Saturday, July 18, 2015

Yad Vashem, Shuk and Shabbat in Jerusalem: Our Final Blog

What a phenomenal adventure that we have all been on the last 5 weeks!!  It's now time to say goodbye to this incredible trip and one that has changed us all for the better.  These ISTers have been absolutely amazing and you will be able to tell by their last blog posts and the impact that this trip has had on them.  A few words from one of my favorite summer camp songs and sums up our entire trip.  Enjoy the final blog and see you on Sunday!!

Bless this house, for we are all together. 
Bless us all. We may not meet again. 
Think of all the happiness we've found here. 
Take it home and share it with a friend.

Come along, sing a song
And we'll never say good-bye. 
Soon you'll see, and agree 
Friendships won will never die.

Blog post by Lucy Kodish

Kehilah Kedosha at the Kotel First Day in Israel What's so special about a wall? I mean I get that it's old, I get that it has religious significance, but at the end of the day it's a wall. Before visiting the Kotel for the first time, I didn't understand what the big deal was. I'd learned about it in Sunday school, I'd seen pictures and heard stories about how incredible thIs wall is, but none of it really made sense. Honestly, i wasn't all that excited to vIsit the western wall on our first day in Israel. The sun was beating dOwn and i was tired and delirious from jet lag. But as we got closer and closer to the wall, things began to change. I heard people speaking Hebrew. I heard people speaking English. I heard people speaking many other unidentifiable languages. I saw people from countless different backgrounds. Different ages different cultures different countries. I was getting my first taste of a Kehilah Kedosha. A holy community. As I approached the wall I didn't know what to feel, so I just sat down in a chair and watched. I watched as people prayed and cried and smiled. Then, the IST staff delivered letters from family members. As I read the notes an overwhelming sense of family washed over me. And I don't just mean parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings. I am talking about the entire jewish people, my kehilah Kedosha.
2nd to last day in Israel. Today we visited the Kotel again. Now I can truly say that I not only observed a kehilah Kedosha, I have become part of it. On Shabbat people come from far and wide to pray and celebrate at the western wall. Orthodox men stand next to soldiers in uniform. Young children coexist with the elderly. Everyone comes together to form something that can only be experienced first hand. There is no way to completely describe dancing and singing at the top of my lungs with many thousands of Jews from all over the world. There are no words to explain how proud I am to be jewish, to be part of this kehilah Kedosha.

Yad Vashem (Israel Holocaust Museum)

Hearing from a Holocaust survivor

Blog Post by Jake Sherman
With the final hours left of my journey into the holy land, the land of our fore fathers and fore mothers (a favorite phrase of our wonderful tour guide Elaun), coming to a close, I'm left to wonder how I have changed my perception of Israel and the Jewish people. Perhaps to the dismay of many, I can't say that I am imbued with a new religious fervor or rampant Zionism, but rather I have realized what it feels to be proud of one's Jewish heritage.
Growing up Jewish, I was sent to Sunday school (which I never liked), had a bar mitzvah, and eventually found my place in a Jewish youth group. A pretty standard Jewish life for a person of my age. However, my Jewish and secular lives are entirely separate. I have Jewish friends and school friends, mutually exclusive. While I was not necessarily ashamed of my Judaism, I was definitely not proud of it. I am the Jewish one among my friends; a place I was happy to fill but never flaunt.
Upon arriving a Cherry Creek, I noticed a student there. He wears his kippa everyday. I have no idea if he is a good person or not, if he is religious or not, but I always admired the courage it took for him to wake up and silently explain to the world with his kippa that he was not afraid of being different, being Jewish.
Suddenly, when I arrived in Israel it all made sense. Although a minority in the world, the Jews are at home in Israel. You can't walk 100 meters without happening upon men with various styles and colors of kippot. When the Russian czar forced Jews to wear Shtreimel, we embraced the hat, making it a head covering for Chasidic to wear on Shabbat and other holidays. All the Chasidic men at the Kotel wear it with pride even today. When our ethic group was threatened with extermination during the Holocaust, we founded Israel only a few years after the end of World War II. To make it simple, Jews make lemonade out of lemons (for lack of a less cliche analogy).
The kippa is not only a sign that God is always above our heads but rather as a symbol of the tenacity of the Jewish race. We wear them proudly upon our heads now for all the people who, in the past, had that right stripped from them. I wore my kippa all the way to the Kotel and no one seemed to notice or care. It was normal. Everyone is proud. However, walking around the halls in Creek I'm sure people, even the Jews, would glance a second time at my head covering. Outside of Israel, it is a rarity to find a Jew proud of his ancestry and religion or at least one who is willing to display it so publicly. When I first came to the Kotel almost a month ago now, I felt no connection to it at all and frankly it pissed me off because I wanted so badly to have felt something. And walking there tonight I hoped more than anything that this time would be different. I never even touched the wall when I went this time. I walked into the men's section and was heartily greeted by an Orthodox man who gave me a siddur (which I quickly dropped off in a nearby chair). I timidly walked around circles of men and soldiers loudly and proudly singing songs for Shabbat. I felt awkward and unwelcome, but then it clicked. I stumbled into the circle, arms around strangers as if we had known each other our whole lives, and soon so did other ISTers. We jumped around, butchered some songs, and laughed. Soon a group of boys from Mexico barged into a circle adding their unique flavor.
I looked around and saw all the different Jews in the plaza. Different sects, races, sizes, shapes all praying as the Jewish people in their own way. I had never felt so proud to be a Jew. It was not the wall that had impacted me but rather the people. The power of the Kotel was not the wall itself of the strength of the people by which it faced. The Kotel is a reflection of the entity that it represents. The power of the Kotel was not the wall itself but the strength of the people by which it faced.

