Bat Torah students tour Israel
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Bat Torah students tour Israel

School trip replaces Shabbaton

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The students picked oranges as volunteers for Leket Yisrael, an organization that grows and distributes food to the needy all over Israel. It counts on volunteers to pick the fruit in order to keep costs down. Courtesy Bat Torah

Our students at Bat Torah ““ the Alisa M. Flatow Yeshiva High School are still flying high, one week after returning to school from Israel. Our school had not had an Israel trip since 2007, the last year the Jewish Agency subsidized such programs. But this year, after considering the cost of the usual annual Shabbaton, the administration decided to ask the parent body to contribute $500 per student, and the school made up the balance to offer the girls a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Most of our students, from all of the grades, were able to attend.

Seeing the places about which the students learned in their Tanakh and Jewish History classes (and in their Israel Advocacy program) brought those lessons to life and inspired a real love of Israel. There was an additional very personal and emotional component to the trip as the girls bonded with the Israeli madrichot who served as tour guides and spent Shabbat with graduates of the school who are raising families in Israel and joined us for our Shabbaton.

The trip included some hands-on chesed, or charity. Each girl took along a duffle bag of clothing donated by people in the community in response to a notice placed on the Teaneck shuls e-mail list. In fact, the response was so overwhelming that we had to ask people to stop bringing in any more clothing. The bags were packed in school and picked up at the airport in Israel by a wonderful couple, Ed and Betty Wolf, formerly of Monsey, N.Y., and now living in Kfar Saba, who have devoted themselves to distributing clothing to former residents of Gush Katif and people in the Migdal Ohr community, as well as others in need.

Our first stop after leaving the airport was a hilltop in Jaffa, overlooking the Mediterranean, with the sun brightly shining down on us, where our guides gathered everyone into a circle and had one of the students who had never been to Israel recite the blessing of Shehecheyanu, thanking God for the good fortune of living to see this day. After breakfast, we headed briefly to the flea market in Jaffa, and then to Tel Aviv, for one of the most emotional stops: ndependence Hall, where in 1948 David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the State of Israel. We were shown footage of events leading up to this historic day and then heard the audio of the declaration and the singing of Hatikva by all present in that very hall. Then we drove to Rechovot to pick oranges to be distributed to the poor, as part of a program run by an organization called Leket Yisrael. The girls picked 1,500 pounds of oranges. One added treat was the opportunity to separate the terumah tithe and to recite the blessing, about which they learned in school. At the end of our first day, we headed up north to the Galil.

The next few days took us to the ancient city of Safed and then to mountain tops from which we could see the bunkers used by the Syrians shooting down on Israeli villages before and during the Six Day War. We recited Psalms that reference Mount Hermon as we faced that mountain, we visited Katzrin where we saw a reenactment of life in the times of the Mishna, and had dinner in a lovely restaurant in Tiberias. The next day, we drove south and took cable cars up to Masada, hiked down the mountain, swam in the Dead Sea, and drove to Jerusalem. We had dinner in the Malcha mall, where students were joined by their sisters and brothers and other relatives who are studying and living in Israel. The next day we toured the emotion-packed, newly renovated Yad VaShem Holocaust museum, heard personal stories of fallen soldiers at Mount Herzl, and saw the plaque commemorating terror victims, including Alisa Flatow. Passing in front of the Prime Minister’s residence, where a tent has been set up to publicize the plight of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, we recited tehillim, psalms, for him as we do every day in school. We then proceeded to pray at the Kotel, to go through the Kotel tunnels and through King Hezekiah’s water tunnels, and finally we had dinner in the Jewish neighborhood in the Old City.

On Friday morning, we drove in a special bullet-proof bus to Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and to Me’arat Hamachpelah in Hebron. Before returning to Jerusalem, we also visited kibbutz Kfar Etzion, where we saw a moving film about the bravery and the horrible fate of the kibbutz in 1948, when 243 of its members were killed on the day before the State was declared. We learned how many of the children of the fallen, who were sent away for their safety, returned to rebuild the settlement (which had been destroyed more than once in the past) following the Six-Day War in 1967. In fact, we have decided to pursue the topic in Jewish History classes to learn more about the area known as the Etzion Bloc. Our last stop of the day was the Machane Yehudah market, to shop for Shabbat snacks and to absorb the flavor of Jerusalem getting ready for Shabbat.

After a pre-Shabbat “ruach” session at our hotel, we walked to a local shul, where we ushered in the Shabbat to the beautiful melodies of the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. The next day, fortified with a delicious Shabbat meal and zemirot, we took a very long walk through the streets of Jerusalem to the Old City and prayed Mincha at the newly restored Hurva synagogue. After Ma’ariv at the Kotel, we heard Havdala at the home of the singer Chaim Dovid. We then went up to his roof for a Melave Malka with a breathtaking view of the Kotel, all lit up and welcoming. Finally, back at our hotel, we had fresh hot pizza before boarding our bus for the final leg of our journey, back to Ben Gurion airport. While we were actually going home, we also felt that we were leaving home.

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