Neshama 2012

From February 27, 2012 to May 25, 2012, 30 members of the Class of 2012 are participating in our Neshama program. Neshama is the capstone of the Jewish day school experience for our students where they spend the second semester of their senior year in Israel (beginning with a week in Eastern Europe), developing a even deeper sense of Jewish identity and love for Israel.
Updates from our students on Neshama appear below.


Jerusalem - Our students celebrated Yom Yerushalayim with a traditional
flag parade on May 20.
The following day they visited Yad Vashem and Har Hertzel.

Our students were very creative in Ben Yehuda street when Va’ad Zedaka organized a flash mob and danced in the streets. They continued with dancing and singing and raised 740 Shekalim to be donated to Yemin Orde Youth Village- kol hakavod!


Our students explored Jewish life in ancient times in Keshet Rechavam- an ancient synagogue in the Golan; they looked over Israel’s neighboring countries from Mt. Bental; had a short water hike in the springs of Katzbia; and ended the day with a workshop at the chocolate factory in Ein Zivan. 


Visiting Zfat and a bio tour in Sde Eliyahu 


Neshama at Kibbutz Misgav Am and Hahulah nature reserve.


Touring Zichron Yaacov, Mei Kedem and Caesarea 


 Yemin Orde

Written by Jacob G.

Today marked the first time on the trip where the girls outnumbered the boys for activities, which is a pretty impressive feat. Regardless of being sick or not, everyone was excited for the final free weekend. Yet before the group parted ways, those healthy enough embarked on a poignant journey to Yemin Orde, an orphanage for children with some sort of hardship in life. This could include poverty, parents in a foreign country (Ethiopia), or any social problems one could imagine.

Yemin Orde also had a special place in my heart for a different reason entirely, and it all began a few generations ago with my Aunt Florence. She is my great-grandmother’s younger sister and was always recognized for her mitzvot, happiness, and endless amounts of laughter of love. When my great-grandmother’s older sister, Ruth, died from heart problems after giving birth to my Uncle Bernie, Aunt Florence took him in and adopted him as her own.  Ever since, Bernie has always felt indebted to my Aunt Florence in a way that no money can repay. In an effort to spread Aunt Florence’s love for the well-being of other children, Bernie donated money to build the Beit Florence Health Center at Yemin Orde. In this way, Aunt Florence’s zest for life and Bernie’s appreciation will be forever remembered.

Following this vignette at the orphanage, we were privileged to hear from Bat-El Shmueli, the special events and volunteer coordinator at Yemin Orde. She too has a personal connection to Yemin Orde, which left a profound mark on the entire group. Like many people at Yemin Orde, she fled from Ethiopia to Israel. Her childhood was a confusing time for her as she strived to balance her Ethiopian heritage and the new, fashionable Israeli. Regardless, her real link to the orphanage began with her niece. Bat-El’s niece was left parentless in Ethiopia so Bat-El brought her to Israel. Yet, after suffering so much from the journey to Israel and the absence of parents in her life, Bat-El’s niece became severely depressed. She remained an outsider at school and was told to leave more than three schools in a single year. Either out of fate or luck, Bat-El stumbled upon Yemin Orde and sent her to the orphanage.

Initially, the niece experienced some difficulties, but the orphanage refused to give up on her unlike other schools. As part of the school curriculum, all children must volunteer in the local community. In continuing with this trend, Bat-El’s niece volunteered at a hospital where she encountered a Holocaust survivor. Week after week, the niece visited the survivor and eventually learned about the atrocities of the Holocaust and the survivor’s personal struggle to survive. Upon hearing the personal account, Bat-El’s niece had a sudden realization and wished to change her outlook on life.  That night, she apologized to her family for all that she put them through and stopped feeling sorry for herself and started becoming a leader. Now, she is in charge of various social service groups at Yemin Orde and aids others with difficulties.  No one in the Neshama group remained unaffected; some were even moved to tears. Needless to say, these people will always have a special place in our hearts and will serve as inspiration for the Jewish values of tikkun olam and derech eretz. 



Our students are staying at the Ruthenberg Institute for Youth Education in Haifa this week and are exploring social justice through site-seeing, workshops and meetings, and volunteer work.

Written by Mindy F.

After spending two months traveling Israel, Neshama took a break this week to give back to the Israeli community. We split into four groups to help out at very different sites in Haifa, one of Israel’s northern port cities.

Some of us chose to spend time with senior citizens at a Day Care Center for the Elderly. Others chose to clean cages and feed animals at the local zoo. A third group visited children at a hospital. I volunteered at the Ofakim School which serves disabled children, primarily with Cerebral Palsy. Many of us were familiar with CP from volunteering at CPNJ on All High School Community Service Day and the Shul of Rock concerts that many of us participate in.

When I first arrived at the Ofakim  School, it was hard to see so many children in wheelchairs. However, over the three days I became comfortable as I learned their names and what each child likes. I was assigned to a class of students between the ages of 14 and 16. Many couldn’t speak so we had to communicate through other means. A student in my class had a laptop where she could push buttons and the computer would say what she needed to express. Another girl had a binder with pictures and words to express her emotions and needs. Since the girls were older, they had developed and improved on many of the things that CP affects so very often, they did not need or want me to help them, since they could finally do it on their own. Although a difficult task, most of the students were able to feed themselves during lunch and snack time. After seeing how hard it was for these girls to maneuver their food, I no longer take this simple task for granted. Despite their disabilities, these girls were extremely happy and expressed their joy from my visit. At the end of the day, my new friends were sad to see me leave, but I reminded them that I would be back the next day so they shouldn’t worry. On the final day of volunteering, I wasn’t sure what to say because I knew I wouldn’t be back, and frankly I wish I had another day to spend with the girls.

After our morning of volunteering, we all met for lunch at our base for the week, the Rutenberg Institute. On Monday afternoon, we toured the upper level of the Ba’hai Gardens. I visited the Gardens over Passover with my family, but I wasn’t able to walk down the 9 terraces and 700 steps that compose the gardens. During my first visit, I spent some time talking to one of the Ba’hai guards learning about the religion and I found it fascinating, leaving me intrigued for my second visit. Walking down the 700 steps was quite tiring, but it was cool to watch the gold dome in the center of the gardens get closer and closer. Our tour guide told us about the Ba’hai faith along the way, giving us statistics and figures about the gardens. However, I was upset that we did not get to visit the Shrine of the Bhab, which houses the first Ba’hai leader who was executed in Persia and buried in the building with the large gold dome, sandwiched between the upper and lower gardens. Maybe I will see it on my next visit!

 After the Ba’hai Gardens, we left Haifa to watch a Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball game. Most of us put on every yellow and blue piece of clothing we owned and rooted for Maccabi as loud as we could. To none of our surprise, Maccabi won. After volunteering on Tuesday, we spent the afternoon resting and working on our Digital Diplomacy projects.

