ELEVEN 10TH GRADERS at Golda Och Academy in West Orange traveled to Mexico City last month for a reunion with students at the Colegio Israelita de Mexico ORT (CIM-ORT) school. For the second consecutive year, the two schools were paired in the GoAbroad Exchange Program; the CIM-ORT students came to New Jersey in November, and the GOA sophomores returned the visit from Feb. 15 to 22.
In addition to taking Mexican government and culture classes, the GOA students rode trajineras (gondola-like boats) in Xochimilco and explored the city center, art museums, and the area’s ancient pyramids. They visited Otomí Ceremonial Center, an indigenous community center outside the city where they learned to make tortillas from corn and were shown how traditional handwoven rugs are made.
Connecting with the capital’s Jewish community, they also visited the Centro Deportivo Israelita (the Jewish Community Center).
“The program was an incredible opportunity to explore other cultures,” said student Michelle Bilmes. “We had the chance to order food in restaurants and speak to our host families in Spanish. I definitely understood more than I expected, and my Spanish hopefully improved a little while visiting Mexico City.
“I’m grateful I had the chance to learn about the community and feel I brought some of their culture back home with me.”
A highlight was connecting with the Mexican Jewish day school students. GOA student Theo Hyman-Bockman said he particularly enjoyed spending time with his CIM-ORT partner. “We were a perfect match and got to spend quality time together,” he said.
Spanish teacher and program coordinator Christine Garrity said the trip enabled the students to use their language skills. “Often it was as simple as understanding a sign, communicating with a vendor at a market, or understanding part of what native speakers were saying. This trip also set the stage for deeper learning for the rest of the year and beyond.”
GOA Foreign Language Department chair Gail Shapiro said she anticipates “developing an even deeper connection to the CIM-ORT school and community. We are all part of the tapestry of our Jewish traditions and people. It’s wonderful to see that tapestry grow through our students.”