Making Memories

Just back from their two-week trip to Israel, Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School’s eighth graders talk about their experiences and answer questions posed by younger students at the school. Photos courtesy Patty Bloom

Ellen Futterman, Editor

Making Memories

In the course of 35-plus years as a journalist, I have gone to more press conferences than I care to count, or can even remember. But I promise you none was more memorable than the one I attended Monday at Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School.

For starters, there was a red carpet leading these eighth graders, who were to be interviewed, from the school’s parking lot into its large foyer where a bank of chairs had been set up for them at the back. Seated on the floor inside the foyer, on either side of the red carpet (which was actually red plastic, but why quibble?) was the rest of the student body, roughly 160 kindergarteners to seventh graders. Several from each class had been pre-selected to ask questions about the journey from which these older students had just returned — and I do mean just returned. 

Fresh off the plane, and carted back to the school by taxicabs, these 13 eighth-graders had just spent the last two weeks touring the Jewish State to take in firsthand what they had learned about for years in Mirowitz classrooms. This annual trip marks the culmination of eighth grade — and of their time — at the Jewish day school. Next year they will attend different high schools.

Parents and siblings, along with teachers, administrators and other Mirowitz students, excitedly waited as taxis pulled up and the eighth-graders emerged. After exchanging hugs, and claiming their bags, the eighth-graders filed into the school to take their seats for a “press conference” as the rest of the student body serenaded them with “Havenu Shalom Alechem” (“We Brought Peace Upon You”). Then, it was onto the questions.

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“What were the salt crystals like in the Dead Sea?” asked one kindergartener.  “What did you do when the sirens went off for Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day)?” asked another.

As for the latter, several spoke of how the entire country came to a standstill, including cars driving on the highway, to observe a minute of silence in honor of those who have been killed at war. “You could hear a pin drop,” recalled one student. “It was amazing.”

Some of the questions were humorous — “Did you go Israeli dancing?”— and some more serious — “What did you do on Shabbat? How was it different than what we do in the United States?”

It was clear from the answers, and the fact that all 13 students had lots of stories to tell (amid laughter and giggles), that an unforgettable time was had by all. Throughout the trip they chronicled their experiences in a blog, which describes in detail the dozens of historic places they visited and the various adventures they had. While too many to mention, these included riding camels in a Bedouin village, touring the Elite Chocolate Factory, hiking Masada, rafting on the Jordan River, floating in the Dead Sea, and visiting the Kotel (Western Wall). 

“After passing the security section, we began walking between two walls, and suddenly, the Kotel was there, unlike anything I have ever seen,” wrote Karyn in one blog entry. “It brought me to tears. I walked closer and closer with tears running down my face, and my heart beating powerfully and loudly. I felt like THIS was my reason to be in Israel.”

In a letter sent to Morowitz parents by head of school, Cheryl Maayan, she explained that this trip is “one of the many gifts of a Jewish day school education.”

“Connecting with Israel is an integral part of who we are, but Mirowitz students also understand that loving Israel comes with nuance, just as loving America does,” she wrote. “We encourage them to grapple with current affairs, to understand Israel’s complexities, and to know that their connection to Israel is not a political issue. We want them to be leaders who can confidently stand up for Israel, and add their knowledge and voices to the American conversation about Israel.”

After listening to these eighth-graders talk about their experiences there, and after reading their blog posts, it is clear they have taken a major first step.

To view the blog, go to kidblog.org/class/mirowitz8thgradeisraeltrip

 

Cast your vote

The Pulitzers of Jewish journalism, better known as the Simon Rockower Awards, are given each year for excellence in Jewish media. The American Jewish Press Association, of which the Jewish Light is a member, sponsors the awards.

In years past — these awards have been handed out since 1979 — independent judges have decided all of the winners, culled from dozens of applicants. For the first time this year, AJPA is inviting the public to help select first and second place winners in three of the 20 or so award categories — excellence in editorial writing, excellence in feature writing and excellence in multi-media storytelling. 

Not to put pressure on any of you, but the Light is among the finalists in two of these three categories. But hey, judge for yourself, and then vote by the May 31 deadline. To do so go to surveymonkey.com/r/Y6CJDDG.