During the Abrams Hebrew Academy eighth-grade spring trip to Israel, which culminates in their graduation ceremony, the students always present a Torah scroll to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). This year the donation was more personal: The scroll was given in memory of Yuval Miara, 42, the Israeli shaliach, or community emissary. Starting some 15 years ago, Miara spent five years teaching at Abrams; he died March 24 in Florida.
Rabbi Ira Budow, director of the academy in Yardley, Pa., described Miara as “the ultimate in an Israeli shaliach,
bringing students Israeli music, sports, and his own love of Israel.”
“He brought Israel alive.”
Budow remained close to Miara, who returned to Israel and came back to the States to serve as a shaliach, first in Chicago and then at the Scheck Hillel Community School in North Miami Beach. After learning three years ago that Miara had stage 4 lung cancer, the rabbi checked in with him daily.
Budow said he and the students on the trip were able to honor two requests Miara made when the rabbi visited him in his hospital room in Miami two weeks before his death. When Budow told him the school would be dedicating a Torah scroll for the IDF in his honor, Miara responded, “Make sure it’s a colorful Torah, and make sure you invite my parents.”
The mantle covering the scroll fulfills the request, with a multi-colored image of burning bush that Moses saw in the wilderness. And Miara’s parents, Nissim and Susan, did attend a ceremony on May 7 dedicating the scroll; the event was held at the army command post overlooking the Kotel.)
Funds to create the Torah were raised by the Abrams community. For their part, Miara’s community in Florida raised $350,000 to pay off the mortgage on his house, giving him the comfort of knowing that his family — wife, Meytal, and their children, ages 4, 7, 12, and 14 — would be secure in their home after his death.
The student trip, which has been supported by the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks for 20 years, began at Kibbutz Misgav Am, in the northern Galilee near the Lebanese border. “You read about Israel in books, as we have since kindergarten; you learn about its history and its neighbors. To see it in front of you is crazy…and unique,” said student Maya Shavit of Newtown, Pa.
The students experienced life in talmudic times in Katzrin on the Golan Heights, learned about mysticism in Safed, visited the Hurva Synagogue and Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem, saw Rachel’s Tomb from the nearby rooftop of an army fortress, spent the night in a Bedouin tent, and climbed Masada the next morning. They also got to watch and then meet Amar’e Stoudemire, the American basketball star who plays for the Hapoel Jerusalem team; went zip-lining and jeep riding in Gush Etzion; and visited the Carmel Market and the beach in Tel Aviv.
Five members of the class spoke to NJJN about the parts of the trip they found most meaningful.
Moriah Eley of Princeton cited their visit to Yad Vashem, followed immediately by a stop at Har Herzl, Israel’s national military cemetery. “It was like transferring from our past to remembering people who died so we could have a future in Israel,” said Moriah.
Many students mentioned the deepening of relationships between them. “We really got so close,” Moriah said.
Added Maya, “The trip was our last big bonding experience; it was something no one will ever be able to forget.”
Lital Abergel of Philadelphia focused on Har Herzl itself because, she said, those buried there “fought for our country just to make everybody safe.”
For Jeremy Brandspiegel of East Windsor, Yad Vashem was central; he felt for him and his classmates, it “captured and made more of a connection to the Holocaust.” Remembering in particular a video of a bulldozer scooping up dead bodies and throwing them into a pit, he said, “I understood more of how awful it was.”
Lexi Schachter of Yardley also found that Yad Vashem made the greatest personal impact on her “because I saw a little description of the person who saved my great-grandmother from being in the Holocaust. He was a non-Jew who stamped a bunch of visas for Jews to get out and go somewhere safe. It was good to learn about how I am here today.”
Maya, whose father is an Israeli, was most moved by the erev Shabbat dinner at a yeshiva next to the Western Wall. “There’s the Kotel; there’s us,” she said. “I was right on the holiest site for the Jewish people. The fact that I could intertwine my life, my experience, and my friends with Judaism, and the fact that I was able to experience what it is like to be in the shoes of the people who came before me was really incredible.”
The Hebrew words on the cover of the Torah scroll that Abrams donated in Miara’s memory — “The bush was not consumed,” from Moses’s first encounter with God — raised two images for Budow. He said he recalled what North Carolina State University head basketball coach Jimmy Valvano said in an inspirational speech given before his death in 1993 at age 47. The cancer that was consuming his body, he said, “doesn’t have my mind and my heart and my soul.”
The Torah text also reminded Budow of what happened to the Torah scroll Abrams donated to the IDF. Soon after its arrival in Israel, members of the border police took it with them on a Holocaust study trip to Poland. Accompanying them was Shoa survivor Mickey Goldman, who had been on the team interrogating captured Nazi high official Adolf Eichmann and who threw the ashes of the convicted “architect of the Holocaust” into the Mediterranean. The border police gave Goldman the honor of carrying the Torah scroll into Auschwitz.
“Looking back at the Nazis, you think, ‘You might have killed us, you might have killed six million, but they were not consumed,’” Budow said. “The Torah was a message: We were not consumed.”