When the students in the Ann and Nate Levine Academy’s class of 2010 departed for Israel on March 7, not one of them could imagine how Israel would change their lives. For almost three weeks, they experienced the beauty, diversity, spirituality and wonder of that country. This trip was more than a tour: It was the culmination of their Jewish education and development, as well as the pinnacle of their Jewish affirmation. They saw, touched and tasted all the things they had read and learned about over their years at Levine.
The students saw and experienced Israel through a learning len s and returned with a depth of knowledge beyond what they had thought possible. From the moment the plane touched down at Ben-Gurion Airport, they hit the ground running as they were whisked away to plant trees in a JNF forest. From there it was nonstop from early morning until late at night — touring the Golan Heights in a jeep, picking vegetables for the poor, volunteering at a hospital, visiting Yad Vashem and Har Herzl, socializing with Ethiopian Jews, working at an archaeological dig, hiking at Nahal Haverim, snorkeling in Eilat, rappelling down a cliff, riding a camel, sleeping in a Bedouin tent, climbing Masada, floating in the Dead Sea, going up to Jerusalem and praying at the Western Wall. “We believe this trip ignites the flame of Jewish identity and a love of Israel unparalleled to anything that can be done in the classroom,” said Jewish Studies Director Wende Weinberg. “We send our kids to Israel to make them the Jewish leaders of their high schools and colleges, to change them as individuals and as Jews who will carry a love of Israel and Judaism with them forever.”
On the last day of the trip, the students were asked to answer a question posed to them when they arrived: “Why Israel? What makes this more than a vacation, more than just a trip?” Here are some of their answers:
Danielle Berg: “The whole Israel experience is so hard to put into words. We came to Israel with no thoughts about any type of growth — spiritual, mental or emotional. But that is what we will be leaving with. It is not a vacation at all. It is more of a question that we are faced with: who is it that you want to be, and how you choose to incorporate Judaism and all the values that are in it into your life. It is the perfect close to middle school and it represents the time in our lives where we need to accept reality and responsibility as Jewish individuals. Each of us can make a huge difference in the world, even with small actions, and the future lies in our hands. It is up to us to meet the high standards that are set for us. I want to thank Levine for all that it has taught me and all the knowledge you have provided me with. That is what Israel is for me.”
Gary Levine: “The things I can say about Israel are infinite. This wasn’t a trip, more than an experience, but a developing love and passion for a tiny piece of land. Besides becoming closer to the surrounding people, I found something inside of me, a connection from my soul to the soft limestone ground in Jerusalem, or the dry and barren pebbles of the Negev, or the many blossoming flowers and weeds in the Golan Heights. I could ramble on and on but the fact of the matter is that Israel changed my disposition physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I, Gary Levine, have found in myself a deep love for Israel.”
Sasha Kislak: “This wasn’t just an ordinary trip because I knew I couldn’t connect to my Jewish identity and past in any other place in the world. I knew that I couldn’t walk through any desert and know my ancestors were here at this exact place; I knew that I couldn’t stand on any other mountain fortress and hear the stories of beliefs so strong one would commit suicide for them; and I knew that I couldn’t stand in any other capital city and see Judaism surrounding me 24/7. I decided to take advantage of this amazing opportunity, and I will go home feeling more connected to my Jewish identity and have more personal knowledge of our history and where I come from.”
Sylvan Perlmutter: “Mah nishtanah hanesiyah hazeh — what makes this trip different from all others — was the question asked of us. For me this trip was to a place that I had a deep personal connection with, and it was a journey of self-discovery. On other trips I had taken with my class I had fun, but that was all. I was never touched emotionally on the Sky Ranch, Texas or New York/D.C. trips. Here, in Israel, after a while it really dawned on me: ‘This is my other home. I have a place here.’ Yes, I might have been tired, hot and uncomfortable at times but I never once regretted the decision to go to Eretz Yisrael. No other trip in my life has made me so acutely aware of my heritage. And now, as I finish writing this at the airport in Tel Aviv, I have one thing left to do: Try to bring Israel home with me.”
“The trip, made possible through the Gerta Vogel Marx Israel Experience Fund, illustrates Levine Academy’s dedication to the principle that a student’s education should reach beyond the classroom walls, that arenas and opportunities for learning are limitless,” said Levine Academy K-8 Principal Dr. Susie Wolbe. “We have a deep belief that this type of educational travel builds the foundation which allows our students to succeed in a global society and broaden their understanding and acceptance of cultural differences.”