On Wednesday, we visited the MADATECH Science Museum. We learned about plasma and had fun touching the plasma ball, watching the light jump around. In the hall of mirrors, we learned about sight and how mirrors work. To follow up on our session about renewable energy in Kibbutz Ketura, we spent a few minutes exploring the hall about energy. There was a station about all types of energy, with a little gauge showing which types generate the most energy. Everyone had fun racing on the bikes that propelled a little train set. Everyone’s favorite part was the science park at the end of the museum. The park consisted of four courtyards, each devoted to a different scientist. We visited the courtyards for Archimedes and Newton. Everyone enjoyed swinging on Newton’s pendulum swing. There was a model solar system where you could sit inside the sun and spin around like the Teacups in Disney World. Adam and Jon were pretty dizzy after Jack spun them around for very long time. The girls made sure not to get too dizzy! After the museum, we prepared for our Lag B’Omer Bonfire on the beach. Even though our bonfire wasn’t very big, we enjoyed roasting marshmallows and eating pizza. There must have been at least 100 other bonfires scattered around the beach. It was very cool to see how Israelis celebrate the fun holiday. After a long week, we all packed and went to sleep, ready to depart for our final free weekend!


Exploring Acco


Our students participated in Yam El Yam -- hiking from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee (Kineret).

By Noni B. and Rebekah L.

On Sunday, 18 of us set off on Yam El Yam to hike all the way from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee. As the only girls healthy enough to participate in this five day adventure, we moved at a very fast pace. 

On Sunday we gathered at the Mediterranean Sea and began our journey by filling up a bottle of water to empty only when we reached our final destination. We also carried two goldfish with us that will be set free in the Sea of Galilee tomorrow afternoon. We then hiked for a really long time until we reached our campsite at the top of a mountain. Our guide, Sally, only got us lost a couple of times before we were rescued by the jeep to guide us to delicious “camp out” dinner.
We built a camp fire and sat together for a while before we pitched our tents and went to sleep. 

The next morning we got up at six in the morning for the longest day of our lives. Most of us partook in an optional hike in which we explored an ancient fort from the time of the crusades. During the day we hiked about 12-15 miles (depending on who you ask) through beautiful forests and streams. Though we all ended up getting our shoes wet eventually, we helped each other climb across rocks and carried each other through the water. We had the chance to bathe or just to swim in freezing cold water while some of us entertained ourselves with a competition, trying to catch fish with our hands. From there we dragged our wet feet all the way our campsite, which was conveniently located on the side of a highway. There we got the best reward for a hard day of work, a chance to visit the local gas station right up the street. We felt extremely energized after using a real bathroom and buying cold drinks and snacks, and went back to prepare dinner. In typical Neshama style, we ate snitzel for dinner, which was surprisingly tasty compared to the chicken in Agron.   

We had another restless sleep, waking up to the sounds of animals throughout the night, and woke up early to begin day three. The two of us, the only two girls remaining, took off our hiking shoes in the morning and put in a call for the mini bus to take us to showers and real beds. As we arrived at the hostile, the boys continued to fight through Yam El Yam and through an extremely stormy night.


Update by Ariel G.

Yom Ha’azmaut was an incredible experience for Neshama 20. It was amazing to see the transition from Yom HaZikaron, a solemn day in Israel, to Yom Ha’azmaut, the day the country celebrates its independence. We started off our celebration by decking out in blue and white to go to a concert at a park in Netanya. We made our way to the front, just inches from the stage and blasting speakers. We heard various artists and bands, our favorite being DJ Erez Shitrit. We danced and celebrated until 2 a.m. Once we got back to Shfayim, we had a curfew until 4:30, but most of us didn’t last that long. The next morning we got to “sleep in” until 9! After breakfast we made our way over to Hayarkon Park, where we had a barbeque. Dana and Hana prepared a delicious salad for us, while our madrichim and Alona grilled the meat (and potato balls for the vegetarians). The boys appropriately celebrated Israel by playing the most American sport, Football. Garland and Adam had an intense Chess match, while Matt H., Jared and Zach created “songs” on the electric piano. It was nice being able to relax and celebrate the holiday the way that Israelis do.

Our Neshama students celebrated erev Yom Haazmaut in Netanya with a rock concert of famous Israeli artists, including Barry Sacharof, Hadag Nachash, and Beit Habubot! On Thursday they enjoyed a BBQ at Park Hayarkon.

A Yom Ha'atzmaut greeting from Neshama 20!
Update by Rebekah L.:

Since most of us were born and raised in the diaspora, Yom Hazikaron can be extremely difficult to relate to. When you know very few people who serve in the Israeli army, a day commemorating the soldiers who have fought and died for the state of Israel is an almost foreign concept. However, in the past 24 hours, the Neshama students have developed a much deeper understanding of what it really means to be a part of Israeli society and got a taste of what it feels like to care so passionately about your country. 
We got in touch with these feelings through the story of Michael Levin. If you are not familiar with his story, Michael Levin was an American teenager who fought his way into the Israeli army. His own personal battle included the challenge of convincing the Israeli government to grant him permission to join by climbing through a second story window and demanding attention. It culminated in a more physical battle, during second Lebanon war, which he fought by choice, and tragically lost his life in the process. This story does not only represent an individual, as we explained to the middle school students who were a part of the tsofim in Raanana. Rather, Michael Levin is one of almost 23,000 soldiers who gave up their lives fighting for Israel since its independence. 
After taking a break to eat a fast food dinner, we were all ready to take a short power nap on the bus. Little did we know that our sleep would be cut short by the siren that sounds throughout all of Israel, signaling the entire country to begin of moment of silent reflection. The bus pulled over on the side of a bridge and we watched every car on the highway pull over and stop, and observed the passengers as they got out of their cars and stood still for the deration of the siren. The impact of this day was even clearer to us after attending the Yom Hazikaron ceremony in Rabin Square, a central location in Tel Aviv. Hundreds of people gathered there to hear a collection of songs, stories, and personal accounts pertaining to soldiers whose lives were cut short and who live on only through these memories. We silently listened and many of us were nearly brought to tears thinking both about these individuals and about our own families back home. 
Our Yom Hazikaron experience culminated in one story of a soldier, Nadav Rottenberg, whose family we met at a park near his home earlier today. His story was even more relevant to us because he was a part of battalion 202 with our madricha, Na’ama, who knew him personally. After hearing his story we proceeded to his grave in a military cemetery where many other people were gathered to remember the deaths of their loved ones. His commander told us about his unwavering devotion to his country and his dreams of moving up in the ranks of his battalion. Though his dreams were never realized, I am confident that we will all take his spirit with us as we move into the Yom Haatzmaut celebrations later tonight. It is because of these devoted soldiers and their families that we are still able to celebrate another birthday for Israel and spend one more month together here. We are excited to celebrate Israel’s independence but we will carry with us the memories of those who lost their lives along the way.