Machane Yehuda (Jerusalem Shuk)

Blog Post by Ira Weiss

This evening, we spent time at the Kotel for Shabbat. We started our time at the wall participating in a Kabbalat Shabbat service all together. We then got to experience something very cool as an IST family. Elaun helped lead a bat mitzvah for Sofie because she had never had one. After our Kabbalat Shabbat together and Sofie's bat mitzvah, we all headed to the wall. Shabbat had already started at this point and everyone was praying and dancing by the wall. Men with men and women with women. The first thing I saw was a large circle of IDF soldiers all singing and dancing by the wall with a man in the middle waving a large Israeli flag. As I got closer, it got more and more amazing to see. The soldiers were all singing and dancing in harmony and it was something truly amazing to see. Some of my friends and I started our own circle once the IDF soldiers had finished singing. We were joined a little later by some high schoolers from Mexico. Not knowing these new people we had just met, we all put each other's hands on everyone's shoulders and started singing. It was truly amazing to see that people from the U.S. and people from Mexico, people who speak two different languages, can all join together and sing the same songs not as Americans and not as Mexicans, but as Jews. Walking around after singing with everyone, I took a moment to step back and soak everything in. To see all of the Jewish people at the Kotel for the same purpose (maybe some to pray and some to sing and dance with friends, but overall for the same purpose) was truly amazing. People from all over the world come to pray at the Kotel. To experience it first hand was very powerful. It was nothing like any other Shabbat I have ever experienced.

Shabbat at the Kotel (Western Wall)

Blog post by Eliot McKelvy

Israel...what can I say?  From the moment I arrive (and was so happy that my knees shook) to hiking in the Negev, along with Gadna and experiencing the culture, it has been a blast!  And just when it seems like it was all over, you surprise me again.  Kabbalat Shabbat at the Kotel was such a great experience.  It was the highlight of my trip and I wasn't even expecting it.  One more day left to live life here to the fullest.  My life has been changed.

Sofie having her Bat Mitzvah ceremony 

Blog post by Ellie Neiman

Day after day, we woke up early in the morning, and I mean as early as 3:30 AM. And if anyone knows me, they know I am not a morning person, and I will hit you if you wake me up. (Sorry Elaun). After waking up early, we had long hot days filled with countless hours of touring, hiking, and a exaustion. We were active before sunrise, and after sunset everyday. Yet, in the grand scheme of things, I feel like there is so much we still could have done. Before coming to Israel, someone told me that you could tour Israel everyday for your entire life and there will always be more to see. I never realized how much this means. And for this reason, I am leaving Israel, with a need to learn more. A want to see everything. There is no doubt in my mind that I will find myself back here. Maybe for a year, maybe for a lifetime. I have found a home in this land, and no words can give justice to what I have seen, learned, and experienced.
Tonight is a bittersweet night. Tonight we celebrated our last Shabbat here in Israel. When I left America, it didn't feel real that I was coming to Israel. Now it doesn't feel real that I'm coming home. In a way, l'm excited. I get to see my friends. I get to see my family. But being here has been an experience that I will never have again, and I don't want it to end. Sure there were days when I wanted nothing more to come home. With my luck, I of course came down with a fever and sprained my ankle. But even the days I felt the worst, I laughed. There wasn't a day here that I didn't laugh. Sure I fell in love with the land, but more than that, I fell in love with the people. We came here as strangers. Now, we are 73 teenagers, 11 staff members, and one family, all dreading the final goodbye.

