Warm welcome for SSDS students after Israel trip


As the school bus pulled up, a red carpet was waiting, with family members, teachers and students ready to greet the Solomon Schechter Day School eighth graders who were returning from a two-week class trip to Israel.

Fresh from the airport after the trans-Atlantic flight home, the eight students unloaded their bags and backpacks and walked down the red carpet under a shower of glittery confetti thrown by students from the lower grades. Instead of being a typical Wednesday morning at school, the returning students were treated to a hero’s welcome.


Assembled inside the school, the rest of the school’s students and faculty filled the lobby, waiting to hear about the eighth graders’ voyage.

With the returned eighth graders seated front and center, Schechter’s Head of School, Rabbi Allen Selis, played emcee, calling on younger students, who peppered the day’s guests of honor with questions.

“What was your favorite place you visited?” one student asked. “How did you celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut?” “Were you able to watch American Idol while you were there?”

The eighth grade trip to Israel has become a rite of passage at Schechter, and from the questions asked at the welcome-home event, a rite that younger students eagerly anticipate.

Eighth grade student Isaac Walker recounted how the group celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut.

“In the morning we went to an air force base and saw helicopters, missiles and machine guns and airplanes,” Walker said. “It was really cool.”

Michael Raileanu, Schechter’s director of Judaic Studies, traveled with the group of students. He said the group had just arrived in Israel, walking out of the airport, when the two-minute siren signaling Yom Hazikaron, or Israel’s Memorial Day, was sounded.

“Just after we landed and we got our bags, we heard the sirens blow for Yom Hazikaron. We had not been in the country more than 45 minutes when that happened. That night we went to Tiberias, and along with 20,000 of our closest Israeli friends, we celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut with lasers and music and fireworks. It was unbelievable.”

“The next morning we got up and took the kids to the Ramat David Air Force base and they’re right there, face to face with Apache attack helicopters and F-16s and everything the Israeli military has to offer. Then for lunch, we get together with students from nine other Schechter schools around the United States for barbeque at Kibbutz Hanaton. Then we had a mifgash, a meeting, with kids from our sister city, Yokneam-Megiddo,” Raileanu said. “And that’s all in the first 36 hours we’re in the country.”

However, the Israel at 60 celebrations were not the only attractions for the Schechter students.

Andrew Brick spoke about the Tel Aviv beach they visited, and a trip to St. Louis’ sister city, Yokneam-Meggido, where they met with Israeli students around the same age.

For Nitai Melnick, visiting the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem for Shabbat was a high point.

Raileanu said that although four of the eight students had been to Israel previously on family trips, the two weeks in Israel was a learning experience for them all.

“Experiencing Israel with kids their age is nothing like a trip with parents,” he said. “They get to experience Israel more on their terms.”

As a capstone experience for the Schechter eighth grade students, Raileanu said going to Israel is hard to match.

“Some of these kids have been going to Schechter for nine years by the time they are in eighth grade. We teach them Hebrew, and we teach them about Israel, its culture and history. But being there — that makes it real,” Raileanu said. “There’s nothing like being able to order a shwarma — in Hebrew — which our students did. “