Update by Ben K.:

We started our day off Tuesday with a bang. We spent around 45 minutes with underprivileged children, the majority of them being Ethiopian. We met them during one of their recesses and played various games with them. Upon leaving, we were told that all that we had done that morning made their day. Some of the kids even called us their best friends.  It was great to see the little kids so happy with their bright smiles shining from ear to ear.

Then we met with one of Chaim's former campers from the Israeli Scouts, who is currently taking the year off to volunteer at the center we were at with the children.  She gave us a quick tour of the neighborhood and then brought us into her home, which she shares with a few other scouts.  We think it is so great that she delayed her life for an entire year in order to give back to the community. 

 Our students met with more young Israelis who are on shnat sherut (year of service) in Netanya. They then joined Israeli peers in Ra’anana’s Scouts for Yom Hazikaron ceremony and siren.  


Our students continued to get to know Israeli society as they explored Judaism, sovereignty and social Justice in Tel Aviv; they also met with people from Mechinat Nachshon and with Anita Tucker who left Gaza at the Disengagement.


Neshama Day! This special day was planned by our students. After lunch at Avazi restaurant, our students continued to the beach to swim, tan, and even daven. They ended the day in the SPA and pool in Yamit 2000 in Holon.


Written by Josh G. and Matt D.

Kibbutz Ketura

On Sunday we arrived to Kibbutz Ketura and we have been given the chance to enjoy all of the Kibbutz’s amenities! Under the hot sun, this wonderful place has provided us with plenty to do. Chilling poolside, playing volleyball and even just relaxing in your room with your friends are just a few examples of the activities we can do here. Ketura has given plenty of time for people to catch up on their sleep and rest as well. Almost everyone is healthy again. Luckily, our early wake ups (6 am or sometimes 5 am) have been supplemented by enjoyable activities such as eastern archery in the desert and biking all throughout the kibbutz, even right next to the Jordanian border.

Besides snorkeling at coral reef in Eilat, we have been spending most of our time on the kibbutz. Nonetheless, we are enjoying ourselves thoroughly. In fact, we were trapped in a sandstorm Wednesday night. Doron proceeded to run around through the sandstorm with no fear….and no shirt.

While we have been able to relax and have fun on Kibbutz Ketura, we have also been learning about more serious things. For example, life on a traditional kibbutz. Life here is all about the mutual responsibility that needs to take place in order for a traditional kibbutz to sustain itself. We participated in a question and answer session with four members of the kibbutz to better understand what it is like to live in a community such as this one. One of them actually came from Poland in order volunteer on the kibbutz. Yosef, the volunteer, became very connected with Judaism during his teen years and is now volunteering in Israel, preparing to make Aliyah. He hopes to become a rabbi and to move back to Poland after his stint in Israel in order to revitalize the Jewish community in Krakow. In addition to this, we spoke with green energy expert, William. He was adamant about one specific green energy goal: make Israel the number one country in the world when it comes to solar energy.

On Wednesday and Thursday we commemorated Yom Hashoah. It is hard to truly comprehend the magnitude of Yom HaShoah without experiencing the day firsthand. The entire country goes into a state of mourning; many clothe themselves in white and light candles to honor the victims. It is impossible to hear any happy song on the radio. TV stations either turn off for the day or switch all their programming to Holocaust related material.

For most of us, the most memorable part of the day, however, was the siren. At 10 am on every Yom HaShoah, a siren can be heard all over the country to honor and remember those killed in the Holocaust. During that siren the entire country pauses; people cease whatever they are doing and stand at attention. Hearing the siren for the first time, many people in our grade found it to be a moving experience and many of us thought about our time in Poland and the places we saw there.

Despite the solemn tone of the day, as a grade we are extremely glad to have shared it together and to be in a state where we can be proud to be Jewish.

All in all, our time on Ketura has been one to remember, and we are looking forward to the rest of a great week! All of us send our love. 

Learning about Renewable Energy; Bedouin dinner in the desert in the evening.


Neshama goes on a bike trip and tour of experimental orchards and participate in a Desert Archery Workshop. Yom Hashoah Ceremony in the evening.



 Hiking at Har Amir, Canyon Amir, and snorkeling at Coral Beach.


 Neshama tours Ketura and learns about kibbutz values in practice.
Students later enjoyed a poolside barbecue with kibbutz peers.


 Our students left Jerusalem after a workshop about Jewish values through text and art, mainly focusing on Kavod Hadadi – כבוד respect. They then enjoyed swimming in the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi, and arrived in Ketura where they will spend the next week. The will explore environment, collaboration, Jewish Pluralism and spirituality in this beautiful Kibbutz and in the surrounding area of the Arava.

Written by Jared K. and Matthew H.

There we were, back to the place - Agron. No longer could we sleep in comfortable beds, but we could eat uncooked schnitzel (kosher for Passover) .

As we resumed activities we had the chance to discuss our wonderful Passover breaks spent with family, relatives, and friends. On Friday we went to the park - it was a sunny day outside. On Saturday, we had to walk by hundreds of Christians who were hoping to see the resurrection of Jesus. Unfortunately for them, Jesus did not make an appearance but we made it to the Kotel. We prayed and it was great. Going to the most holy site for Jews is always a positive religious experience for us. 
On Sunday morning we left for Ein Gedi. Nice place. We had lunch and then made our way to the Dead Sea and while some people went in, others did not. For those who did, it was fun and salty - really salty. We went in with our bathing suits, probably a good idea. We didn't get mud, but that didn't stop us. We floated atop the water, spinning in circles, making memories. After a few long hours on the bus we arrived at Kibbutz Ketura. This place is pretty swell – we mean really swell. The people are nice, and the rooms are pleasant - nice time. Hopefully things will continue to be fun - real fun.

After a long and relaxing Passover with their relatives, our students enjoyed a traditional Mimouna celebration. The Mimouna holiday, brought to Israel by the Jewish communities of North Africa, notably Morocco, is celebrated immediately after Passover. In the evening, a feast of fruit, confectionery and pastries is set out for neighbors and visitors.


Learning about the three religions in Jerusalem with visits to Temple Mount, the Holy Sepulcher and  the Hurvah synagogue in the Jewish Quarter. Neshama also participated in a theater workshop by Psik Theater.

Volunteering in a soup kitchen in Karmiel - our students helped prepare Passover packages for families in need.



 Learning about Jewish and Christian life in the Galilee

Written by Eliana L-B 
Over the past two days, we have experienced three distinct cultures of the Galilee.   

