip is that as we move about, the kids are expanding their social circles, and the entire staff has remarked that multiple children have commented that they are happy to be building new and stronger friendships with acquaintances, or repairing once-strained relationships. They feel gratitude and relief for this opportunity.

    Israel has most certainly helped us cement our mishpacha, and the kids are their best selves when covered in dust on their shorts, gravel in their shoes, footing unsure on uneven terrain.  They always have a hand available to help someone up, literally and figuratively.  Their kindness extends to the “old” staff, too. I’ve had my fair share of stumbles intercepted by agile hands, and have received constant offers to carry my luggage.  We staff are included in their games, impromptu karaoke concerts, and chats.  #bettertogether is tangible here.

    Next we visited the Machane Yehudah Shuk. The kids were in a frenzy absorbing the exotic smells, vibrant colors, assorted textures, and the spice of the market. As we zig zagged our way through, we found “the best sandwich in the entire world that was worth flying 11 hours for,” and consulted each other on what gifts were best matched for relatives young and old. At our meeting spot the kids were richly rewarded with a treat of Marzipan rugelach.  This heavenly treat has ruined pastry for me; nothing else can even compare.  I have a feeling that eating this chocolaty indulgence will be a moment that the kids remember for life.  Marzipan rugelach: if you haven’t tried it, remember those words.

    We licked our fingers, and adjusted our mindframes for the next leg of the trip: a visit to Yad Vashem.  There, our kids exceeded our expectations with their behavior, prior knowledge, engagement, and interest.  They shared their learning regarding concentration camps and ghettos; and vocabulary - dehumanization, stereotype, propaganda, liquidation, isolation - and facts rolled off of their tongues. The kids were mesmerized by the stories that our guide shared and during her talk; you could have heard a pin drop.  For three solid hours, our kids were 100 percent engaged without a single gentle reminder to behave or focus. 

    “Your kids are exceptional,” the Yad Vashe, docents said as we left. We smiled. We know.

    If you have not been to Yad Vashem, the tour ends looking out on to the city.  When our guide asked the kids why the architect would have the building end on an upward slant toward the city, one answer offered was “because this is the future.” Filled with pride in their Judaism, Israel, family, friends, and themselves, our kids all stood and looked out onto the city, nestled within the hills, and the mood was hopeful.  Having little to no idea what is going on in the news, our innocent, beautiful children looked at their homeland with hearts filled with optimism.  May they never lose that hope, love, and belief in the goodness of others and in themselves. May our children, the children of Israel, continue to thrive and stand tall as they bridge that sacred space called Jerusalem that connects us to the heavens and the Earth.
  • Eighth Grade Israel Trip 2019 - The Voices of the Kids

    Israel Trip 2019 - The Voices of the Kids

    • “ You should be so proud of Student X. I was walking in the lobby and a older couple from South Carolina was struggling to order something at the snack bar.  She asked if they needed help and then she ordered food for them in Hebrew.
    • “ I like how I got to see my friends for the first time in 3 years. I lived in this neighborhood when I was young and they came to see me.”
    • “Can we do this again during a reunion?  Can you imagine how cool that would be?”
    • “Israel. I love Israel. I get it now.”
    • “Amit. (Our social guide) She is so fun and she gets us. Can we take her home with us? She even promised to wear a Michigan t-shirt tomorrow. (a promise she delivered.)
    • “ I like how when Omar (tour guide) wants to get our attention on the bus, he goes ‘tcht tcht tcht’ to  get our attention. Americans go “hey,” or “shhh.” The people speak English differently here. Their phrases are a little off.
    • “I love how our days are organized. I like the balance. We can go on hikes and then have outdoor experiences. We also can shop. I like the freedoms.”
    • “Ein Avdat was my favorite. We got to hike differently there because there were ladders and stairs on the mountain side.  It was like they did not fit with the landscape, but man left his mark.”
    • “The most meaningful moment is when everyone went to bed on time.”
    • “I ordered my food in Hebrew.  I did not know everything I needed, but I could be understood. It felt good.  And the fries that I ordered were even better.”
    • “ The Dead Sea was so calming and peaceful.  There was chaos all around with tourists, but I floated and the world just went calm. I want to take the sea home so I can be calm.”
    • “During this trip I was able to make more meaningful relationships.”
    • “I wish my bladder was bigger. I am being serious, not silly. Is my mom going to see this? (‘yes.’) Ok.  She will know who I am even without my name on it.”
    • “It is fun because we had meaningful experiences. I am not just saying that.  They were huge for me. I can’t name it… I just feel it. Is that ok?”
    • “I loved the kotel.  That is our holiest spots on the planet and I was there. I was AT the kotel, Morah. I was there.”
    • “Masada.  There was so much history in that one place.  It spoke to me. The story came alive.”
    • “Ben Yehuda street was amazing. I loved having free time with friends and the vibe.”
    • “The shuk.  After learning about it, I got to experience it.  The food was amazing.”
    • “I loved the waterfalls. They were fun. We were all the same when we were in a pool and wet and happy. I love being all together with no divisions.”
    • “Finishing the hike first is something I will never forget.”
    • “We went up on a tower and saw the whole view of Jerusalem. I saw it with my eyes.”
    • “I have never really been an outdoorsy person, but this trip has made me realize that I can do it and I enjoy it.  I am going to change what I do at home now. At camp I am going to get out of my comfort zone because now I know I can.”
    • “Praying at Masada was a moment I will never forget.”
    • “Looking out at the crater and praying made me appreciate everything that God gave us.”
    • “ The history at Yad Vashem was meaningful to me.  I saw what we have learned and it hit me in a way that I will never forget.”
    • “ I liked the wall because I could connect to God. He was there.”
    • “The story about Blanca and Bella at Yad Vashem spoke to me because I could connect to them.  I was moved by how brave they were.”
    • “I loved Mitzpe Ramon because I got to make new friends and see things in nature that I have never seen. We found a moth that is not recorded.”
    • “I have really enjoyed hiking in the canyon hike because it felt good to actually not use my phone for three hours.”
    • “It is impactful to see all of the things that I have learned about for 9 years.”
    • “The food is different and it is an experience.”
    • “The hikes are amazing.”
    • “ Morah, how many quotes can we give. I mean I have so many. Where do I start? Seriously, do I have to choose.”
    • “I am proud of these kids for what they have achieved.”
    • “I liked Yad Vashem because it did not just talk about the 6 million people that died. It shared the details of their lives. It was about how they lived.”
    • “ I liked the Dead Sea because it is one of the things I have learned about for a really long time.  To be here and see it. That was something.”
    • “The sharma melts in my mouth.  It is just so good.”
    • “I loved running down Masada.  It made me feel alive.”
    • “Yad Vashem was fascinating.  It was meaningful to learn about the Shoah again in Israel.”
    • “The Western Wall spoke to me. We learn about it every year and I got to see it.”
    • “Yad Vashem. Just Yad Vashem.  It was all a metaphor and a symbol for what we have learned.”
    • “I am on a mission to find a present for Mrs. Sterling.  You promised to help me find one.  ( I did.) It is sort of like a thing that connects the whole trip for me - looking for something she might like.”
    • “I like our first hike that we had. It gave me time to bond with friends and get close to new people. You guys always say it will happen and truthfully, we don’t believe you. Apparently, you were not lying.”
    • “The Dead Sea was amazing. I got to learn about it and see it AND it was fun.”
    • “I loved the hike in the crater. I got to speak to friends and walk at the same time. I spoke to people I usually don’t, because we all walked with people who were at the same athletic level.”
    • “Playing ball with Cutler and Freitag reminds me of being home.  I love that we can connect Hillel and America to Israel.”
    • “It is crazy that for the past 8 years we have been learning and talking about the Kotel.  To see it was eye opening and amazing.  But Morah, to be honest, it was smaller than I thought.”
    • “I loved Mitzpe Ramon. The whole concept of how it formed by water was super interesting.  This did not come from the sky - it is not a comet, but from the ground.  The Earth birthed it.”
    • “ I love eating in the shuk and on Ben Yehuda street because it is new. It was my first time.  I ate this homemade wrap that was delicious”
    • I have really had fun haggling. I am good at it. You know, my arguing gene has finally come in handy.”
    • “This trip is about me.  I don’t mean that it is not about others, but not my siblings or my parents.  It is my trip.  I know it sounds self centered, but it is important to have something just for me.  Does that sound weird? (no)”
    • “I love playing cards with Amit at the end of the day with all of my friends and new friends.  We have such a blast. Even when we cheat and yell at each other, we are laughing.”
    • “Shopping. I know that sounds shallow, but listen: I am looking for the perfect gift for my family.  That just feels so good. It feels important.”
    • “I love seeing these kids stretch and grow.  They are pushing themselves and learning that the answer always is: “Yes, I can!” They are learning that their bodies, minds, and spirits can do incredible things that they never realized. Better yet, they can recognize and articulate this.”
    • “Pineapple.  Don’t worry. It’s an inside joke, and it is clean, but funny.  Maybe my dad will know what this means.” (doubt it).
    • The hotels.  We sit and look out at all of our stuff on the floor and while it would make my parents annoyed, it means that it is ours.  I like having an ours.  It brings us together.”
    • “There was a Jewish gladiator; did you know that was a thing? I am fairly sure that we did not learn that in school, did we?
  • Eighth Grade Israel Trip 2019 - Day Nine