IST 2015 Staff
Top Row L-R - Smadar, D'ror, Elaun, Liran, Jeremy, JIllian, Noa & Michal
Bottom Row L-R - Jacki, Robyn & Josh 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Tel Aviv, Holon, Jerusalem and so much more!!

Wahoo!!  We now have a good internet signal to upload some of the pics over the last few days and update you with everything that we have been doing. Sometimes it's difficult to recall what you did yesterday let alone 8 hours ago since this trip is extremely packed with fun-filled, educational, experiential and wonderful activities.  I wanted to just sum up what we have done over the last few days, a few pictures and then a wonderful post by one of our students which shows the true meaning of the impact that IST can have on an individual.

Tomorrow we will go to Yad Vashem, which is the Israel Holocaust Museum,  and spend a few hours in the Jerusalem Market (Shuk) before preparing for our final Shabbat in Israel.

Tuesday July 14th

  • Tour of Independence Hall
    • Independence Hall, originally the Dizengoff House is the site of the signing of Israel's Declaration of Independence. It is located on the historic Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, Israel. From 1932 to 1971 housing the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, it is currently a museum dedicated to the signing of the Israeli Declaration of Independence and the history of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. 
  • Shopping time at the Carmel Market & Nachalat Binyamin artist market in Tel Aviv
  • Visited one of our favorite organizations, Save A Child's Heart
    • Save A Child's Heart (SACH) is one of the largest undertakings in the world, providing urgently needed pediatric heart surgery and follow-up care for indigent children from developing countries. Based in Israel, our mission is to improve the quality of pediatric cardiac care for children from countries where the heart surgery they need is unobtainable.
  • Visited the Holon Children's Museum. 
    •  Some of our group learned about what it felt to be blind and another group learned about the aging process and how it feels to get older
  • Had a delicious pizza dinner on the port of Jaffa followed by the incredible play at Nalagaat Theatre.
    • Eleven deaf-blind actors take the audience on a magical tour in the districts of their inner world; the world of darkness, silence and…bread. As the process of bread making unfolds on stage – the dough is being kneaded, raised and baked “for real” – a unique encounter occurs between actors and audience. Together they re-enact vivid or distant memories, recall forgotten dreams and joyful moments and ‘touch’ the spark of Creation present in every one of us.  The actors take the spectators into those magical moments between reality and fantasy, between grandeur and ridicule, and always eventually return to the basic meaning of bread as a symbol of our longing for a home. 

Wednesday July 15th
  • Enjoyed the incredible sun & sand of the beach in Netanya
  • Tour of the Palmach Museum
    • The Palmach Museum is a museum located in Ramat Aviv, Israel dedicated to the Palmach, the strike-force of the pre-state underground Haganah defense organization, which was later integrated into the Israel Defense Forces.The museum is an underground series of multi-media experience chambers, starting with a memorial for the fallen.
  • Tour of Rabin Square in Tel Aviv
    • Rabin Square, formerly Kings of Israel Square, is a large public city square in the center of Tel Aviv, Israel. Over the years it has been the site of numerous political rallies, parades, and other public events. In 1995 the square was renamed 'Rabin Square' following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin which occurred there on November 4 of that year.
  • Checked out the movie complex Cinema City and saw a screening of "Jurassic World"

