Gerda Vogel Marx 8th Grade Israel Experience Class of 2018: Part 1
Levine Academy

Class of 2018: Week One in Israel

Shabbat Send-off Services: March 9, 2018

The Journey Begins: March 11,2018 - DFW Airport 

Day One: March 12, 2018 - Arriving in Tel Aviv

After a long, semi-sleepless 14-hour flight, we arrived at Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv. 

Upon arrival, the emotion varied from mind-blowingly excited to completely sleep deprived. The line to get our passports checked was at least one hour long, (or so it felt like it) and we were graciously greeted by the relatives of Hanna, Noa and Raphi. We kindly received brownies, bamba and flowers!!!!! 

As we walked out of the airport, we bent down to kiss the ground, grateful for this amazing opportunity. Next, we headed to dinner, having an amazing meal of lamb and chicken. Afterwards, we went to bed relieved to finally get some sleep.

Hanna M. and Mia F.

Day Two: March 13, 2018 - Tel Aviv, Independence Hall, Ancient Caesarea

The morning began with davening on Tel Aviv's sandy beachfront. After services, we went to Independence Hall where Israel's independence was declared in what was formerly Meir and Dizengoff's (head of Tel Aviv's Neighborhood Council) house on May 4, 1948. We viewed a movie explaining the history of the building and listened to an intriguing speaker. We then moved into the very hall where Israel was declared an independent state. The fact that we are lucky enough to be in the exact place where Israel became a state was an intense experience for us. We heard a recording of Ben Gurion's speech, which ended with all the people in the room singing "Hatikvah" after the speech and signing of independence was completed. 

After Independence Hall, we went shopping in Tel-Aviv's "Shuk," which is an open air market filled with unique food and art and we all traveled in groups as we picked a restaurant in which we were able to enjoy Israeli cuisine. Many of us bought jewelry, artwork and food. 

Next, we went to Caesarea and learned about the tortuous life of a gladiator, which the Romans and their allies in Israel brought to the land of Israel. We learned about the rabbis determination to stop Jews from attending these expressions of Roman culture that went against Torah values. We all had so much fun re-enacting the battles with inflatable toys. 

Later, we went to pray mincha while watching the sunset over the coast of Caesarea. It was all so beautiful, and we had so much fun.

Hanna M. and Mia F. 

Day Three: March 14, 2018 - Palmach Museum, Sderot, and blintzes!

The whole trip has been great. We started our day with beautiful prayer on the beach. The view was amazing, and our prayers were enhanced by the wind drifting through the city. When praying was over, we spent some time on the beach relaxing and swimming. The water warmed up and we were able to relax in the ocean and get wet. 

The Palmach museum was our next stop on the days trip. The Palmach was one of the military groups that existed before. At the museum we saw the story of a troop of soldiers who fought for independence and joined forces with other groups to make the IDF. 

We took a tour of Sderot and learned of the struggle that citizens have by living near Gaza. They built several fortified playgrounds for kids who were getting bombed every other day. They had to have a safe place while rockets rained down all around them. We saw the collection of rockets and learned about the mass of rockets swarming towards the city every day. 

The Michaeli family invited us for blintzes at their restaurant and we spent the night dining on many kinds of blintzes. We ate salty, sweet, and chocolaty types of blintzes while looking at the pictures printed out for us. The generosity the family offered us was amazing and we were able to connect with Jews halfway across the world. They showed us great kindness after our long day of trekking across the city. The entire day was a span of fun activities and time spent with other students and teachers.

Avi L. and Joey S. 

Day Four: March 15, 2018 - Alum Visit, Archeological Dig, Bedouin hospitality

We met up with Levine alum, Matan (Joshua) Rudner '13 in the old city of Jaffe. Josh is six months into his service in the IDF. He shared with us about his experience in making aliya, his service in the IDF, and then we continued our tour of the Old City of Jaffe.

The students volunteered at an active archaeological dig at one of the hundreds of caves used by the Edomites from 2400-2000 years ago in Beit Guvrin. The students found many shards of pottery, and the students found two significant finds that the tour guide has never seen groups make even though he has led many groups on this dig. These significant finds were a rare green luxury form of Egyptian pottery and what appeared to be an ancient board game on flat clay board. These two finds are being sent immediately to an off-site archaeologist. It was dirty work, but the students jumped right in and they had a great time bringing the past to light.

Day Five: March 16, 2018 - Masada, Hike Ein Gedi, Waterfalls, Dead Sea

Today we went to Masada for a shacharit service held at sunrise in the 2000 year old "Beit Midrash" (House of Study). The fortress of Masada served as one of the last bastions of Jewish resistance in "The Great Revolt" (The Jew's 1st rebellion against Rome).

Next, we toured Masada and reenacted several of the stories of the Jewish rebel's last stand in Masada based on the writings of the ancient Jewish Historian named Flavius Josephus.

We went for a beautiful water hike in the desert oasis of Ein Gedi, one of the most ancient sites of human settlement in the Middle East. We played in several waterfalls and a crystal clear stream.
We ended this jam packed evening by having a bonfire with our new friends on Kibbutz Ketura (7th and 8th graders who live there). The students instantly bonded and they joined us in singing both American and Jewish music.

Day Six: March 17, 2018 - Kibbutz and Havdalah

Motzei Shabbat was a roller-coaster of feelings and emotions...from the "simcha" (happiness) of the Havdalah service to a somber moment and reflective words shared by students in order to honor the memory of Wendy Weinberg, z"l. 

We all felt an obligation to have this moment as soon as the students saw the tree and stone on the kibbutz that is dedicated to her memory. Like last year, I spoke about the verse in the Torah that makes an analogy between a tree and a person ("because a person is like a tree in a field".) I spoke about how some some of our actions are like the leaves on a tree which leave a short term impact on the world and how some of our actions are like the roots of a tree that have a much more long lasting impact on the world. In this analogy, I spoke about how Wende's students (including them), the trip, and Levine are her roots that still exist in the world. In order to honor her memory and to make her proud, we all spoke about how we need to dedicate ourselves to taking advantage of every moment of this trip by enjoying it and thinking about how it can impact who we are as Jews. 

Next, everyone shared a mitzva or "mida" (character trait) that they wished to work on in the coming year in order to honor her wishes and to become the type of roots that she hoped her talmidim (students) would be. The mitzvot and ideas that students dedicated themselves made all of the chaperones so very proud. They varied from "I hope to be a person who creates Jewish community among people with very different approaches to Judaism and different personalities", "I want to read Torah more often in her memory", "I did not want sing in front of people and she pushed me to do it", to "I want to make aliyah and serve in the IDF when I am an adult", etc. At times, it was intensely sad, but we were sure to end on a happy note when Rabbi Jeremy Litton ended the ceremony by singing Wende's favorite song of "mipiel!" We needed to end this way because we knew that and celebrating our Judaism is what Wende would want from us more than anything else.

Rabbi Michael Katzman