A group of Arizona high school students are spending this summer at the Jewish National Fund’s Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), through the Schwartz-Hammer AMHSI Impact Fund and the JNF Boruchin Educational Fund. Alexander Muss High School in Israel is a pluralistic, college-prep international study abroad program for high school students, where AMHSI-JNF educators use Israel as “a living classroom,” meaning the students tour the country as they learn.
The Arizona Impact Fund was created by Phoenix philanthropist Sheila Schwartz, along with her daughter Lesley Hammer and son-in-law Eli Hammer and her son Frank Schwartz and daughter-in-law Jennifer Schwartz.
This year’s Arizona fellows are Rachel Falk of Chandler; Ayden Raphael of Phoenix; Jordan Brooks, Sophie Setton, Amy Shugar, Josh Sidi and Jessica Zucker of Scottsdale; and Emily Jones, Nathan Rix and Max Silverman of Tucson. Hailey Fischer of Chandler is attending the school this summer as a Boruchin fellow.
Here are some excerpts from blog posts that the students are writing from Israel, printed with permission from JNF.
These first few days have been all about adjustment. For many of the students, this is their first time in Israel and for all this is the first time as this group of people. Everyone here comes from different cities, different congregations, different youth groups and different camps.
We have been able to start classes and really start our Israel education. We’ve had the opportunity to go to Tel Gezer, where we learned about some of the civilizations that came before us, starting to connect it to the wider education of our Jewish history. We got to see, and in some cases taste, many of the biblical fruits that were given to the land of Israel, such as pomegranates, figs and olives. Although we’ve already had a homework assignment — and as I write this I am about to take a quiz — I’m excited for the classes and to see where they go.
The campus is quite beautiful and it’s been very exciting to explore the school. Seeing Israeli life and culture is quite exciting and the campus shares the space of a real Israeli school. There are plenty of nice places on campus to hang out. My dorm has a bomb shelter that is full of couches and tables, making it a great place to hang out. I refer to it as a bomb shelter, but I know Gil, my madrich (think RA), is cringing. They would like us to use an alternative word, they were thinking “the club” or “the bar” as bomb shelter sounds too scary. I prefer to be factual.
We had our first chance for free time on Friday, when we were walked into town by our madrichim and were allowed to go wherever. I found the nearest Aroma (Israeli Starbucks) and may have stretched the truth on how close it is was to us and got a group to go with me. It was fantastic to have the independence to be able to spend time in town alone. Yesterday after the shops opened with the ending of Shabbat, we went back into town getting some unbelievable gelato and some chocolate milk in-a-bag.
Campus life has been an adjustment, with everyone meeting each other, seeing a new culture, living in a new place with new people, eating maybe not the best food, and having class during the summer, but it’s still been a great experience.
I have now been in Israel for the past four days and I’m loving every moment of this trip. It took me a couple of days to become used to the jet lag and now I am consistently sleeping through the night. I really enjoy my dorm and my teacher, Reuven. The Shabbat service was quite nice and I do not get the opportunity in Arizona to go to synagogue and I am going to take advantage of going to synagogue.
I helped set up Shabbat dinner with other students and had a wonderful dinner. I ventured into town with a couple of my friends and tried falafel for the first time — a tasty meal, I must say. The entire group of kids at this school are absolutely amazing! I cherish all of their ideals and values and I just want to grow my friendship with them deeper and deeper. I’ve been hanging out with a lot of students from Arizona, but also meeting lots of new students as well. I even met the international shliach of BBYO, a youth group in which I am heavily involved.
The past week has been crazy!! We had our first real tiyul (trip), it was an overnight to Jerusalem. On Tuesday morning we woke up at 6, got on a bus and drove to this mountain to hike down, Har Gilboa. The hike was insane. We literally went down the side of a very steep mountain which was kind of scary but was really, really cool. It was so pretty when we got to the rest stops and had a chance to look around. You could see everything. Our teachers told us about what happened there and how the army would watch the people in the city waiting to invade them. It was so cool because we had the exact same view they did when they were planning the attack. After the hike, we went to the Sea of Galilee, which was really fun because it was a beach and the water was nice and cold, it was great after the hike. It was weird because there were little white rocks instead of sand.
We stayed at a hostel that was actually really nice and the next day we went on a nature hike. We got to see the terraces we learned about in class and we got to go into a cave. It was wet and slippery, pretty small and very dark. We climbed up and into it and then everyone turned off their flashlights and we sang “Hineh Ma Tov” and it was so nice. It echoed through the whole cave and it was something that never would have happened at home. After the hike, we drove to another cave, this one is what is thought to be the remains of King David’s palace.
Next, we went to the Kotel and that was amazing! I had only seen pictures of it before and now it was right in front of me. It was actually a lot smaller than I thought it would be and the men had a way bigger side than the women, but it was just as tall as I imagined. I wrote my note, waited to get a spot, and put it in the wall. It was such a special moment. Danny, my teacher, told us before we went in that even if it didn’t really mean much to us, that we were representing our ancestors who never made it to the Kotel in their lifetime and that we were kind of here for them. I thought of my family when I was standing there because I’m the first one to come to Israel and stand there, which is special to me. JN
For more of the students’ blogs, visit blog.amhsi.org/AZImpactFund