On Sunday, our day began with a lecture and discussion regarding Arabs and Israel.  We learned what it meant a century ago to be an Arab living in Israel, and tried to imagine what it means today.  Later in the day, we had the chance to actually find out.  In the morning, we travelled 20 minutes away from the Hannaton Kibbutz to the Museum of Palestinian Folk Heritage.  We met Ameen, the museum curator, who told us about his experience in living peacefully with the surrounding Jewish towns.  We saw ancient Muslim artifacts, traditional garb, and even sat in a guesthouse where the leaders of the town would meet to discuss issues.   

Later in the day, we had the incredible opportunity to meet Muslim high school students.  We had dialogues in jumbled Hebrew, Arabic, and English about food, religion, and even dating.  The students then invited us to their homes, which was another unique and inspirational experience.  The religious families did not reject us for being Jewish — in fact, they weren’t uncomfortable in the least. 

I went to Assad’s home, where I was greeted by several family members as well as some delicious home cooked food.  Over the course of the two hours I spent there, I met around 20 members of Assad’s family.  Although Muslims and Arabs are often painted as enemies of the Jews, it was blatantly clear to all of us how open minded, kind, and welcoming the communities here are.  

 Visiting the “Galilee Circus” only drove home this point even further.  As a way to bridge the gap between Jews and Arabs in the Galilee, a circus was created, with the idea that juggling, acrobatics, and gymnastics require very little verbal communication.  However, they all require trust, dependence, and responsibility.  We all really enjoyed the half-hour show, and after we even met the performers and tried out the tricks ourselves.  A definite highlight was watching our madrich, Aviv, attempt the unicycle.  After much fun, we returned to the Kibbutz where Jack and Sam led a relaxing meditation.  It was one of my favorite days of the trip so far, and certainly not one I’ll forget anytime soon. 

Today we learned about Jewish and Christian life in the Galilee.  Our day began in Tzippori, where we explored an ancient synagogue and a Jewish home that is thousands of years old.  Later, we got to see Kvar Nachum, a center where Jesus once preached.  It is a holy site for Greek Orthodox, another community of the Galilee. As a little treat, we spent lunchtime at a natural spring, where we ate, sunbathed, and swam.  It was a perfect way to end our stay in the Galilee.  I learned a lot about daily life on a Kibbutz, the nature of conservative Judaism in the Galilee, and Arab-Israeli life.  

Our students had an informative and enriching day in the Arab villages in the Galilee.
They got to speak to adults and teens, visit homes, and enjoyed the Israeli-Arab circus. Some
Neshama students even got to practice their circus skills.


Written by Sarah

This past week we spent four days in Gadna. Gadna for Israelis is a preview of basic training which they will experience after they graduate high school.

It was interesting for us to see how Israelis our age spend the two to three years after they graduate high school. When we are going off to college they are going to the army. When we were with our commanders, we had to stand in one position and before we could talk we had to say “akshev hamephakedet” or “ken hamephakedet”. The most difficult thing for many of us was having someone commanding us what to do. Every second of the day we were told what to do, and we had a certain amount of time to do everything. If they said be at this place in 10 seconds, we had to run there in 10 seconds and scream 10, 9, 8, etc. until we got to one. When the time was over we were supposed to be at the place in two lines and say, “akshev hamephakedet”. If we didn’t do what they said or talked when we weren’t supposed to talk they made us go to the side and do 10 push ups. Many of us did 4 to 5 sets of push ups in 10 minutes because a lot of us talked or laughed when we weren’t supposed to.

Although the week was very tough both physically and mentally, it was rewarding when we got to shoot the M-16. For almost all of us, this was our first time firing our gun and probably our last. Shooting the gun gave us a lot of empowerment, something we’ve never felt before.

Being in Gadna, we didn’t only learn about what it is like to be in the army, but we also learned life lessons, such as respecting others, women can do the same things men can, and being there for other people. These lessons aren’t only important in the army but also in our daily life. Although Gadna for all of us was difficult, it opened our eyes to what Israelis our age go through. Although it was only four days for us, it is two to three years for them.

Our students completed their Gadna experience and enjoyed a fun evening eating out and watching a movie. They later arrived in Kibbutz Hanaton.


Gadna week for Neshama!

This update was written by the Madrichim, since our chanichim have been busy soldiers during the last 2 days.

We arrived to the Gadna base in Joara, in the north of Israel, and the chanichim got their uniform, sleeping bags and canteens. The group members were divided into 3 tzvatim (teams), and each tzevet met their commander, or as our soldiers call them – “Hamefaked.”
The commanders explained the rules of the Gadna to the group members, and very soon we could see them running, standing at attention and doing shmirot (guarding duty).

After our wonderful weekend in the hotel of Ma’ale Hachamisha, the food and commodities of Tzahal are a big transition, and the chanichim even miss the desert experience. Our resourceful soldiers even clean their rooms, make their beds and tomorrow they will even work in the kitchen.

Gadna is teaching the chanichim about mutual responsibility, independence, inner strength, and giving them an understanding of what every adolescent in their age in Israel has to go through.

We all are very excited for tomorrow. After many lessons that dealt with safety instructions and shooting positions, the soldiers will spend the entire day tomorrow at the shooting range.

We salute all our soldiers!
Naama, Chaim and Aviv


Before and after Shabbat


Written by Bryan

We really enjoyed our last few days in Sde Boker. Because we could not go to Merchavim, high schoolers from Merchavim came to stay with us in the desert settlement of Sde Boker. We learned about settlements and agricultural development in the desolate Negev, touring wineries and farms. David Ben Gurion had come to live in Sde Boker in the early 1950’s, so it was fitting that we learned about him and his accomplishments. In keeping with this theme, we had seminars about Zionism and American Jewry. This aspect culminated in a ceremony at Ben Gurion’s grave site.

Perhaps most noteworthy of all, we went to a spa for some much needed R and R.


Exploring the Negev with fun activities and a Karaoke and DJ party
with friends from Merchavim. 



Written by Dylan K.

On Thursday, March 15th, we went to two museums - the Gay Center of Tel Aviv and the Comic Book Museum. At the Gay Center we spoke to two men who shared their experiences with us, some good and some bad; also, they shared with us a hopeful future for gays in Israel. At the comic book museum, we learned about the history of comics, saw funny and interesting Israeli comics, and also drew comics with an Israeli comic artist. Later that day we departed for our free weekend during which some of us left the group and some of us stayed. I went to Tel Aviv to visit my cousins with Adam and had an awesome time. I slept late, had good food, and got to hang with my Israeli cousins. The only negative was on Shabbat, when my Israeli relatives only eat one meal a day and I didn’t know that so I was very hungry on Saturday.

