Learning Jewish history where it all began

Learning Jewish history where it all began

Zoe Dressner, second from left, and friends on the NFTY-EIE High School in Israel program.
Zoe Dressner, second from left, and friends on the NFTY-EIE High School in Israel program.

Zoe Dressner, a rising senior at East Brunswick High School, was one of several students from New Jersey participating in the spring 2016 semester of the NFTY-EIE High School in Israel, a four-month program for North American students. She is a member of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick. Below are Zoe’s impressions of the program, which concluded at the end of May.

AS THE SEMESTER approaches its end and our four months at the NFTY-EIE High School in Israel come to a close, I’ve been prompted to think about my experience and how I can productively move forward. Of course it’s sad to leave friends and this beautiful country, but I am confident that I’ve taken advantage of every possible opportunity this program had to offer. 

In just 55 days of school, we completed a semester’s worth of general studies and an intensive Jewish history and Hebrew program. Now, you ask yourself, how is that possible? Eleven hours of school a day has been strenuous, but every late night and early morning has been well worth it. 

Over the course of the past four months, we have traversed the country, learning thousands of years of our people’s history. What I see as the most defining facet of EIE has been learning history in the very same places it occurred. 

We began these hands-on experiences at Tel Gezer, the site of an ancient Canaanite civilization in central Israel that Abraham once passed through. We learned about the staples of ancient life and saw early etchings in stone. Since that first trip, we have been on dozens more (including one to Poland), the most recent of which was to the Israeli Supreme Court. We’ve also had supplemental educational experiences, like our participation in a Women of the Wall service on Rosh Hodesh, and a graffiti tour of Tel Aviv. 

Being Jewish at home was a routine practice for me. I had my bat mitzva, I went to Friday night services, I helped in the younger classrooms, and I studied in the high school program. Pirkei Avot says, “Know from where you came, and to where you are going.” As much as I enjoyed all of these practices, I’ve never felt more connected to my Judaism than I do now, with the abundance of knowledge I have on our struggles and triumphs as a people. 

Rabbi Loren Sykes, EIE High School in Israel principal, refers to Israel as the greatest experiment in modern Jewish history. These turbulent decades and strides toward peace will be marked for future generations to learn from, and after my experience on EIE, I only hope to play a small part in it.

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