    Israel Trip 2019 - Day Nine: Archaeological Dig, Bar Kokhba Caves, and the Power of Showers

    This morning we tested the limits of our suitcases’ zippers;  the kids learned that purchases mean more bulk and weight, and after sitting on our luggage, and squeezing every last ounce of space out of them, we left our hotel for a new adventure.  We spent the morning at an archeological site digging for antiquities, and exploring the cave systems. The area that we were in was considered the “suburbs” of an ancient city from the Hellenistic time period, and the cave system that we helped uncover was a garbage dump from Tel Maresha.  This city was built during the time of the Maccabees, and these caves, which were man-made quarries, supplied bedrock to the local community. Apparently the inhabitants became fed up with the new ruler, and they fled the city, but only after stripping everything, and tossing refuse into the quarries. Here, the old adage that one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure rings true.

    The kids were excited, and I wondered if they would remember this time period, for they studied it last year in Diyyun class. They did! This has been a highlight of my trip; the kids are making so many connections between what they learned at school and what they are experiencing in Israel.  I had  heard that the 8th Grade Israel trip is the culmination of their years of study at Hillel, and this year’s class really exemplifies this notion.

    Pickaxes and shovels in hand, our kids broke off into three rooms in a complex cave system that was best described by our archeological historian as a “waffle.”  Every student found shards of pottery, and one lucky girl found an intact top to a jug. While the kids began this experience a little put off by the thought of getting dusty, by the end, every student was eager to dig in the earth to sift for treasure.  

    Dirty and excited, we moved onto our next activity: spelunking through a cave system. Clausterphobic, I generously offered to “sit this one out,” and act as the photographer. I headed to the end of the tunnel and waited for the kids to emerge. Sound echoed out of the cave and I overheard some gems: “I broke my nail, but don’t worry: I’m fine.”; “remind me why we are doing this, again.”; “I am so excited. I was so nervous, and I did it.” The kids all emerged emblazoned with grins, and a feeling of intensely earned accomplishment.

    Starving, we left the caves for a bbq picnic at a national park, where the world’s pickiest eaters appreciated beet flavored tahini sauce on their chicken shish kabob pitas. The kids scarfed it down and stood in line for seconds, all the while exclaiming that the secret to an amazing sandwich is to top it with fresh, hot, homemade potato chips. Obviously!

    Finally, we ended the day by learning about the Bar Kochba caves, and again we were so pleased to see remembrance of past lessons at Hillel.  

    Exhausted, I watched the kids sleep on the bus ride home. Whereas hours earlier they’d been worried about dust in their hair, our filthy eighth graders had come to terms with the dirt - and owned it.  At this point, I was hoping that our upscale hotel in Jerusalem would let us enter, since we looked like a band of hoodlums.

    Alas, the spa showers washed away our travel stains. The experiences of our day, however, remained imprinted upon our minds and souls. At dinner we sat at a long table and filled our tummies with deliciousness, and recounted stories of expeditions that happened long, long ago, forgetting that we had experienced a lifetime in a mere eight hours.

    Israel is like that; time seems to expand and contract in a fraction of a second. In Israel, everything happens at once, and thousands of years ago. Somehow we are both wise beyond our years, and innocent toddlers. We can see and feel history intersect with the present; we can feel the pulse of our ancestors synchronize with the heartbeat of the future.  For our Hillel 8th graders, Israel is where history becomes now, and the juxtaposition of their child self with their young adult self is accepted, and it is not a contradiction.  Israel is where time freezes and they can just be.
  • Eighth Grade Israel Trip 2019 - Day 10

    Israel Trip Day 10 - Yom Hazikaron

    The kids sensed it immediately. Yom Hazikaron is “not about sales and bbqs,” one astute child commented. “It feels more personal.  More intimate. I’m not sure why.”  We spent our day learning the answer to this question.

    We began by climbing Castel Road, which opened a supply road to Jerusalem during the War of Independence.  Team building activities along the way showed them the importance of working collaboratively for the greater good. Our guide recounted the significance of our location, reminding us that good soldiers are those who learn from mistakes. This resonated with the kids.  We often speak at Hillel about the importance of mistakes, as they help us succeed; in fact, we learn more from a mistake than from doing something correctly the first time. This is how we grow.