After our very relaxing free weekend we came back and heard three people speak about Israel-world Jewry relationship. We met with David Keren, USY Youth Director for Programs in Israel, Yehoshua, Karlin Hassid, and conservative Rabbi Haya Becker. During our meeting with David Keren, we discussed our perceptions of Israel’s relationships with the American community. With Yehoshua, we talked about how the ultra Orthodox in Israel do not condone what happened in Beit Shemesh. With Rabbi Becker, we discussed the problems Conservative Judaism faces in Israel.

On Monday we got up very early to “climb Masada” -- meaning we took the cable car both ways. We heard again about the courage of the Jews who were at Masada 2000 years ago. Later that day we went to Arad to help paint a Youth Center. It was good to know that we were bettering the local community there. We also did have a little fun with the paint, some of which is still stuck in peoples hair two days later.

This morning we left the amazing Agron and went to a Beduin embroidery factory created by women. There we learned about the dresses and other embroidery that the women make there and of the inspiring women’s rights movement within the Beduin community. I was even so impressed by the embroidery that I bought a necklace. After that, we went to the Nachal army base where we met with soldiers there and spoke about their experiences. We even got to participate in a target practice simulation; I was the winner. Then we went to a Beduin tent where we met our friends from Merchavim and got to catch up and spend some quality time with them. The next couple of days we will be with the Merchavim kids all the time and we are very excited. Finally, after a long day, we arrived at Sde boker where we will sleep until 8:00, something we haven’t done on this whole trip.


Today Neshama toured Masada and then continued to Arad, where they met with Israeli students. Together they painted the town's youth center.


Intro to Israel-World Jewry Week for our Neshama group.
Students met with David Keren, USY Youth Director, Israel Program and Conservative Rabbi Haya Becker.


 Neshama students who did not visit relatives during their first "freekend," had a chance to get together with Gal Dafadi, who was our GOA shlicha last year.



Israeli society through art -- Students visited the New Tel Aviv Museum
and Comics Museum in Holon. 


Our students started exploring Tel Aviv on Wednesday and they love it! It was an enriching, fun, and easy day, that introduced them to Tel Aviv by walking (sometimes running) in the streets with their group. It was like the “Amazing Race” in which they had tasks and through that they were exposed to the architecture, people, history, important sites and even food in Tel Aviv. After four hours of race from Kikar Rabin to Neve Tzedek, the orange group won!



Neshama Desert Experience



Written by Danielle R., Jacob G., David N., and Hana D. 

The Infamous Desert Experience

Thirty seniors get off the bus anticipating running on sand dunes, running water, cushioned tents, and phone service. These expectations were met and exceeded when they were greeted by the vast wilderness devoid of electricity, toilets, and internet connection. Everyone was anticipating a leisurely stroll to the campsite to mentally prepare for the following strenuous day. What ensued was what Dani the guide liked to call, a bedicha, meaning a joke day. 

Clearly Dani thought we all must be ex-paratroopers who still like to volunteer on the weekends and run marathons for fun. However, we ended up hiking for over six miles with at least a minimum of a one mile vertical climb. The views consisted of miles upon miles of dust and desert. At night the views were ominous; in the day they were unique . . . for the first few minutes. Then came the fun part. 

At night, we cut up vegetables, cooked hamburgers without bread, fried potatoes, cleaned the dishes, and pitched our tents. After a delicious meal, we sat around a bonfire roasting marshmallows and reminiscing about old times. Following the bonfire, some had to use the lavatories the old fashioned way. So easy a caveman can do it (Geico). In order to preserve the beauty and safety of the Negev, we had to burn all toilet paper and waste. 

At 8:30 p.m., we all got into our beds for a perfectly comfortable, mattress-free, pillow-free, sheet-free, blanket-free, space-free, air-free, privacy-free, and bug-filled tents. During the night, the lucky ones got to go to the water closet with the jackals and hyenas. Fortunately, no one got injured. 

Breakfast was at six, but the majority of people were up before four. Then, the three sicklings, later joined by a fourth, departed while the rest stoically and audaciously ventured out to the wilderness. The sicklings thought they were stranded upon departure and even chased after a Pakistani car in hopes it was their transport out of the desert. Thanks to David Newman’s television experience in survival techniques as seen on the Discovery and National Geographic channels, we found another van with a paratrooper casually lying on his side next to the vehicle, namely Moran. 

Details of day two and day three of the Negev experience are pending because we are currently situated in a youth hostel bordering the desert. Layla tov!



Written by Danielle R., Jacob G., David N., and Hana D.

First Shabbat in Jerusalem

Shabbat Shalom. This past Friday brought back many memories from our Na’ale in 9th grade journey. We welcomed in Shabbat with a meaningful davening experience overlooking the Kotel. This first Shabbat experience in Jerusalem cannot be described in words. There is no greater feeling than being in our homeland with our closest friends on Shabbat Para/Shushan Purim, especially after a draining and potent week in Poland. We were really able to see what our relatives died for, which shows they did not die in vain.  

On Saturday morning, we were given the opportunity to go to an Orthodox (The Great Synagogue of Jerusalem), modern Orthodox (Shira Chadasha), and Conservative shul. Some were able to experience a traditional Shabbat service, and others enjoyed a mechitza with a female leader or a Conservative service with a little visit from our creepy-crawler friends. Don’t worry, all clothing infested with bugs were contained in plastic bags and stored away, and all people showered in our squeaky clean, unflooded Agron showers. 

After shul, we enjoyed some much, much, much needed rest, where we were all able to strengthen our immune systems. In the afternoon, the boys were able to play some basketball in the park against Schechter Westchester and Kivunim. In case you were wondering, we made Sandy proud. Following basketball, the whole grade went on some speed dates to get to know each other better and to promote more grade unity. Then, we played sand soccer until nearly the end of Shabbat. We concluded Shabbat with a warm havdallah service led by Danielle R. and Zach “The Barber” B. Then, we all went out to Ben Yehudah Street and yes, the boys went to Burgers Bar while the girls went shopping. All in all, it was a great Shabbat in Jerusalem and we cannot wait for the next one . . .  Freekend . . . . Parents don’t be nervous; our hosts will help us cross the street!


Written by Doron G.

Over the past week we celebrated Purim - Israeli style. We spent the first day with the kids from Ra’anana. We arrived at their school - 30 mintues late thanks to traffic - but were able to catch the end of their Purim celebration in school. The kids were divided into groups and put on plays that were hysterical. After that we went with them to a Purim block party. There was a DJ, dancing, and kids from all over Israel and the world, such as Australia and South Africa. 

The following day we spent doing a Poland seminar. We were divided into four groups - music, drama, art and computer video. This took the entire day as each group thought carefully on how to portray their Poland experience. (Scroll down for videos of the presentations).

