The 8th Grade Trip to Israel

by | Mar 25, 2016 | Our Stories

Each year, Rashi sends our 8th Graders for a two-week long trip to Israel where they learn, play, serve, and pray. Below is a daily account of this year’s activities from students, Rabbi Sharon Clevenger, and even a parent.

Day 1 – Arrival in Jerusalem

from Rabbi Clevenger:


Greetings from Jerusalem!  We are so happy to be here.  Our trip was very good and I am pleased to say that the kids and staff found the plane very comfortable.  They kept themselves entertained for all of the times that they were awake, and they represented our school and themselves beautifully.  I slept like a log, which shows how comfortable I feel about our trip and with your kids!  The staff was amazing at helping the kids stay organized and together.  They are truly a dream team.

Passport control took FOREVER because approximately 762 flights all seemed to have arrived within 15 minutes of each other, so we chose to skip our planned hike and get straight to our hotel.

The kids loaded the bus with gusto, possibly fueled by the treats that our tour guide Yossi and our madrichah (concierge type person) Mai (sounds like my) had for us.  We had a fun and information filled drive to Jerusalem and, before we knew it, we were driving right past the Waldorf Astoria and into our lovely, not Waldorf Astoria youth hostel.  We had time to bring bags to rooms and then come back down for dinner.


I’m happy to say that everyone ate and then Mai led a fun activity for the kids after dinner.  Tomorrow we will visit the Kotel.

For most of the staff and me, spending our first night at Beit Shmuel feels like coming home.  I am hoping that this hostel, and this land, will come to feel like a homecoming for your children as well.  We are thrilled to be here together, beginning our great adventure.  I promise to recruit as many students as I can to write these reports, but today, my words will have to do because the kids are all too excited to stop and reflect.  That is a very good thing.

Day 2 – The Kotel & A Beduin Village

from our students:


“Today was a great start to our trip! We started our day with breakfast at the youth hostel and packing the bus for a full day. Our first stop was Hezakaya’s tunnel with a short history lesson from Yossi. We traveled through the tunnel which is filled with ankle-deep waters, experiencing how King David traveled.


We then hiked through a dry tunnel, ending at the back side of the Kotel. We learned about some of the stones that were pushed off of the wall and one of the carvings on the wall. We then took a short visit to the front side of the Kotel when we placed the notes from the whole school into the cracks in the wall.



After the Kotel, we had lunch and shopping on the sheets of Jerusalem and boarded the bus again. We traveled through the desert and saw the sites of the Dead Sea, ending in a Bedouin Village.

We arrived in one of the tents and learned about their culture and tasted their customary tea and coffee. After that, we went for a short but amusing camel ride through a small path in the village. We ended our day with a customary Bedouin dinner. Our first day here was amazing and we are looking forward to more memories and fun!”

– Samantha, Jordy & Sonya

from Rabbi Clevenger:

This is a great, newsy report, yes?

To clarify, King David did not always make a practice of traveling in water tunnels.  He actually snuck into a Jebusite city via their water shaft and laid siege to the city.  King Hezekiah had a new water tunnel built 2700 years ago to enable the residents of the city, high atop a hill, to access the spring at the bottom of the hill and outside of the walls of the city.  We walked through that tunnel.  That city stood until 586 BCE, when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem.  As one student put it, “I never really believed any of the so-called history in the Bible, but now I see that it is real. Amazing!”

The “back side of the Kotel” is the Davidson Center, a massive excavation of the southern wall of the Temple Mount.  It’s a very cool place where we can get a sense of what the Temple was like pre-70 CE, and of the magnitude of the destruction (the stones pushed off the wall were sometimes ten-ton blocks).

Day 3 – Masada & the Dead Sea

from our students:


Today we woke up at 3:30 AM and hiked up Masada. We could not see the sun rise but had a lot of fun and bonded. We were on Masada from 4-10 AM and learned about the events that happened there. Masada is where there was a final stand of the last Jews in Israel during the time when the Romans conquered Israel. This was very interesting and informative. As our final activity, we went to an area where there is an echo and repeated a phrase said by those entering the Israeli tank unit: never again will Masada fall.