    We then listened for two minutes as the sirens blared.  We could see buses, cars, and trucks pulled to a stop on the side of the highway, and people standing at attention next to their vehicles.  “This could never happen in America.  People would find this irritating.  I’m amazed that the Israelis do it,” one student remarked.  Yonatan explained that the majority of the country knows someone who has died in battle.  A few children whipped their heads and asked him to repeat this: the majority of Israelis know someone who has died in battle.

    Our guide went on to explain that in Israel, there is a value in the IDF that translates into English as “follow me.”  He explained that unlike how the military operates in most countries, in Israel, it is the commanders who first go into battle, and it is their jobs to provide cover while the privates retreat.  This leadership - to willingly accept the responsibility of protecting others’ lives by shielding them with your own - reflects the value that the Israeli armed forces places on the “simple soldier.”  It is “the simple soldiers” whose lives are the most valued.  This concept trickles into society here, and it is admirable.  Leadership is not about the one in power, but about using power to protect others.  It’s about being the first into battle, and the last to retreat. 

    Our guide went on to describe how the soldiers fought.  It was most important to fight at night and to plan during the day.  “All you needed was darkness and a wall” to survive, he said.  I turned to a student and asked if this concept could apply to life in general when faced with hostility.  Thoughtfully and carefully, she replied “Yes, but there is also a need for light.  Without hope, you have nothing to fight for.”

    From here we toured Ammunition Hill, where we watched a film about the history of this spot.  One of the most striking clips was of a survivor who was given an Israeli flag from a grandmother, and told to fly it above the Kotel.  The famous picture of the soldiers at the wall waving the flag is of him.  A few of us teared up when he said, “I am a Polish Jew.  My family name would have died with me had I died on that day, as I am the last male of my line. And yet, had my grandparents lived to know that I stood on the Temple Mount and secured the Jewish flag on top, they would have died a thousand deaths to make sure that moment happened again. And I was there.”  He went on to describe that it was not sacrifice, but duty to fight, and that every Israeli knows what this means.

    We were also treated to an impromptu testimony of a man who survived the war. We murmured our surprise that someone would come back and docent at the exact location where his life was almost lost.  In broken English, he explained that “you must do everything you can do not to fight, but if you have to fight: you fight.  It is your job to survive.” 

    The kids asked him questions about his experience.  One child asked about his emotional state and if he felt like a hero.  He replied “it’s personal.  We did not feel glory.  The soldiers who fought here felt nothing but sorrow. We had to walk over bodies and the wounded and fight. We had no choice - you had to survive in order to protect our people.”  It is impossible for our children to wrap their minds around this, but they understood that 16-18 years old boys lost their lives so that we could be here.  It is personal for them too, just in a different way.

    He ended his talk by showing us a photo of two men in their late 60s or early 70s hugging.  Their eyes were bright, their smiles were glowing, and one man wore a kippah and the other a head scarf.  “This man,” he explained “is the boy who shot me in my neck that day.  I bled so much that I should have died and I woke up in a hospital.” Hands shot up immediately.  Before they could ask why he would smile and hug this man so many years later, the veteran explained “It’s about survival and protection.  To be human, we must forgive and heal.”  I took that phrase and bookmarked it: to be human we must forgive and heal.  Wise words to live by.

    Deep in reflection, our excursions ended at Mt. Hertzel National Cemetery where we toured a few tiers of graves. The kids were silent. Unlike at cemetaries in the States, family members and friends sit at the graves and eagerly wait to tell the stories of their loved ones’ lives.  EVERY grave is overflowing with flowers, stones, and prayers, and there is not a single “lone soldier” with a naked gravestone.  Similarly, unlike at home, every grave is the same - no bigger, smaller, more elaborate.  Here, everyone is equal.  The only thing not equal are the ranks of the officers, as one of the consequences of “follow me,” is that there are a disproportionate amount of graves belonging to commanders.  Despite their high rank, when I looked at the dates, they were babies.  BABIES. Young men and women who died BEFORE their prime. You see, “Follow me” means something here; and this kind of sacrifice has clearly shaped the country.  Never have I been more keenly aware that peace is not free; it comes at a cost. A heavy one.

    We summed up our day with a discussion.  Recognizing it was a long day and a weighty subject, the guides offered up a free dismissal for anyone who needed to take a break.  Not a single child left. Together, we reflected on the entirety of what we had witnessed.  One child recognized the grieving families.  These shattered mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and relatives know the truth behind our Sages’ words that if you save a life, you save the world.   You can’t quantify life.  A single life is infinite. A single life is the world.  So when sacrifice is made to protect a nation, to ensure that every Jew has a homeland, we must step back, take notice, give thanks, and remember.  In our own ways, I have no doubt, that the lessons learned today will grow deep roots within our children.  For today, they heard - really heard - that they stood upon the graves of uncountable souls who gave their lives so that they could be here today.  And now it is our duty, our obligation, to pick up the torch and lead. 


  • Eighth Grade Israel Trip 2019 - Day 11

    Israel Trip Day 11 -Yom Ha’atzma’ut

    Last night we celebrated Yom Ha'atzmaut on Ben Yehudah Street.  If you have not been before, let me paint the picture:  imagine the crowd at Disney World before the nightly fireworks show, but the paraphernalia is blue and white.  Frenzied teens swarm the street clad in giant Israeli flags.  Children run around with giant inflatable Israeli hammers and silly string.  Groups of young adults walk in hugging arrays down the street, belting out Israeli songs; swarms of hyper teens dance in flash mob mosh pits to DJS and pulsating live music.  Fireworks and laser beams light up the night sky, and the excitement of the evening, in contrast to the solemnity of Yom Hazikaron the day before, can be felt vibrating from the cobblestones through your bones.  It is impossible to be a passive participant in this extravaganza.

    Despite the crowds, we were again surprised to run into people we knew! This seems to be unique to Israel; never before have I witnessed Jewish geography at such a level.  We were reunited with Hillel friends who moved away, camp buddies, relatives, parents of friends, and Morah Soleimani’s student teacher, Morah Laura, from Pardes. It was as if the universe decided to remind us that our mishpacha is even stronger and larger than we previously believed.  

    The next morning we davened on the balcony overlooking the Conservative Movement’s yeshiva and a beautiful fountain. The air was filled with the sweet smell of magenta flowers that lined the veranda and the noise of flapping Israeli flags proudly waving in the wind. Our Rav Beit Hasefer, Rabbi Fain, had arrived to join us, and he explained the significance of where our hotel stood, a block away from the Prime Minister’s home. Unlike in the U.S., the Israeli leader lives in a local neighborhood, in a non-assuming residence.