On Thursday, we went to an excavation site and helped uncover artifacts from the time of the Maccabees. That day our own Adam, Jack, and Sam read the Megillah and that night there was a party in our hostel with both our school and the Solomon Schechter of Westchester.
On Friday morning we went to volunteer at a house for those with cerebral palsy. We danced with them, sung with them, played with them; and really enlightened their Purim. That night we went to the Kotel for Shabbat, where we had two minyanim: one with everyone, over looking the Kotel and one down at the wall, where men and women were separated. On the way back from the Kotel a few of us danced and celebrated with two Chasidim

Saturday, being Shabbat, we all went to shul - however we were given the choice of where to go. We  all enjoyed our first Shabbot in Israel and look forward to many more.



Our students continue to enjoy a joyous and meaningful Purim in Israel. Today they went digging at Tel Maresha and Beit Guvrin, had a Megillah reading, Purim activity with our staff, and celebrated in a fun and noisy Purim party.


Written by Dana B.

First Days in Israel

The moment that we have all been waiting for finally happened on Monday – we arrived in Israel! We had a safe flight, and everyone counted down for the landing. When the plane landed, we cheered and sang “Heveinu Shalom Alecheim,” and we were all thrilled to begin our journey in Israel! This moment was especially meaningful for me because it was my first time in Israel; I couldn’t wait to experience this special place with our grade.

After arriving at our base in Agron and quickly dropping off our bags, we got ready to go to the holiest place in Israel, the Kotel. Our madrichim had us blindfold each other for the last few steps onto the balcony overlooking the Kotel; we all removed them at the same time for an incredibly powerful experience. I was able to say the Shecheyanu in front of all of my friends, and then we said Kiddush and Hamotzi. A beautiful passage about happiness and appreciating all that we are experiencing was read by Noni B. Finally, the group stood in a circle with our arms around each other and sang “Yerushalyim Shel Zahav.” I know that this is an experience that none of us will ever forget, and we are all grateful to be given such an opportunity to learn and explore in such a special way.

After a spiritual day on Monday, we had a fun day celebrating Purim in Ra’anana. We went to a high school in the morning (in our costumes) and saw creative, funny, and impressive performances that the students prepared. After this, we went to a dance party on the street and mixed with other Israeli teens while having a lot of fun dancing to great music. The atmosphere was exciting and helped us really feel a part of Israeli culture.

Today, Wednesday, was devoted to a Poland seminar. Four experts in four different fields (multimedia, drama, art, and music) came and helped us express our emotions and experiences from our time in Poland in whatever way we connected to most. We worked on these projects from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm, so there was a lot of effort put into them. The final results were powerful and beautiful; these projects also allowed people to share different talents they may not have shared in the past.

Overall, our time in Israel so far has varied from day to day, and each day is exciting and unique. We can’t wait to continue our Israel adventures!


Today our students took part in a post-Poland seminar in which they were divided into four groups and had to come up with creative ways to highlight their experiences during their week in Poland.  The photos above and videos below show some of their creations.


The following update was written by Ben K. about the group's week in Poland.

Our recent trip to Poland was extremely emotional and educational. We visited beautiful scenes of past Jewish life and horrid reminders of death. One thing our wonderful tour guide Sheryl emphasized is that despite all the horrible things that happened during the Holocaust, Poland is also worth exploring as an example of how Jewish life sometimes thrives in the diaspora. 
For centuries, Jews flourished in Poland, contributing to Polish culture through the arts and sciences. We visited a shul in Tikochin that was constructed in 1642. Visiting Krakow was especially poignant. The Jewish section of Krakov teemed with Jewish historical sites, including places of worship and old residences. Today, Krakow has only a small Jewish population. 
We had the pleasure of meeting with the director of the JCC in Krakow, who explained that the Hillel is only a few years old and is growing rapidly. In Warsaw,we met with the Israeli ambassador to Poland, Mr. Rav-ner, who is a distant relative of our very own Jack R.

Of course, most of our trip was mired in the darkness of the Holocaust. We visited the Warsaw Ghetto, Majdankek, Treblinka, and Auschwitz (both Auschwitz 1 and Birkenau), as well as the shtetl of Tikochin. It was incredibly difficult to keep our eyes open and stare directly at the horrors, whether it was a pile of human ash at Majdanek or the cramped barracks of Birkenau. After visting the square in Tikochin where its entire Jewish population was round up, we followed their paths by going to the beautiful forest of Lupechova. The Nazis had taken them there and shot them at point blank range before tossing them into massive pits. We lit candles in their memory. We also performed a “tekes” or ceremony at each death camp we visited. The ceremonies consisted of prayer, poetry and songs meant to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and contemplate its meaning within our lives. Students who had family members in the Holocaust read names and said mourner’s kaddish.

Jewish identity is as inseparable from ourselves as the very fabric of our DNA. Regardless of the strength or weakness of our own personal religious convictions, we have an obligation to honor our Jewish heritage and appreciate our place in Jewish history. Though not all of us had family members who perished at the hands of the Nazis, all of us were able to come away from our week in Poland with an appreciation for our Jewish identity and a strong desire to enter the Jewish homeland.

The following letter was written by Jack R. about meeting the Israeli ambassador to Poland.

While Poland may not be the most common travel spot, I have always wanted to visit. Since a very young age, I have heard the stories of my four grandparents who all survived the war as well as countless other stories about the Holocaust. I have always thought about Poland as a place where Jewish people lived, not where they live now. While for the most part this is true, we were fortunate to meet with a Jew who was born in Poland, immigrated to Israel, and now is living in Poland again. That man is the Israeli ambassador to Poland, Zvi Rav-ner. My father had reached out to him and arranged for him to come to dinner with my grade in Warsaw.

I sat next to his wife and we discussed Jewish life in Poland. I asked her how many Jews still live in Poland and she said that no one knows the number, because most Jewish people do not identify as Jewish. She told me that most people who are Jewish either choose not to identify as Jewish or do not even know they have Jewish roots. As an example, she told me the following story: In Poland, Halloween is celebrated by people visiting and cleaning cemeteries. Last year she visited the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw. While there, she saw someone cleaning a tombstone. Twenty minutes later, she saw a different person cleaning the same tombstone. Ms. Rav-ner went up and asked that person if they knew the other person who had cleaned the same tombstone. The person said no, and then she introduced the two people to each other. As it turned out, those two people were distant cousins who had never known about each other. They had lived their whole lives in Warsaw and never known each other, because Polish Jewry was not discussed for many years. After the war, anti-Semitism was extremely prevalent, leading many Jews to suppress their Judaism. Stories like this seem far-fetched, but in Poland many Jewish people learn about their religion in unexpected ways.