Then we went to the Dead Sea and floated!

– Lily R.

from Rabbi Clevenger:

The visit to Masada is always a highlight for the students.  This year, each member of our group climbed up the mountain powered only by his or her own two feet (most years, someone is sick or injured and needs to take the cable car).  Many kids shared the burden of carrying backpacks and all were amazingly supportive of one another.  Just getting up is an awesome accomplishment, and then to engage in real, sometimes very serious learning for over 4 hours is above and beyond.  Yossi posed some very difficult questions, asking the kids to talk about the people who lived on Masada as “us” rather than “them.”  It forced the kids to grapple with the profound dilemmas that the Masada Jews faced almost 2000 years ago.


We did indeed float in the Dead Sea and then the kids played soccer and generally frolicked until lunch.  Our bus ride up to Tel Aviv was very quiet (sleepy) until we reached the airport to pick up Ari (YAY!!!).  Once we headed off, the kids learned who would be hosting them in Haifa and there was a great sense of excitement and anticipation in the air.  The reunion with Israeli students from Leo Baeck was happy and chaotic (picture 36 Rashi students plus 23 Israelis, all trying to grab bags, hug, and move away at the same time) and then everyone was whisked to their host homes for a quiet and restful evening.

These past days feel like two weeks.  They are a whirlwind of activity and learning.  They are challenging because of the jet lag and the 3:30 AM wake-up before Masada.  They are also incredibly bonding for the kids.  We may be tired, but we are tired together, and we are sharing such wonderful and important experiences.  It’s awesome to witness how the kids work through these days.  And now, we all look forward to a few days with comfy beds, home-cooked meals and a slightly less intense pace.

A story of community & gratitude:

Above, Rabbi Clevenger’s entry mentions “…until we reached the airport to pick up Ari…” Below is a note from Ari’s parents, who reached out to the Rashi kehillah to find someone who was planning a trip to Israel to accompany their son on the 11.5 hour international flight.

Boston is such an amazing community!

In just a little more than 24 hours from now, we thought we were putting our eldest son on a plane by himself to meet his classmates in Israel that left last Sunday.  But in fact, he will not be alone.  The outpouring of love, support, and caring from this extended family we call community has been extraordinary!   Each of you have in some ways touched our lives to share in our sadness of his missing the sendoff with his peers, the trip exhaustion of arriving with first timers and veterans, and for our son Ari to arrive in the company of grade mates he has celebrated birthdays, b’nei mitzvah, and so many other milestones over these last 9 years.  We are so blessed and grateful to be a part of this incredible community.

The best part is his travel companion on his flight tomorrow night is a Rashi Mom returning to rejoin her family on their sabbatical year in Israel and is a very dear family friend of ours whom we have known for over 30+ years.  It simply cannot get any better!

Many thanks to all of you for your kinds words of love and support that clearly helped to heal Ari for him to board the plane tomorrow night to join his peers a healthier and happier traveler.

Warmest regards,

Judith and Aviva, parents of Ari, Rashi ’16

Day 4 – Haifa

from Rabbi Clevenger:

Greetings from our first full day in Haifa!  The day was very full and very wonderful!  I didn’t want to interrupt the fun that the kids were having in order to get some to write, so you’re “stuck” with my report for the day.

We arrived at the Rambam School at 8:30 and found the happy, healthy and well-rested kids.  Groups of kids surrounded HUGE flats of cucumbers, sweet potatoes, apples and the like.  Their job was to package all of the produce into individual bags that would be packaged into larger bags and distributed to families in need all over and around Haifa.

This is a program that middle school students at Leo Baeck do every Thursday and we were very fortunate to be able to participate.  The kids spent 3 hours hard at work, while also socializing and enjoying each others’ company.  It was a wonderful bookend to our work at Cradles to Crayons and the Greater Boston Food Bank in December.

In the end, we completed bags for 297 families and we all left with a real sense of accomplishment and kinship.

Then, our buses whisked us off to the Grand Canyon of Haifa.  Nope, not a geological marvel, just a marvel of Israeli shopping!  We had a couple of hours for shopping and lunch and the kids were very satisfied to be there.  I hope that they realize how fortunate they are to be able to go from packing food for people who do not have enough to sipping smoothies and enjoying ice cream at the biggest mall in Haifa.