    Secondly, he explained that from our balcony we could see the old borders of the city from before 1967. Again, the geography of the land tells a story. “Your grandparents would have dreamed of standing here and praying,” Rabbi explained to the kids. It is incredible to think about how much changes in such a short period of time; the kids don’t yet have the perspective to understand how meaningful this is, but they will. I wonder when our kids tell their grandchildren about this experience, what will be beyond the scope of their imaginations? Will the inconceivable - peace - come to fruition?

    After praying and reflecting on the history of this spot, a few children stayed behind by choice, and extended their praying by singing Hallel with Rabbi.  Since Yom Ha-atzma’ut is a modern holiday, there is obviously no mention of it in the Torah, and the Rabbis who decided how to celebrate it deemed it appropriate to chant Hallel as a way to express our joy and gratitude to God.

    Our day proceeded with a very special program at the Children’s Museum; the kids experienced an hour and a half tour through the museum and they were unable to speak. We had noise canceling headphones and were led by a non-verbal, deaf docent. It was pretty incredible that the kids could communicate with each other entirely with bodily and facial gestures. Our docent explained that deaf people are given sign names that reflect their personality; the kids wondered what their sign names would be?! One child asked me if as a parent I knew what my kids would be like when they were born. “When they were born, did you just know? How did you know she was a Sophia and he was a Sam?”

    It made me think about the power of names.  Since the kids have found out that Mr. Freitag’s first name is not Bradley but Michael, they have been mulling over the concept of names.  “He’s more of a Brad, not a Michael though,” said one child. This spurred a discussion about passing down names. “Remember the vet who said that he was the last in his family line, and now he has seven, or was it eight, grandchildren?  His name now lives on,” recalled a student.  Names are powerful.  At Yad Vashem, we had learned that the biblical phrase that is the museum’s namesake means “a name and a monument.”  We know our names, but what will our monuments be?

    After our tour, we re-entered the hearing world, and played soccer, cards, and backgammon at a park and munched on pizza - a universal language to fill all bellies.

    From there we drove to the Bullet Factory, where we toured a kibbutz where during 1947-1949 Jews made ammunition for the war effort.  Here the brave kibbutzniks set up their operation directly across from a British army camp; the thought was that the British would never assume that the Jews would rebel right under their noses.  Using their ingenuity, they built an underground ammunition factory that was masked by a bakery and a laundromat.  The laundromat covered up the sounds of the machinery and the bakery masked the smell of the gunpowder. When I asked one child what the highlight of his tour was, he was quick to respond “It’s just amazing how the Jews used their brains to win.  It’s not all about fighting. To win you need all kinds of people and sometimes people fight in different ways. These Jews fought with their brains.” 

    The kids were eager to hit the gift shop after the tour, to buy the famous bullet necklaces that are sold there.

    The kids’ spirits were further lifted by a surprise visit from our Israeli student’s grandmother, complete with homemade frosted cheesecake, a delicacy that we are becoming very addicted to. Sitting under the sun, filling our bellies with this local delight, we reflected on our day so far.  Thinking that the kids would be eager to leave to hit the beach, I was pleasantly surprised to hear: “I’m happy that we are leaving here to go to the beach, but you know? This ain’t so bad either.  If the day ended today, I would be content. This is a good one.”

    Indeed, it is a good one.  But they all are. Each day our sweet students are uncovering another layer of their identities. They are realizing that their names represent complex beings - individuals who are resilient, insightful, creative, collaborative, humorous, wise, tough, kind, capable, powerful, and scrappy. Similar to those who fought and thought - both necessary skills for success - to build this incredible country, our students are leaving their marks on this world.

    And so we are off to end the holiday at the Mediterranean Sea, where we will scream our names to the rolling waves and write them in the warm sand.  Hillel’s Class of 2019 was here. And it was good.


  • Eighth Grade Israel Trip 2019 - Day 12

    Israel Trip 2019 - Day 12 - The North

    It is hard to believe that we are still in Israel; after a week of being in the desert and in Jerusalem, we  rolled into our hotel late last night, and were overwhelmed by a cacophony of birds, frogs, feral cats, palm fronds whipping in the wind, and the lapping water of the Kinneret. Our hotel, better understood as a “cozy fixer upper” youth hostel, sits directly on the Kinneret.  Despite our modest rooms, we were beyond blessed to wake up to an expansive courtyard filled with giant palm trees and fountains, and to walk five steps behind the hotel to rolling hills, sports courts, playscapes, and the beach. We are working on becoming friendly with some of the natives: spiders, ants, and the occasional fly. We don’t argue about roommates; we argue about sharing our spaces with the native insects.

    Rested, rejuvenated by tefillah on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, we began out morning at the highest point in Tzfat.  Here stood the citadel that the first crusaders built at the end of the 12th century.  Omar, our guide, recounted the history of 400,000 Christians leaving their European homes in 1096, and walking for three years to Jerusalem. “What would that even look like?,” one child wondered.  While we tried to wrap our minds around this seemingly impossible task, he continued, “after three years, 40,000 people arrived in Jerusalem. They thought that they could take the city, which was under Muslim occupation, without a fight.” The kids sat in semi-circle formation on the old stones of the citadel and intently listened to the story of 40,000 Christian men filled with what they thought was the will of God.  They decided to follow the Bible for military inspiration, and were surprised that marching around the city walls and blowing shofars did not produce the desired outcome. Apparently, this strategy had worked better in Jericho.

    After instituting Plan B, and laying siege to the city,  35,000 Muslims, and some Jews, were killed in what the Crusaders considered the “liberation of Jerusalem.”  The kids pondered this complex concept that we keep encountering: there are multiple narratives to every story.  “Do we consider this a liberation?” Omar asked the students.  Still uncertain of where he was leading them, they hesitantly shook their heads.  And yet, I commended them on opening up their minds to consider the question.  This is one of the beautiful things about 8th graders - they are on the cusp of maturity, and at this point in their intellectual lives, they still allow for the possibility of shifting their thinking. They are not rigid yet.

    Omar continued to explain how after the this, the the Crusaders came to Tzfat to construct a fortified citadel.  It was the biggest and strongest one that existed at that time.  “What was in that citadel?”  The kids guessed: holy pieces (relics), scriptures, treasure?  The answer: land deeds.  The most sacred objects on Earth for the Christians at this time were the pieces of paper that transferred land ownership of the Holy Land to the Europeans.  This spurred conversation about land, ownership, and value.  “Why was this worth so much?” asked one child. Our guide offered no answers, but I am eager to circle back at the end of the trip and ask the kids if ownership of the Land of Israel is the most valuable asset of our people. I wonder how 2.5 weeks here will impact their answers.