After dinner with the Ambassador and his wife, the Ambassador spoke to my class. He discussed topics ranging from the Jewish life in Poland to the relationship between Israel and Poland. Many people had the perception that because of the Holocaust, Poland and Israel must have a strained relationship. However, that is not true at all. We learned about the joint training programs of the Israeli and Polish armies, the creation of the Jewish Museum in Warsaw, and the fact that every Polish high school student is required to visit Auschwitz. After his speech, the Ambassador answered a couple of the students’ questions. He answered all of the questions and explained the economic relationship between Israel and Poland more in depth.

After hearing the Ambassador, students came away with a better and more positive perspective of Israel’s relationship with Poland. It was really special to meet a new family member, and it was great to learn more about the ongoing ties between the Jewish people and Poland, who have been connected for nearly a millennium. 


Our students have been very busy since landing in Israel yesterday. 

After checking into their new home, Agron, on Monday, our students walked to the Kotel where they had a moving service overlooking the Kotel. They were all excited for Dana for her first time in Israel when she recited Shehecheyanu. As a group, they sang Yerushalayim Shel Zahav and Hatikvah on the balcony overlooking the Kotel.

Back in Agron, students “bought” accessories for their Purim costumes in an “auction,” and had their first Israeli dinner.

Today students visited Mor MetroWest High School in Ra’anana to join their Purim festivities and show.


It was a beautiful Shabbat on Neshama!

Highlights included a Kabbalat Shabbat with JDS students; a beautiful Dvar Torah by Eliana; great Shabbat service with Jake, Eliana, Adam, Matt D, Danielle and Mindy leading and reading Torah; a meeting with the JCC director in Krakow and with a Polish student who recently discovered his Jewish roots; an activity triggered from a comics made by a kid in a concentration camp; singing and telling Hassidic stories; a meeting with a Righteous Among the Nations- a woman who saved Jews; Seudah Shlishit and Havdallah. It is beautiful to see how immersed the students are in the experience, and to see the connections they make to their years at GOA, their family roots and traditions and to their Jewish identity.

They ended Shabbat with activity with the madrichim and some free time in Krakow.
Written by Matthew D.

I want to start off with a reassurance that we are all safe and having an incredible experience. Our tour guides and madrichim are all amazing and I believe I can speak for everyone by saying we really couldn’t ask for anything more from them. They have been extremely approachable, knowledgeable, and have all worked extremely hard to make our experience here as extraordinary as possible.

Today was a very important day for me because we visited Treblinka, the death camp where most of my family was murdered. My family, came from Chmielnik, a town in Poland with a substantial Jewish population. The only person who survived from my family was my great-grandfather Max who immigrated to the United States before World War I.

My group of 10 of my classmates was given the duty and honor to do a memorial service at the camp. My friends read about Janusz Korczak, a man who opened an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto and went to the gas chambers with his children. I decided to read a selection from a book published following the Holocaust about Chmielnik. The passage was about the day the Nazis came; it described in pretty graphic detail the humiliation and sorrow the Nazis put the Chmielnikers through as they were taken from their town and brought to their next destination.

I then told the story of what happened to my great-grandfather’s sister and mother. The day the Germans came, my great-grandfather’s sister and mother found refuge with a non-Jewish neighbor. After a couple of days, the neighbor lured them outside, publicly shot them, and left their bodies in the street. The rest of my family was brought to Treblinka were they were murdered.

I read the names of the 24 members of my family killed on the very spot I was standing and led the group in mourners kaddish. We then all sang Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem, a song of hope. I have never felt more connected to my people, the Shoah, or to my own family history than I did at that extremely powerful moment.

Our guide told us that in Judaism a person dies twice; once when they physically die and again when they are forgotten. I am happy that I passed the story of my family onto my friends so that my family will never be forgotten.

Written by Ben K.

Our first two days of Neshama have been one big emotional roller coaster thus far. We left our families Monday night and were bittersweet that we were embarking on our liberating three month trip, but we also were sad that we were being separated from our families.

Yesterday and today we have visited various places of Polish Jewry, the remains of a shtetel called Tikochin, the forest of Lupechova, and Treblinka, a death camp during the Holocaust. We were all very taken aback by everything we have seen and it has been hard to comprehend it. Yesterday we went to a Jewish cemetery in Warsaw that houses 150,000 graves but 400,000 people. We saw tombstone after tombstone that were dated as far back as the late 19th century. We really saw that Warsaw had such a thriving Jewish community before the
Holocaust, having roots in religion but also in the arts. Later yesterday we went to the last remains of the wall of the Warsaw ghetto. It was shocking to us to see there was so little left of the ghetto and that now people are living where our Jewish family was forced to live so cruelly.

Today at the shtetel of Tikochin we walked through what was left of the shtetel and visited a shul that was constructed in 1642; it is amazing that a structure of Jewry is still standing here in Poland today, where so many other shuls were destroyed. Next, we walked through Lupechova, the forest through which the Jews of Tikochin were forced to march when they were lead to there deaths by the Nazis. We actually walked the path that they walked, and many of us became emotional during this and it was also a bit scary that we were where so many Jews marched to their deaths. This is similar to when we visited Treblinka, a death camp at which 870,000 people were killed in a matter of 13 months, making it the most deadly extermination camp of the Nazis. There, we stood where our relatives came out of the cattle cars into the camp, being "welcomed" by the Nazi soldiers. We saw the monument there which consisted of stones with the names of every town of the people killed at that camp. Matt D., who lost family members there, shared their story and recited Kadish at the camp with all of our support. At the end of our day we are physically and emotionally drained, but we are ready to continue tomorrow and the rest of our trip.


The students arrived in Poland on February 27 and had a meaningful day at Warsaw today. 

The following was written by parent Michael S. Jay during send-off of our Neshama students.

What does one tell a child as she, or he, is about to leave home for an extended period of time?  There are many things to say; so many discussions to have.  Many are very personal; the kinds of uncomfortable conversations that only a parent and a child can have.  The array of emotions is incredible; our thoughts range from fear to hope and from sadness to joy. These are private times in a family and they are holy moments. 
But what does our tradition tell us about times of significant change?  It has more to say than we can cover in a brief ceremony. Of course, I think it is not a stretch to view the entire Torah as if it were a lesson from a parent to a child; a large compilation of things to do and things not to do.   

I discovered what I wanted to say as I was preparing for an adult education class that I teach in a Synagogue near my home.  There, we are studying Pirke Avot together.  For those of you who are not familiar with this text, it is part of the Mishna (which is Rabbi Judah the Prince’s original codification of the laws of the Torah).  Pirke Avot is loosely translated as “Wisdom of our Fathers” and has this moniker because it is primarily a compilation of wisdom sayings.  It is rich and poetic and, because of its reduction of text to “nuts and bolts” ideas, it is perhaps the most studied piece of the Mishna.  In preparation for the class I looked at Chapter 3, Section 1 which provides in part:

עֲקַבְיָא בֶּן מַהֲלֵלְאֵל אוֹמֵר הִסְתַּכֵּל בִּשְלִשָה דְבָרּים וְאֵין אַתָּה בָה לִידֵי עֲבֵרָה.  דַּע מֵאַֽיִן בָּֽאתָ וּלְאָן אַתָּה הוֹלֵךּ וְלִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עָתִיד לִתֵּן דִּין וְחֶשְבּוֹן.