After this, we spent a few hours at the Leo Baeck school with the Sadna, the education arm of the Haifa Boston Committee.  They ran a program on Jewish identity and the kids contributed to a wonderful conversation about what it means to be Jewish in Israel and in America.

Despite all of these wonderful pieces, for me, the highlight of the evening was our dinner at Anan’s house.  Anan is Druze, and his family took hospitality to a magnificent level, serving us a delicious catered dinner of shwarma with all of the fixings, yummy side dishes, and delicious desserts.  There was truly something for everyone.

Then, Rafik Halabi, the mayor of Dalyat Al Carmel, stopped in!  Dalyat Al Carmel is one of the largest Druze cities in Israel.  Mayor Halabi spoke about Druze religion, including their belief in the transmigration of souls.  He also spoke a bit about being Druze in Israel.  While of course the kids asked some questions about reincarnation and how do the Druze have proof (the answer: we don’t need proof, it is something that we simply believe), they were actually much more interested in questions about Druze values and being a minority in Israel.  Kids from both countries asked great questions, including “Are there Druze values like there are Jewish values, like Tikkun Olam?”  My day was completely made when a Rashi student, using knowledge from our 7th grade unit on Rabbinics, asked if the Druze believe that, “Dinah malchutah Dinah, the law of the land is the law.”  She even asked it in Hebrew!!!  Three cheers for a Rashi education!

Day 5 – Haifa, Part 2

from Rabbi Clevenger:


Today is a BEAUTIFUL day in Haifa!  It is warmer and sunnier than expected and life is GOOD!  We started the day at the Leo Baeck middle school.  It is the final day of pre-Purim spirit week and the day before vacation, so there was a lot of energy pulsing through the halls.  Your kids bravely entered the 7th grade classrooms, assisted by their Leo Baeck friends and armed with a USA/Rashi trivia game and a bag of American candy.  With about 40 Israeli kids per classroom, it was quite an experience for our students.  Rest assured, we do this for a reason, namely to build interest among the current 7th grade for next year’s program.  It is very effective in that we receive 70-85 applicants for 20-25 positions each year.


After that, we drove to Atlit Detention Camp.  It’s a very good, interactive museum and the kids were appropriately wowed by the experience.

When we returned to Leo Baeck before lunch, many of the kids were rushed by host families back to the mall for more shopping pre-Shabbat.  Others went to lunch or home with their host families for some R&R.

We will meet again at 5:00 PM for Shabbat services at Ohel Avraham, the synagogue affiliated with Leo Baeck, followed by a pot-luck dinner with our whole group.  The kids are excited for Shabbat and we had a great conversation this morning about the value of embracing all of the experiences that they are having at their Israeli homes, even if they aren’t all exactly what the kids had in mind.  The staff and I are really pleased with the way that the kids are acting and especially with the ways that they are mixing with their Israeli friends.  I see some lifelong relationships forming.

It’s hard to believe that we have been here for 5 days.  It feels like both 5 minutes and 5 weeks!  We have so much to be grateful for, and we are grateful for it all.


from Rabbi Clevenger:

Shavuah tov from Haifa!


I’m sitting at the party that the kids are having, listening to a mixture of Hebrew and English, and watching the kids have the best time together.  I went around to all of the Rashi kids and asked, “What was your favorite part of the day?”  The range of answers that I received was wide and wonderful: The beach, homemade borekas with avocado, going shopping, playing soccer with friends, sleeping until 11:30, going to the movies, a driving tour around the city, and just hanging out.  I’d say it’s accurate to say that each of your kids had a wonderful Haifa Shabbat experience.

Unlike Jerusalem, which is very quiet on Shabbat, Haifa has lots to do even on Saturdays.  It is a city of many faiths, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Baha’i and Druze.  It’s fun to be out and about and hear different languages spoken and to see different styles of dress.  Haifa is generally a peaceful place, where everyone who lives here is invested in the overall peace of the city.  Though it may be the least touristy of the big cities in Israel, I think it offers so much in terms of what a multicultural Middle Eastern city can look like.  I miss Haifa every time I leave, and I hope that your kids will want to return and visit their friends here just as I look forward to seeing mine each year.