    From here we hiked along the overgrown path - it was, blessedly, a particularly rainy winter season - and through a tunnel to a cistern.  This spot, which emanated earthy, damp aromas through the caves, was where the Crusaders stored water for the city.  There, in a dark circular underground room, we sang “Ashrei” and a Psalm in harmony.  The kids’ voices bounced off of the round walls and carried out the light filled hole in the top of the space, and down the hills of Tzfat.  We considered the moment.  43 Jews were singing songs of prayer in a Crusaders’ ruin. We reclaimed the narrative -- it was ours.

    From here we climbed down countless cobbled steps to the heart of the city, where we tucked into one of the many alcoves and learned about Kabbalah and its relationship to Tzfat. Sitting under tiny balconies strewn with colored sheets waving in the wind, our kids listened to the story of Creation. And this was a different narrative than they were used to.  Instead of Adam and Eve in a lush garden, we heard a story devoid of temptation.  “In order to allow humans to perfect the world, God had to reduce himself.  Holiness in God is described as light, so God made a void of darkness and he had to fill it with life. He used a vessel - the skull of the first man - and he poured light into it.  As God poured light into the darkness, the vessel could not handle the intensity of the light, and it shattered. This is the world that we live in today.  We will be fulfilled when all of the pieces come together. In everything that looks dark, there is really hidden light and we must find it.  By finding light, we help God finish the act of creation.”

    The kids discussed this idea.  One child boldly asked, “But what if there is no light?”  Quickly, another chimed in, “There is always light.  We just need to find it.”  Considering that Kabbalah is meant to be studied by middle-aged men who have finished studying Talmud in its entirety, and who have fulfilled the obligation to have two children.  And yet. We quickly shifted the conversation into our realm, our world. 

    “When we are in a situation that brings us down, we can find the positive,” one child shared.  “When we see a spider on the floor of our hotel, we can remember that we are in Israel, and this is not such a big deal.”  A middle-aged mama with two children, and some Talmud study, under her belt, also added, “When we are in Israel, we can think about this incredible gift, and see how lucky we are vs. complaining about the little things, such as being a little chilly, or having to use squeegies in the showers.”

    Which brings me to what I love most about your kids: their frankness: “Morah, we know we are so lucky to be in Israel; we are having the times of our lives.  But squeegies in showers are just weird. And it is a little cold, you have to admit.” I decline to comment, but I consider myself priveleged to have the opportunity to discuss this hefty issue with them.

    And with that, the universe provided us with a little more light, as the sun poked through the cloud cover and beat down on us as we scoured the market street for silver necklaces, bangles, and, “oh my gosh, there is a Patriots jersey in Hebrew, come quick!”  Since Tzfat is a holy city, one sweet boy decided it was where he wanted to buy his handsewn tallis and tefillin bag.  ‘I just love the gold and silver threads; it is pretty special.”Another said, “I need to get earrings for my sister; this is where I will get them.”

    Again we ran into people we know.  “Leah! You are back again! Michigan comes every year,” shouted a guide from a University of Michigan tour.  I’ve been twice with the kids, but it is still odd to run into him on a random street in the North.  Another student caught sight of her neighbor, and another ran into his camp counselor.  Satiated with rekindled friendships, and laden with bags of special purchases, we put our feet up, and sipped the “world’s best slushies.”  This is a very special characteristic of Israel; it appears that they offer the “world’s best” of just about everything in this tiny country. Tummies full of lemonade mint iced drinks, we held our foreheads to ward off the impending brain freezes, and scooted off to a pizur lunch and a lazy afternoon at the Kinneret.

    Once we staked our claim on the busy beach, we stuck our toes into the murky sea, and decided that this fulfilled the experience.  It’s a little “sketchy,” as one child put it.  There is a little bit of shoreline, and a lot of algae and debris.  This did not, however, spoil our mood.  We spent the next two hours playing cards, listening to music, scrolling through baby photos, and played ball on the beach.  This is another narrative that again and again weaves its way into Hillel’s trip; the kids can entertain themselves at the drop of a hat, and there is always room to add another friend to the game or discussion.  

    As staff, the trip offers us a unique opportunity to join  the kids at their level, and hear them open up about their lives, the best way to secure a braid without hairpins, and their entrepreunurial skills at selling sneakers when you can properly assess the pulse of the supply and demand. Clearly, my husband and I are in the wrong fields for paying college tuition. #Thefutureissneakers.

    Sun kissed cheeks, grinning with contentment, our kiddos walked along the shoreline to our hotel and continued our day by celebrating one of our sweet fella’s birthdays in an impromptu celebration. Filled with excitement and love, they raised our birthday boy high above their heads in a plastic chair, and belted out “Yom Huledet Sameach” at the top of their lungs, while giggling and recounting tales of friendship with our celebrity of the day.  After taking the 10,000th photo of our birthday boy and his ever expanding group of friends, we retired to our rooms to shift our thinking, shower off the sand/dirt/chocolate, and prepare for Shabbat. 

    While walking back to the beach with a student to pick up a pair of forgotten sneakers (we still need to master the skill of hanging on to all of our possessions at all times), the student shared his thoughts. “I loved jeeping; I loved the beach; I loved hiking, but most of all I just love being here.” It made me think that while intellectually I know that we have not yet fulfilled the responsibility of repairing the world, Hillel’s 8th graders have spent the last eleven days letting in the light.  Because if this ruach, kindness, devotion, and love of one another, of our homeland, and of Judaism does not have the power to heal, then I am at a loss for what does.  

    And so I bid you Shabbat Shalom. I hope that our light has trickled in via our pictures, words, imessages, and positive energy.  We are all light right now, eager to spread our heat and feeling of security with those we love. And should you look East and see our glow, shield your eyes, for we shine a mighty beacon across the evening sky.
  • Eighth Grade Israel Trip 2019 - Day 13

    Shabbat on the Kinneret

    On Shabbat we rested, our phones silently nestled into the kiddos’ Yonder pouches. Our bus driver got some much needed relief; navigating the streets of Tzfat is a harrowing ordeal, and requires commendable skill.  

    The kids filled their bellies with rugelach, a Yemeni Shabbat pastry, and then commented on the “special” Shabbat breakfast additions of corn pizza and alfredo noodles, which eliced quite a few “no, thank yous,” and then went on to daven in the hotel’s bomb shelter. Apparently, according to Morah Amalia Poris, the shelters often serve two purposes as community shelters.  So, amidst the reinforced ceilings and windowless walls, we felt safe and secure as we lained this week’s portion.

    The kids spent their day playing ball, cards, sitting out on the beach, and braiding each other’s hair.  We met guests and family, and spent the day listening to the chatter of exotic birds while chilling in the warm sunshine.  I asked the kids to reflect upon the last week.  Here is what the kids and staff shared; you will laugh and cry at the same time.  

