For the 15th year, the eighth-grade class from Abrams Hebrew Academy in Yardley, Pa., visited Israel as the culmination of their years of studies in Hebrew, Jewish history, Tanach, and Talmud.
Accompanying the 19 students on the trip, which took place April 29-May 12, were AHA director Rabbi Ira Budow, teachers Rabbi Isaac Leizerowski and Leslie Kornsgold, and the school’s two Sherut Leumi representatives, Avital Kleid and Amit Harif. Abrams alumna Gracie Milstein, who is spending the year between high school and college in Israel, also joined the group.
The trip underscored for Budow the importance of one aspect of day school “collaboration.”
The current buzzword in education circles is “collaboration.” One hears this term in almost every article and at every conference as part of the discussion about keeping tuition affordable and improving education in a cost-effective way at private schools. The Kohelet Foundation has been a leader in promoting this concept among area Jewish day schools. It is an idea with a lot of merit; pooling resources, increasing purchasing power by negotiating quantity discounts, and other such measures make sense, particularly in this economy.
However, I believe there is another important collaboration not often discussed, and that is the collaboration between Jewish day schools and Israel.
There are several very successful collaborations with Israel among the day schools in our community: The Kohelet Foundation has sponsored Israeli women who work at area schools as part of the Sherut Leumi alternative military service program. Abrams spearheaded participation by several area day schools in the Math by Mail and Science by Mail programs in partnership with the Weizmann Institute. And next year Abrams will collaborate with Technion to present an innovative science curriculum designed by the university’s professors to students in grades six-eight. While in Israel, I visited Technion and saw the materials being prepared for this program; I was impressed and excited about the initiative.
During the eighth-grade trip — an integral part of the Abrams experience — I realized that our students experienced the entire kaleidoscope of the Land of Israel while touring with the school. As a result, I am firmly convinced that in order for Jewish day school students to be truly committed Jews, in-person collaboration with Israel must take place. Although collaborative long-distance learning is exciting, I do not think that is enough.
We attended a Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball game with 15,000 people cheering and shouting their support, with a spirit that is not felt at an NBA game. The students realized that sports are an essential part of many Israelis’ lives, and this enthusiasm can be felt only in person.
The students visited Technion, and on the road to the university they saw the myriad high-tech companies with offices in Israel — including Google, Microsoft, and Apple — all of which have a presence near the institution that has contributed more to 21st-century computer technology than any other center of learning. Our students witnessed first-hand that Israel is a leader in cutting-edge technology, and first-hand knowledge is more powerful than mere words on a page.
The children also had the opportunity to see our heritage in a way that cannot be duplicated in books or via Skype. On our last Friday in Israel, soldiers escorted us to the Cave of Machpela, the burial site of our patriarchs and matriarchs, where the beginning of our history lies. We made our way to Abraham’s synagogue from Machpela, going through Arab neighborhoods on streets where Abraham walked. It was one of the most powerful and meaningful experiences of the trip, something we could not have experienced in any other way but in person.
Finally, we visited Rachel’s Tomb, which is now a fortress protected by an installation. But from the nearby tower, looking down on her grave, we could see that she was buried on the road to Beit Lechem. This moving experience that highlighted our nation’s sacrifices could not be appreciated without actually walking through the streets with the spirits of our ancestors surrounding us.
As a result of this most trip I am convinced that we need to collaborate with Israel on every level — in education, science, technology, sports, and, most importantly, heart and soul. We owe it to ourselves, our children, and our Israeli brethren.