Day 8 – Ne’ot, The Blind Museum, Sarona Market

from Rabbi Clevenger:

We had yet another wonderful day!  This morning we set out from Haifa for Ne’ot Kedumim, a biblical garden that I had never visited before.  It turns out that it is a group-building program that uses ancient tasks like fetching water from a well or herding sheep and goats.

The kids were divided into 3 groups and each group did the same two activities.  At the end, several Rashi students told me that it was an awesome activity and that I should do it with next year’s class.  Score!!!

We had a lovely picnic lunch at the park and then headed to Dialogue in the Darkness, the blind museum.  The kids LOVED this experience, and the staff and I were very proud of the way that they maintained a sense of respect and decorum throughout what can be an unnerving experience.

Our dinner at Sarona Market was an epicurean’s delight!  It’s about the size of Quincy Market with the quality of Boston Public Market.  There were many wonderful food options and some really awesome cheese shops and dessert places.  We all ate well and enjoyed schmoozing with Tel Aviv’s hipster crowd.

Day 9 – Tel Aviv

from our students:

Today was our ninth day in Israel, and our first full one in Tel Aviv. Our first activity today was going with our Israeli friends to Latrun tank exhibit where we stood on tanks from various Israeli wars.

Also at Latrun, we heard a story from Yossi about David Mickey Marcus and his battle against Arab forces. Afterwards, we discussed with our Tzmatim friends about living in a country with mandatory military service and how our lives differed because of it. We then left Latrun to go to a mall where we ate lunch and did a little shopping.

Afterwards, we drove to the Yitzhak Rabin Center to learn about Yitzhak Rabin, his life, his death, and his legacy. The museum was beautiful: its exhibit a spiral made of significant events during and after Rabin’s death. Then our tour groups had a conversation with each other about what it really means to have freedom of speech and how to not abuse it. Later, we gave our Israeli friends final goodbye hugs and saw them off on their way back to Haifa.


After our farewells, we had a spontaneous visit to the beach in Tel Aviv where we were able to play on the beach, look for sea glass, and eat pineapple popsicles supplied by our Madricha (Group Leader) Mai. To finish the day, we came back to the hostel for a nice dinner and an evening activity featuring fun games and laughter. All in all, today was a great day that will be remembered by everyone as fun and exciting.

Lehatraot (see you soon),
Rebecca, Sam, and Jason

from Rabbi Clevenger:

Hooray!  I’m so glad that the kids like the day’s activities and that they got the point of the things that we did together.  Also, the beach really was spontaneous- we were driving by it and the kids begged us to stop.  The guard, Yossi and our staff were able to create a perimeter around the kids and they frolicked without a care in the world, as they should be.  They were 30 glorious (and chilly) minutes that will probably last your kids a lifetime.

Day 10 – Golan Heights

from our students:


Today we got up at 7:30 and immediately got our bags on the bus so that we could be off on our adventures. They took us to independence hall and we stood in the exact spot where Israel was founded.  After the informative lesson, we took the quick ride to a craft fair near the GOGO strip club. The craft fair had lots of beautiful jewelry and handmade toys.  There was even one stand that blew glass as you watched.


After a few hours of shopping and a plentiful lunch, we made our way to Zipporah, where we learned about the Romans and the Jewish peoples relationships. We then had an awesome Mediterranean dinner and we are now chilling in a kibbutz near the Golan Heights.


We look forward to many more Israeli adventures.

By: Jonah S., Lilli B., and Lily K.

from Rabbi Clevenger:


The kids slept like logs last night and were mostly ready to wake up this morning.  Our visit to Independence Hall was excellent and the kids enjoyed the stories that Yossi told to add color commentary.

In reference to the “Craft fair near the GOGO strip club:” The bus lets us off around the corner from Nachalat Benyamin, the craft fair.  There actually is a strip club there (not open in the mornings) and it is where the bus drops and collects us each year.  No one has ever forgotten where we need to meet. 🙂

There is also a thought provoking story about an Israeli military commander who visited that very club in civilian garb.  He was seen by a reporter and a big conflict ensued about whether he should be censured for being in a less than desirable place as a military figure or he had a right to do what he wanted with his personal time.  He left the military, an interesting commentary on Israeli society.


