By Gila Golder
Exciting. Meaningful. Spiritual. Special. Amazing. Outstanding. These are just some of the adjectives student participants used to describe their Spring 2019 Israel experiences, led by Bornblum Jewish Community School and Margolin Hebrew Academy/Feinstone Yeshiva of the South and made possible by significant grants from Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund and the Memphis-Shoham Partnership.
Bornblum leads an annual Israel trip for graduating eighth grade students. Over the years, approximately 250 Bornblum students have benefited from the two-week program, designed to coincide with the major Israeli holidays Yom HaZikaron, a memorial day for fallen soldiers, and Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. The students come home with a profound sense of pride and belonging in the global Jewish community, and many alumni have demonstrated an increased interest in Israel engagement and Jewish engagement more broadly through their involvement in local Jewish community programs during the high school years and Israel engagement and advocacy in college.
MHA’s Israel experience for 7th and 8th grade students hopes to achieve similar milestones. Fourteen students traveled to Israel to participate in this year’s inaugural program, receiving hands-on education in Israel’s geography, language, and history. Building on a strong school curriculum of Jewish studies, Hebrew language, and Israeli history, the tweens were able to translate their classroom-based Israel studies into real-life engagement in the land of Israel.
Both trips featured visits to classic Jewish sites of historical and cultural import, such as the Western Wall, Masada, and Yad Vashem. The itineraries also included significant time spent with students from Shoham, Memphis’ partner city in Israel, whom the Memphians have been corresponding with all year from afar as part of the Partnership’s flagship school twinning program.
The school twinning— Bornblum with Yahalom Junior High and MHA with Shalhevet Ulpana— has been a major success and is a hallmark of the Memphis-Shoham Partnership, a program of Memphis Jewish Federation. Throughout the year, students have bonded with their overseas counterparts through engagement with a shared curriculum and interactive online activities. And for the first time, the students met in person during their respective Israel trips to explore the country together and deepen their connections.
“We have been talking with our sister school in Shoham for months and months this year, and it was fun to text them and call them, but meeting them was so special,” said Bornblum student Natalie Mashinsky. “I cried when they came off the bus. I ran up to all of them and hugged them and I screamed because of how excited I was! Traveling together for two days and spending the night together made us bond and learn how similar we are.”
In a meaningful culmination of the year’s learning together, the Bornblum and Yahalom students designed a T-shirt based on values they had previously chosen in a joint lesson plan. Together, they explored Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and participated in a wide range of activities from somber to silly, including visiting Mount Herzl for the Yom Hazikaron ceremony and stopping in Shoham for breakfast, where they learned how to drink chocolate milk from a bag.
MHA and Shalhevet students embarked on a day-long outdoor journey in the north of Israel, hiking, kayaking, and planting trees. MHA educator Anat Kampf noted that planting the cedar trees was one of the most heartwarming moments of the trip— “a symbol for lifetime connection”. The MHA delegation also visited Shalhevet School at the end of the trip for a joint tefilah (prayer session), breakfast, and mifgash (encounter). Students from both schools were visibly excited to be connecting in person and were able to deepen the bonds they had developed during the year. Some of the students from Shoham who often avoid speaking English because of nervousness opened up and found the confidence to engage in conversation with the MHA students.
“We had an exciting month of kids from both Shoham and Memphis meeting for the first time. Both classes have started working together in the beginning of the year, following a joint work plan,” said Anna Berkman, Israel-based Shoham-Memphis Partnership Director for JAFI.
“It was lovely to see the magic happen in the people-to-people connections.”