    -“I loved Yom Ha’atzmaut because it was fun. We didn’t need to leave at 10:00 p.m. We got to stay late and dance.”

    -“ What was impactful? Hmm. Is it ok to say everything? I mean how could you have any other answer.”

    -“The hotel experience is the best. I learned how a friend who normally is a quiet student really is. You learn a lot about people. It’s like a sleepover every night. I laugh until it hurts.”

    -“ I loved the Yom Ha-atzma’ut party. Even though it was really crazy, after the party I felt like I was an Israeli celebrating Israel.”

    -”Sometimes days mush together here and I can’t distinguish reality from fiction.” (A few snickers and head nods accompanied this comment.)

    -“I liked Yom Ha-atzma’ut because it was cool to celebrate in Israel. I liked belonging.”

    -“I loved the holiday, particularly the museum.”

    -“#hotellife”

    -“Basketball on the kibbutz was awesome. It is fun playing with new friends.”

    -“The frozen lemonade in Tzfat was very refreshing after standing in the heat. I am not a mint lemonade type of guy, but the lemonade… that was good.”

    -“The hotels are great because it forces you to bond with new people.”

    -“I’m not aggressive, I’m Israeli.” (Said when the tour guide accidentally bumped a student while navigating the bus aisle on the highway).

    -“Every day on the bus is like a dance party. Amit (our social guide) plays music really loud. We scream to it and everyone sings throwback songs. It’s the best. Music brings us together.”

    -“Yom Hazikaron was impactful because it was a completely different experience than what Memorial Day is in America because everyone connects to it. It still has meaning.”

    -“The bus is half the class. It mixes friend groups and we bond with people who are not normally people we hang out with.”

    -“The Bar Kochva caves made me nervous. I almost decided not to go. But when I got in the caves and started to go, I felt like I could do anything. It felt good.”

    -“I enjoyed the dig because it was a look into the past, and it connected me to my ancestors.”

    -“Abrahim (the bus driver) is unreal. He has a stoic (bravo on the vocab usage!)  face even though insane music is playing, and we are screaming. That guy can really drive bus. Morah, have you seen how he can handle that ride?” (For the record, he is incredibly patient and kind, and he lends the kids new water bottles on credit all of the time.)

    -“I know you said to talk about things from after we went to the Kotel, but for me it’s still The Wall. I connected with God there.”

    -“You have to include “Yonatan's quote: ‘sometimes life is just that simple.’” “Make sure to include his nickname. Bobby. No. Kabobby. He burped and said “it smells like kabobs.’ He is hilarious.”

    -“Ben Yehudah Street was the best. I was overheating while dancing, but that’s ok. My mom is 100% going to know that I wrote this.”

    -“I loved singing in the cave it Tzfat. It was echoing, and it seemed like people were singing back to us. There was also graffiti in it, which was artsy. It was also cool that the Crusaders built it. It has to do with history.”

    -“I liked having Kabbalah Shabbat in front of the Kinneret. It was really special.”

    -“I like Shabbat because it gives us time to be together and unplug. Also, mosh pit for life (Yom Ha-atzma’ut flashback.)”

    -“It was really inspiring speaking to the soldier on Yom Hazikaron. It was a personal narrative, and it gave us an experience about the war that was personal.”

    -“I liked doing stuff with new people and spending time with them. I like not having our phones on Shabbat.”

    -“I liked the archaeological dig. It was cool to find bones and pottery from 2,000 years ago. It was a unique experience.”

    -“I stubbed my toe a lot.”

    -“I liked crawling through the caves; I liked crawling through history.”

    -“I like the hotel. The food is great, and the shower is big.” (No fair: not in my room!)

    -“I am excited for the boats. It sounds fun. I can talk about what is coming up too, right? I’m just excited.”

    -“I really liked the caves because it was out of my comfort zone. I didn’t expect to do it. But some of the adventurous kids didn’t want to do it, and I did. I never thought I would do it.”

    -“I liked going into the Mediterranean and riding the waves.”

    -“I really liked going to the Mediterranean Sea and being with friends. We don’t have that at home. It was different.”

    -“The guy who spoke on Yom Hazikaron. Someone asked if he was happy about winning the war, and he said he was sad about his friends dying. He was able to take a picture and smile with the guy who almost murdered him. He is amazing. I never thought about things that way.”

    -“In Yad Vashem, when we walked into the Children's Memorial and saw the kids’ faces and heard their names, it meant a lot. It made the history real.”

    -“Ben Yehudah Street. I liked partying with my friends and having a blast.”

    -“I liked going on the dig. It was so cool to find things that were used thousands of years ago.”

    -“In the Jeep rides, Amit would play music and sing. She made it so fun. Amit makes everything better. I know the Jeep ride was from before, but Amit is the now.”

    -“I will remember this whole trip. It’s like a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s nice to spend time with people I might not see again.”

    -“Yad Vashem was a lot different than D.C. museum. It was a different perspective on the Holocaust. The tour guide was amazing. We learned about the Shoah through stories.”

    -“Bonding with people I have never really been with before is amazing.”

    “I find it interesting that Israelis can be sad and celebrate all in one day. They have a strong sense of unity.”

    “I like that the Israelis have a day to mourn those who died in the army trying to protect them. They have a great respect for fallen soldiers.”

    -“Freitag. He is so cool. I never knew him before.”

    - “You think life in Israel is about Gaza. But no, life in Israel is about the mosquitoes. It’s not about the politics. It’s about the bugs.” - Yonatan

    -”You let us stay at Yom Ha-atzma’ut for an extra half hour - can we stay in Israel longer, too? Please. We promise to wear hats and sunscreen…..” (just give us the go ahead, and we will keep on touring!)

    After Shabbat ended, we danced the night away on a party boat in the Kinneret.  Even though the trip is winding down, we are just revving up!
  • Eighth Grade Israel Trip 2019 - Day 14

    Sleep still encrusting our eyes from a late night dancing on a Kinneret party boat, we rolled out of bed and slowly woke up while chanting tefillah and looking out onto the magnificent waterscape of the Sea of Galilee. Due to the rainy winter season, the Kinneret rose a meter and a half in elevation, and reeds and weedy aquatic plants have filled in the former beach; it is difficult to describe, but the view - if you were to block out the rolling mountains - is reminiscent of artwork that depicts baby Moshe, ensconced in a woven basket, floating down the Nile. Clearly, when Miriam ran along the river’s edge, it was a buggy day.

