Recognizing the impact of Israel travel/experiences, the Jewish Foundation of Greater New Haven provides scholarships for both short-term (minimum of three-week program) and long-term organized Israel educational programs for Greater New Haven area youth ages 14-19. For 2019 summer trips, applications are due by March 9, 2019. For 2019 gap or academic year programs, applications are due by May 4, 2019. Here is part one of a three-part series where a young person who benefitted from a Jewish Foundation scholarship writes about their experiences.
By Elijah Labowe-Stoll
Special to Shalom New Haven
I spent the last two months of my junior year with 28 other students at Alexander Muss High School, located in the developing city of Hod Hasharon in Israel. The school is pluralistic and gives students who wish to pray and practice Judaism the time and setting to do so.
We landed in Tel Aviv on April 9. During our first week, we took trips around and near the city. Everyone needed to adjust to the heat, the time change, and the environment. The following week, we started school again.
There are two kinds of academic courses at AMHSI. The first consists of general studies--the classes we continued from home. These classes are small, with two to four students for every teacher. I was able to finish the same classes I would have at Daniel Hand High School in Madison using the same curriculum. The second kind of course is called core, which is what attracted me to the school. Core is a rigorous “crash course” on Israeli and Jewish studies. I had quizzes everyday and had to learn a multitude of facts.
It was wonderful to travel to the exact places that I learned about, but the friends I made were what made my trip unforgettable. There were 21 girls and seven boys. We all lived on the second floor of a campus building, boys on one side, girls on the other, and shared a common room and kitchen. On a typical day, our classes ended in the afternoon, and we walked off campus to see the city of Hod HaSharon. The main reason to leave campus was the food, including shawarma, and falafel, sushi, thin-crust pizza, and even schnitzel. My favorite meal was the Druze feast in Haifa.
My core teacher asked what connects me to Israel. I didn’t know what to say then, but I can answer her now. The people I met. Israelis in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv both consider themselves Jewish but for different reasons. I asked Israelis everywhere I went what it meant to them to be Jewish. A man in Tel Aviv said, “To be Jewish is to be a good person.” I asked the same question to a woman who said, “To be Jewish means to live in Israel.” An Orthodox man at the Kotel said to be Jewish is to follow the Torah and its commandments. An Israeli who grew up closely tied to Jerusalem experiences a different life than one who lives in Tel Aviv, but both strongly consider themselves Jewish. I loved Tel Aviv’s lively atmosphere, but dancing at the Kotel with fellow Jews on erev Shabbat was joyous and heartwarming. I felt a connection to people I didn’t know, but after that night I knew them as my brothers. The most interesting person our group met was Ariah Ben Yaakov, who lives in Kibbutz Misgav Am in the Golan Mountains neighboring Lebanon. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, he had fought in both Lebanese Wars and was extremely territorial of his mountaintop. Ariah described himself as right-wing conservative from Texas in favor of no gun control and no government. Ariah’s views on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict contained a strong “Israel first” mentality. He made it clear that he and his kibbutzniks would only defend themselves from attacks made by Hezbollah terrorists. I don’t agree with all his views, but he’s happy where he is.
I had all the stresses of being a high school junior, with all the tests, but being in Israel allowed me to escape my daily routine, and there was always something new to see and taste.