Akavya ben Mahalalel (first century CE, a contemporary of Hillel) used to say, “Reflect on three things and you will not come into the grasp of sin: know where you came from; know where you are going; and [know] in Whose presence you will have to make an accounting.”

There is power in this short excerpt.  Is this not the way we should each approach our days?  Remembering our past, having a plan for the future, and knowing that none of us is operating in a vacuum. Isn’t it important to know that, in everything we do, each of us needs to answer to someone, whether it is a friend, a teacher, a parent, ourselves, or God?  The knowledge of this accountability keeps us true to who we are; It helps us to “inner consider” the things we do.  I am consistently amazed at the number of ways that Torah teaches us how to make the world a better place.  

 So, as we, your parents, get ready to send you off into the world, on top of offering our unwavering support and love, and offering prayers for safety, health, and success, we want this 2000 year old piece of wisdom from Pirke Avot to be our message to you; a message sent with all of our hearts, and with all of our souls, and with all of our might; a message sent with an endless supply of love; and a message sent, as always, with a hope for peace. Amen. 

Michael S. Jay

Written by Ben and Bryan

On our first official days on Neshama, we have been getting ready for our travels in a number of productive of introspective ways. We have assessed our objectives for our journey; we have prioritized activities that we consider essential to our intellectual and spiritual growth, We have pondered topics such as what if means to be Jewish and how we will come into contact with our Jewish identity during the course of our trip. We will interact with our Judaism over the course of the trip through both prayer and exploration of important sites in Judaism. Alona Nir, the Neshama director, has begun to prep us for what will surely be a once in a lifetime experience. 

Thank you to the  Consulate General of Israel in New
York for providing our students with the book,
Start Up Nation.

The Holocaust is an important aspect of Neshama, as we visit Auschwitz in Poland and Yad Vashem in Israel. We have heard stories from a Holocaust survivor (senior Jack Rabner’s grandmother), which has made us feel responsible for remembering the tragic events of that period. A consensus emerged that visiting Poland was an extremely important part of remembering the Holocaust, because it will be the responsibility of our generation to retell the horrid tragedy as the “survivor” generation dies out. This was especially beneficial to some of us because not all of us have had the opportunity to hear in person a first-hand account of the Holocaust. From this we connected what we learned in school to the survivor's experiences; hearing Jack’s grandmother speak made everything we have learned about the Holocaust really come to life.

To usher in the Shabbos on Friday, we each wrote a “Shabbotogram” to someone else, a small card with a brief note including something meaningful regarding the person to whom we are writing. All of us were very happy with the Shabbotograms we received and this added very much to the already strong Neshama community we have. This made us even happier to be with each other and created an extremely positive atmosphere within the group. We hope this is just a small taste of the community feel we will experience in Poland and Israel.

We are all very "mitragshim"--excited, for everything that is to come in the next three and a half months.


The following was written by Dana B. for the Neshama orientation.

While the term “second semester senior” is popular in most schools across the country, it does not apply to Golda Och Academy. Instead of wasting a few months of our lives doing very little work and not focusing on learning, we as a group will be taking an incredible trip. In 17 days, we will be leaving for Neshama. We’ve had a countdown for a long time and this trip has obviously been on everyone’s minds since we officially became seniors. I used to think about Neshama as something so far in the future, and I tried to picture myself with all of you experiencing all of the amazing things that we will be doing, but it didn’t seem real until now. Now that we have had a few days of preparing and I’ve stressed for the last few weekends trying to buy everything I need as well as wondering how I’ll ever be able to pack it all, Neshama doesn’t seem like such a far away dream anymore.

With the end of high school classes forever and no homework or tests to freak out over, I’ve had a lot of time to think about Neshama, as I’m sure all of you can relate to. There’s so much to think about—all the little details, the social aspects of our trip, the challenges that we will encounter, and how much fun we will have. For me, there is another level that I’ve recently thought a great deal about, and that is that Neshama will be my first time ever in Israel. There are times that this idea is so overwhelming, and there are times that I feel that my entire life has been building up to the moment I walk out of the airport and onto Israeli ground for the first time. It is easy to get caught up in dealing with friendships, realizing you forgot something you think you can’t live without, or being afraid to try an activity you have never done before. These are all legitimate worries that cross my mind all the time, but lately I’ve been trying to look at the bigger picture. I know that some hikes will be difficult or that I may get impatient with some activities, but I am ready to learn. We are all ready to learn, to take who we are and what we know here and bring it to a new level. I know that when I think about praying at the Kotel for the first time, I cannot imagine something more powerful and I cannot wait to finally have this experience. On the Neshama va’ad, we have discussed different ways to make prayer more meaningful, and there have been some great ideas that I hope we are able to use; I also hope that we can all have traditional prayer at times and respect each other, as well as respect the chance to pray in Israel, something we should all be thankful for.

I hope that no one will ever take this trip for granted—I don’t know of any other school that takes its seniors to Israel for three full months. But school is not just providing us with a trip to Israel—it is providing us with an opportunity that we will simply never encounter again. Neshama is truly “a journey that touches the soul" — that is, if you let it. I urge everybody to think on the airplane, as we take off for the most incredible three months of our lives, about what they really want to gain from this trip. I’m sure that we all have some goals in common, and I also know that everyone has individual hopes and dreams. I know for myself that I want to not be afraid to try new things, and ignore any lingering fears and just go for it. I want to grow Jewishly and really develop an understanding of the Israeli culture. I want to strengthen and deepen all of the friendships that I already feel I have with all of you, because I honestly think that each and every one of us adds something special to this trip.

If there is one thing that I can leave all of you with, it is the determination to be fully yourself on Neshama, to not be afraid to take chances, speak your mind, and be vulnerable. There are so many surprises in life, and I think that this journey is about being ready for them and embracing them. Every one of our ninety days on Neshama is a chance to be the absolute greatest that we can be, and I know that that is something I will try very hard to never forget. I hope that we can all grow together and make friendships and memories that will truly last a lifetime. I would also like to say that there are no other people in the world that I would rather be embarking on this journey with—you have all had such a deep impact on my life and through everything, I really believe that we all care about each other. We are all extremely lucky to be in this group and to be going on Neshama 20.

Try to really think about what is important and meaningful to you, now, through Neshama, and beyond. We all have it within us to create amazing experiences for everyone, and I can’t wait.

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