    It is funny because as this thought popped in my head, I recounted a child saying on our first night here, “I wonder what the sounds of the Nile were like when we were in Egypt.  I mean during the plagues; what did that sound like?”  This conversation happened on the banks of the Kinneret at about 10:00 at night, when we could barely communicate with one another due to the discordant voices of the bugs, birds, toads, and other wildlife.  I don’t do it justice when I describe it, but it is shrill. Loud. Grating. The sounds of the Kinneret climb into your ears without permission, and settle in your bones in an uncomfortable way, agitating you just enough to maintain your attention.

    Awake and alert, we began our day’s excursions looking out onto the Golan from Mount Bental. From here we had a perfect view of the snow on Mount Hermon, the highest point in Israel (700 feet above sea level); it’s footprint triangles the borders of Israel, Lebanon, and Syria.  Omar, our guide, explained that “Israelis don’t know how to ski.  They hop on to nylon fabric and slide down.”  I’m not exactly sure what THAT looks like, but the view from where I was standing was pretty spectacular.  The motif that has woven its way into the fabric of our trip - Israel is a confluence of incongruous ideas - is markedly obvious as we reapply sunscreen and search for shade from the unforgiving sun (high 90s forecast for today), while looking at ice caps on a mountain that appears close enough that we can reach out and scoop up a handful of snow.

    We could also see the border lines of Syria, abandoned Arab villages, and military sites.  This location was important before the advent of modern warfare because it was precious high ground, when “the way to control the border was to control the hills.”

    “Now, wars are fought like video games.  There is a different expertise needed, and it is not intimate like it used to be.  It is fought over computers and from afar,” Omar explained.  A few kids’ eyes opened wider and they tucked their phones away into their backpacks.  They get it.  This explanation is all too real for them. They have commented multiple times that they can’t believe how young soldiers are here; it hits home.  At 14 years old, 18 is close enough, and yet they cannot wrap their minds around it.  As we stood surveying the Syrian border, several of the adults shared that the last time we were here you could hear and see rockets on the horizon.  The kids’ eyes widened.  “But it is calm today,” one child noticed; indeed, there was nothing but green, brown and the grey line.  Boundary lines in the sand don’t necessarily scream the message PEACE, but we decide to hold on to the child’s observation.  Today there was calm.

    Hearts heavy with the weight of the constant tension that leads to violence in this land, we left for Tel Dan, the city of the tribe of Dan. Here, we hiked underneath the lush foliage that excess water brings. Our group was sheltered from the sun by a canopy of heavy green fronds and the path was mottled with vines and errant wildflowers that prefer to stand alone in a crowd. It would not be pushing it to say that the unforgiving humid air and rainforestesque foliage made this path seem like Brazil.

    Unlike the dilemma that the ancients faced in most of the country, here, the inhabitants had to figure out what to do with too much water.  They settled their city at the head of the natural springs at the top of the hill, a most strategic place.  Underground, they dug tunnels to divert water from the city. Omar told the kids to think about the closeness of the landscapes: “the desert and the lush are brothers.”  He went on to hold a 5 shekel coin, and asked the kids what this coin shows: date, what was important during that time, who was in power, value. They continued to note the type of column on the coin; clearly the kids have absorbed their Ancient Civilizations lessons from Mr. Cutler’s class.

    “It shows us,” Omar explained, “that an important house was here, and a house with these kinds of columns means that an important person lived here.  He went on to recount the history told in the Tanach. “In the Book of Kings we learn about the split of the land of Judea.  The bible tells us that God was not happy with the kings.  The bible tells us that he will kill the kings and anoint another king.”  Omar then told the kids that 25 years ago there was an excavation at this exact site.  He pointed to a cobbled wall that towered above the kids, and said, “right here, the most important archaeological discovery in Israel was found.”  Apparently on the last day of the dig, an archeologist found a flat stone surface, and on it were three pieces of parchment with the words: Bet David (House of David.) In 150 years of research on every square inch of land in Israel, never before had there been archeological evidence that mentioned that King David existed.

    “Who is King David? What was he like?” Omar asked. The answers came: Big. Powerful. Womanizer. Genius. Ruler. Arrogant.  Clearly, the kids know their Tanach.  Hence, they were stunned when Omar said, “The head of archaeology in Tel Aviv said that ‘If King David existed, he was no more than a Bedouin sheik.’” Mic drop.

    “The Bible describes a reality that is not the history we perceive,” Omar continued. “The Bible is interested in morality. It was a Greek concept that the Bible was a history book.”  He explained that this parchment said, “I killed the King of Judea and I anointed another instead.”  It was not signed by God, but the King of Aram (modern day Syria), the king of a rival country.  The kids were faced with reconciling what happens when the Bible does not parallel the evidence found in the earth. “The Bible is not interested in the details of what happened. The Bible tells us how to understand what is happening, and what we should do to make things happen as they should,” Omar continued.

    “History and archeology cannot teach us how we should behave. What are they good for?  The best storytelling in the world is the Bible, and this is our map. Our map for how to live our life.”  The kids were compiling this information and nodding.  One child considered, “One idea does not have to be right or wrong.  The Torah tells us how to be, and archeology tells us what it was like when we were there. They can work in unison.” 

    We all collectively put a pin in these philosophical ideas as Omar brought us back to our world. He pointed to the corner of the wall that we could all reach out and touched the edge.  “Here,” he said “is where the parchment with the words HOUSE OF DAVID was found. Right here.” 

    Was David a giant among men, a charismatic ruler whose seed will bring forth the Messiah? Does it matter if the narratives of science, archeology, and Torah collide, or is it more that they mesh together to weave a stronger tale?  

    The kids considered some of these deeper thoughts, and then, as we left, we put our hands on the warm stone wall, the home of the most important archeological find in Israel, and we left thinking: whoever David was, the spot where our palms touched the stone was the same spot where David’s hand once rested.  This moment was bigger than any Bedouin Sheik - it was biblical in magnitude.

    Minds dancing with questions and new ideas to consider, we rolled on for the long journey to meet residents of our partnership region in the Galil. The kids were giddy with excitement and anticipation to rekindle friendships from camp and youth groups, and to weave some new tales of our own.  For our narrative is still being written - is it a moral tale? A historical tale? Only time will tell - but we will reach our palms out to the future and whisper “Hillel ‘19 was here. Remember us.”
  • Eighth Grade Israel Trip 2019 - Day 15

    Israel Trip 2019 - Day 15 - Partnership, Burial Sites, and Rafting

    The kids have spent the better half of this academic year communicating with our partnership region in the North, via emails, letters, joint projects, and research. The culmination was the Hebrew version of our Campaign for a Cause, for which the kids competed amongst themselves to pick an Israeli organization to sponsor. We were lucky enough to spend an evening and a morning with our Israeli counterparts, and while we met face to face for the first time, we shared meals and treats, activity time, and service hours at our chosen organization, Lehetiv, whose mission is to increase worldwide kindness. The kids worked in mixed Israeli/American teams to beautify the walls of the Lehetiv building by spray painting designs in the entryway, and to plant gardens on the grounds. We finished by sharing popsicles and gifts: we had raised just shy of $500 for them, and they thanked us with local delicacies of honey and olive oil.