Zipporah is Tzipori, a Jewish city that surrendered to the Romans in 66 CE.  Its Jewish residents survived through the Roman war and total destruction of Israel.  Tzipori is filled with images of the Roman zodiac and Gods, even in Jewish homes.  We had two great conversations.

First, Yossi asked the kids who were the real heroes: the Tzipori Jews, who surrendered to the Romans but survived and even lived well under Roman rule, or the Masdada Jews, who chose to die rather than deal with the Romans in any way.  Not surprisingly, there was a wide range of opinions.  Later, he told the kids that the Jews of 200 CE Tzipori were assimilated or acculturated, and asked the kids to share their thoughts on assimilation and acculturation then and today.  I was very happy that in both discussions, the kids made great connections to their own lives as Reform Jews, living as both Jews and Americans.  One student said, “As long as Jews do not give up our core beliefs, like belief in one God, we need to respect and accept different ways of being Jewish.”  Hmm…


Dinner was really great!  No one could face another dinner in a mall, and Yossi was able to finagle an amazing dinner at an Argentine steak house in Tiberias for just 50 Shekels per person!  The kids loved it, and the vegetarians had filling and delicious meals just like us carnivores.

We are at my favorite kibbutz because it is filled with flowering trees.  You walk 5 steps and there is one amazing smell, then walk another 5 and you have something new to enjoy.  Oh yes, and there’s a big field for the kids to run wild in, right outside of their rooms!  Something for everyone.

Day 11 – Jerusalem

from our students:

Today we woke up at 6:45 at a beautiful kibbutz at the banks of the Jordan River. We ate a healthy breakfast and boarded the bus for a scenic ride on our way to the Banias water falls.

We hiked up a beautiful path to the top of the mountain to a viewing deck near the top of the waterfall. We then then boarded the bus again and drove through the Golan Heights to see the amazing views and the border between Israel and Syria.

As we looked onto the view and border, our guide, Yossi, told us the amazing stories of the brave men who fought during the ’67 war and the Yom Kippur war so that the Golan could belong to us and that we would be able to stand and hear those stories in our own comfort and peace.


After stopping by a nearby village for lunch, we headed back to Jerusalem to our original hostel. At the hostel, we had the unique opportunity to hear from a representative of Women of the Wall, a group of women who are fighting for the freedom of women to be allowed to do the same things as men are at the Kotel.

Goodnight from Jerusalem! We love you all and are having a lot of fun.

Sonya and The Rashi School 8th grade

from Rabbi Clevenger:


One stop was not mentioned- we went to a hill overlooking the Kibbutz where we stayed called Tel Fahr.  It was once a Syrian military base and provided a perfect background to hear the story of Eli Cohen, an Israeli spy who ascended to the second highest position in the Syrian government and whose spying helped Israel protect and defend itself against the Syrians.

Tonight we had an activity where each kid shared three words that conveyed his/her experience in Israel thus far.  There were a lot of good words, ranging from exciting to spiritual to exhausted.  It was fun and informative to hear what they had to say.  Then we had a little pep talk about keeping perspective for the final days of our trip, not letting things get to us too much and being kind and generous to each other.

Day 12 – Chag Purim!

from Rabbi Clevenger:

Today was yet another wonderful, if intense, day!  The kids are currently burning off some energy after dinner and before bed, so I’m today’s author.  We began the morning with an easy drive to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial and Museum.  We divided the kids by home room and each group had excellent guides.  Each guide has his/her own favorite way of guiding groups through the museum, telling the stories and teaching the history of the Shoah.  They really make our history come to life for the kids, both getting at their intellects and their emotions.  After our tours finished, several kids spoke to me about their thoughts on the differences between the US and Israeli museums.  Their observations were astute and we were very impressed with the way that they were so engaged with the whole experience.