Thursday July 16th

  • Took a wonderful tour of the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) 
  • Enjoyed time at the Israel Museum checking out the scale model of Jerusalem what it would've looked like 2,000 years ago, seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls and much more..
    • The Israel Museum was founded in 1965 as Israel's national museum. Among the unique objects on display is a carved female figurine considered the oldest artwork in the world; necklaces worn by Jewish brides in Yemen; a mosaic Islamic prayer niche from 17th-century Persia. An urn-shaped building on the grounds of the museum, the Shrine of the Book, houses the Dead Sea Scrolls and artifacts discovered at Masada
  • Walked around Ammunition Hill 
    • Ammunition Hill was a fortified Jordanian military post in the northern part of Jordanian-occupied East Jerusalem. It was the site of one of the fiercest battles of the Six-Day War.Ammunition Hill is now a national memorial site
  • Kotel Tunnels Tour
    • The Western Wall Tunnel  is an underground tunnel exposing the full length of the Western Wall. The tunnel is adjacent to the Western Wall and is located under buildings of the Old City of Jerusalem. While the open-air portion of the Western Wall is approximately 60 metres (200 ft) long, the majority of its original length is hidden underground. The tunnel allows access to an additional 485 metres (1,591 ft) of the wall..
Tel Aviv
Independence Hall

 Save a Child's Heart

Tel Aviv Beach

Rabin Square 

Seeing "Jurassic World"


Israel Museum

Ammunition Hill

Blog post by Eric Simon

With only 3 days left of this life changing trip I cannot help but rethink everything about it. I wonder: was it worth it, did I enjoy it, did I make new friends, will I come back, what will I say when I get back, did I learn anything, did I change, etc. All I can say is that for me I could not have asked for a better summer. Was it worth it yes. Did I enjoy every single moment no and I don't think anyone enjoyed every moment;however, I can feel confident in saying that I enjoyed a majority of the trip. Everyday there was something positive in it. Everyday I laughed to the point of cramps, I talked to a new person, I felt happy, I was impressed, I was interested, and I was grateful. So yes, I feel comfortable in saying that I did enjoy the trip because it was truly an amazing experience. 

Making new friends is something that is impossible to avoid on this trip. You are spending 36 days with 73 people every single minute of the day. There is not one part of the day where you are not at least within ear shot of any IST member. The friends I made on this trip will forever be my friends. They are amazing, funny, and we bonded. They are my family and I care for them with my whole soul. I cannot begin to express how much these people mean to me. So yes I made new friends and connected with old ones. Honestly the idea of coming back to Israel is a no brainier. Or course I will be back. Whether it be in one year or 10. I will be back to Israel and I will fall in love with the place all over again. I love Israel. I love it because of the culture and the beauty and the cities. I don't know if I can call this place my home because of the Judaic aspect, but I can call it my home because Israel does something different that no other country I have ever been to does. And that is acceptance. You walk around the streets of Israel and you feel accepted. You look to the right or left and you will see a new family member. It is weird to imagine and it is hard to explain unless you have been here but it is the truth. It is a family here and they do what they must to be a family. 

I don't know if what they do is always correct but it is always for the right intention. So, Mom, be prepared because your son will be back eventually and I am brining Papa. The one thing that will  be said whenever anyone asks me about this trip is, "It was truly an experience that I will always remember". Because it is true. This trip I will never forget. It will always be with me. I will be telling stories from this trip for years. I have pictures that will tell my story. IST 2015 will not evade my memory. So my response will be unforgettable.

IST 2015 has taught me many valuable lessons both silly and serious:
1)Jellyfish are evil and will sting you
2)Being there for one another is the best solution for anyone
3)Drinking water will cure any illness
4)Swollen knees are just bug bites
4)If one person goes to the hospital 10 more will follow
5)Cook offs are just a way to make children work for food
6)Kosher Delight is not delightful
7)Bus rides are the best cuddle sessions
8)Talking to staff is just as fun as talking to the kids
9)Israelis don't wait in line
10)Family isn't just by blood or marriage 

Of course there are more lessons but this is already a little long. However, this last answer requires a longer explanation so just bear with me. I think I have changed. I honestly believe that the Eric Joseph Simon that left Denver on June 14th is different from the Eric Joseph Simon that will arrive at Denver on July 19th. I think that I became more confident, personal, and respectful. I think that I have a new understanding of what it means to stand up for something you want. I am starting to grasp the idea that sometimes school isn't that important. Sometimes there are things that are more important and will affect you just as much. I have become a new Eric. 

I don't know if it is better or worse but it is different. I feel different and I am happier. I am so thankful for IST;however, I think I am most thankful for my mom not just because she is reading this but because she sent me on this trip that changed me. She sent me halfway around the world with 73 other people and let me find my self. She indirectly created all my experiences and truly made this spectacular for me. I am so thankful for her and her support. This trip was unforgettable and I truly owe it all to her. So thank you mom and congrats on the Art Institute.