    Feeling positive about our work, we left for Bet Shearim, a necropolis that is unique because the chiseled decorations on the sarcophagi have both Roman and Jewish symbols. Before the Mount of Olives became a coveted burial site during the Middle Ages, Bet Shearim was popular with wealthy Jewish people because it was the final resting spot of Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, the 2nd century rabbi who codified the Mishnah. Jews who wanted to be buried in the Holy Land came as far as Yemen to finally rest in these caves, where burial was an individual experience vs. a collective one; this distinction supposedly made it easier for resurrection. This word elicited some head turns, and eyebrow raises, from the kiddos. “Isn’t that a Christian thing?” one child mouthed in horror. “It’s a Jewish thing,” our guide said. “But, let’s circle back to that. In the meantime, we will tour the caves.” I encouraged the kids to read the full Amidah in the English translation, which speaks of resurrection, and has been interpreted literally and metaphorically by our sages.

    Bent over and hoping for the best, we scooted single file through a tiny stone door in the front of a massive cliff, and found ourselves in a massive cavern filled with sarcophagi.  The first tomb that we encountered bore the markings of the daughter of Rabbi Gamliel, one of the Sages that we studied last year in Diyyun. As we explored further, we were struck by a sarcophagus that bore the Roman symbols that Christianity later co-opted: a bull, eagle, lion, and angel, which were later attributed to the gospels of Jesus.

    Deep in discussion over the meshing of different cultures, we came to a dead stop at the end of the cave where a giant menorah was carved into the chalky wall.  “This menorah,” the guide explained “is to distinguish that this is a Jewish cemetery.  In fact, it was a menorah, not the Jewish star, that first represented Jewish identity. The kids all clutched their Jewish star necklaces - recent purchases in the Shuk and Tzfat - and pondered this bit of information.


    Bet Shearim is significant because the “combination of non-Jewish symbols discovered reveal the intellectual encounters, understanding, and tolerance among the Jewish sages of this period.”  The kids leaned against the chalky cave walls and as their eyes adjusted to the dim light, their minds sharpened. 

    “Wait, Morah… this is like Beit Alpha! Remember when we learned about the Zodiac signs on the synagogue floor?”  This brought back our diyyunim on whether the Jewish faith has strengthened or weakened when we encountered warm, welcoming communities.  Does assimilating symbols, cultures, families, help or hurt us?  Similar to the sages who were once buried deep within the caves, our discussions provoked more discussions; we walked into the light with more questions than answers.

    And so we rolled onto the “Mighty Jordan,” a fairly tame stretch of river sandwiched between two dams.  The kids had to work collaboratively to build frames to merge canoes, and then we went for a calm ride.  Or at least that’s what the kids planned.  Mr. Freitag, Mr. Venning, and I were ready for battle.  Armed with the energy of approximately five hours of sleep per night, and an irrational will to win, us middle aged “Cool Kids” boarded the kids’ boats, stole a whopping NINE paddles, and ensured that every single student was soaked to the core. While we had to memorialize our tour guide’s phone (luckily, a loss not caused by anyone at Hillel), we all returned to dry land grinning ear to ear. The “Mighty Jordan” is a little bit lower today; Hillel took some of the water.

    Sneakers soaked, and so so hungry, we slogged off of the bus, and ended our day looking at a life-size, 3D replica of the country that just happened to be behind the hotel.  The kids placed backgammon chips on all of the cities that we have toured, and when you look at it, our journey is mighty impressive.

    It is inconceivable that we only have one day left in Israel. I know that you are all eager to reunite with your children. But know that the baby that you sent to Israel is not the same child that we are sending home.  Your children have grown.  Their minds have expanded, their hearts have deepened, their friendships have broadened, their attitudes have shifted - they are different people.  Yes, they will eat their favorite foods and settle into old routines, and it will feel “right” to you, but trust me: their souls will lean toward Israel, for their roots have settled here.
  • Eighth Grade Israel Trip 2019 - Day 16

     
    Israel Trip Day 16 – Tel Aviv
    We are en route to Tel Aviv - a three hour bus ride that has already, 40 minutes in, lulled the kiddos to sleep. Heads bob, arms sway, slight snores bounce off of the walls. Don’t expect a chatty welcome; we have been hauling for two and a half weeks.  I predict they’ll start talking sometime mid Sunday.
    Today we are planning to hit the Hall of Independence, the shuk and artisans’ market, the beach, and end with a farewell dinner at Dr. Shakshuka, which I have personally distinguished as “the best Israeli food in Tel Aviv.” 
    Trust me: the kids have had a rich experience; they won’t be able to articulate it properly to you - not because they are being short or teenager, but simply because the English language is limited.  It is incapable of conveying the noisy, diverse, colorful, spicy-sweet, texture-filled, emotionally dense, mind opening, physically challenging trip that we just completed. Everyone always comments that Israel changes you.  I always thought that this statement sounded trite, but sometimes the simplest words are best. 
     
    So look at the smiling faces in the photos, smile as you shake out the sand from the two left socks that you unpack (the right ones decided to stay awhile longer), touch the too-shiny-to-be-real gold and brilliant silver necklaces on your child’s neck and see the reflection of the land twinkle off of the Eilat Stones and local aquamarines. But most of all, look deep into your kiddo’s tired eyes - look at the depth, curiosity, excitement, knowledge, and that far off glare of one who has learned and loved to his/her capacity at the moment.
     
    Israel taught us the lesson over and over again - day in and day out, lest we forget - that the world is woven on the loom of multiple narratives.  Stories that shout out and whisper of loves, triumphs, defeats, heartbreaks, and desires.  Tales steeped in history’s echoing twilight and the Torah’s eternal glow. The novel of our People is an anthology, a poem, a novel, a journal, a letter, a short story, a textbook, a two-thousand year old piece of parchment, a stone carving, a graffiti strewn wall, a newspaper, a text, an email, a blog, a word.  Israel has reminded us that we are a people of the book, and that our stories are rooted in this ancient land, but it is up to us to weave the tapestry of our own lives.
     
    Your children are ready to enter the next chapter in their stories, and like Avraham, their narratives begin with God and a word: Lekh-Lekha. “Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” Trust me, they are ready. 
     
    Singing off until Detroit.  Thanks for traveling with me and sharing your glorious kiddos with the entire staff.
    We love them so,
     
    Morah Gawel

     
     

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Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit
32200 Middlebelt Road | Farmington Hills, MI 48334

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