After Yad Vashem, we went to lunch at a mall.  It was mobbed with Israeli families with kids dressed in costumes.  There were circus performers, stations for decorating masks, and a generally festive atmosphere.  It’s very cool to be in a country where a Jewish holiday that requires people to dress up and be silly is also a national holiday that every Jew celebrates.  Even some of the employees at Yad Vashem were wearing masks or funny hats, a perfect sign that the Jewish people can find joy in the face of anything.  The kids really embraced the spirit and many bought something costume-y at the mall.

From lunch, we headed to the Hirbat Midras caves, where Bar Kochba soldiers hid from the Romans during the second century CE.  Yossi told the story of the rebels and we crawled through an underground cave that the soldiers had used over 1800 years ago.  It’s a fun and slightly scary experience, and I was very proud of the kids.  Not only did a couple of kids who were really terrified go through the caves, but the kids supported each other beautifully, even cheering when some of the most fearful kids made it through.

I sometimes think that we should do this activity at the beginning of the trip because of the way that it helps kids rise to the occasion and because they all support each other so nicely.  But, it fits beautifully at the end as well.

Tonight we went to hear part of the Megillah reading at Hebrew Union College, the Reform seminary that I attended and that is attached to our youth hostel.  The kids were really good, and Lily K, Lehaveet, and Rebecca even volunteered to have a role in the reading.  They led the whole congregation in cheering for Esther, oy vey-ing for Mordechai and booing for Haman!

That brings us back to now.  Mai made us a little Purim party and we got our class t-shirts!  The kids love them and are very happy.

Day 13 – Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem

from Rabbi Clevenger:

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem!  Our day started (at the very civilized hour of 8:00) with breakfast followed by a visit to Yad Lekashish, where the kids mitzvah shopped till they dropped!  Our visit to Mt. Herzl military cemetery was compelling and emotional, and it was great to follow that with a delicious lunch.  The place was mobbed with families enjoying a Purim meal, and all of the servers were dressed in costume.  One of the men who served us was dressed as a belly dancer, complete with a blonde wig and panty hose! 

We left for Shabbat after lighting candles in our hotel lobby.  The air was warm but comfortable, and it was a lovely walk along the perimeter of the Old City and into the egalitarian prayer area of the Kotel.  In past years, we have been the only group to be there, but this year, about 15 minutes into our service, another group arrived, then another and another!  Jason, Izzy G and Sonya led the service with me and they chose some lovely readings from the Reform Siddur that I brought with us. 

This week’s Torah portion is Tzav, a continuation of the description of sacrifices that the ancient Israelites made.  There is a line in the portion that says that the sacrificial fire must never go out.  There we were, praying before the Temple Mount, almost 2000 years after the Temple was destroyed and the actual sacrificial fire had in fact been extinguished.  I asked the kids, “How is the fire not out?”  Their answers were so beautiful: We are the fire, and our love for Israel is what keeps the fire burning; The men and women who died protecting the State of Israel are the fire; the candles that we light on Shabbat; the many ways that we live a Jewish life.  In all, about 15 kids offered responses.  It was very moving.

Toward the end of our prayers, things started to get really noisy with the sound of prayers (including Good Friday prayers from nearby Christian groups), and we realized that all of the Jewish prayers that we were hearing came from the mixed gender Jewish groups praying near us.  It was really powerful to be in the midst of a rich and varied prayer environment where people were free to pray as they wished.  When we moved over to the gender-separated area of the Kotel, it was actually quieter.  After a few minutes, the groups of men on the men’s side got going with songs and dancing.  Some of them were still experiencing the Purim mitzvah of being so drunk that you don’t know the difference between Mordechai and Haman.  It was all very wholesome, but it made for some very interesting prayers (so say Ari and Dave).  The women’s side was a bit more subdued. Our girls decided that we needed to sing loud and proud, and so we did. 

Our walk back afforded us amazing views of the valley around Jerusalem as well as the old city itself, with the Muslim call to prayer in the background.  Dinner was yummy and now the kids are playing cards and talking and doing exactly what we should be doing on Shabbat in Jerusalem: resting and being refreshed.

The adventure continues! Check back for more as Rabbi Clevenger keeps us updated from Israel.