In a way, all the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Monmouth County students were “in Israel” for Independence Day — while some were celebrating 6,000 miles from New Jersey, the rest were on a virtual visit created right in their Marlboro school.
When the eighth-grade class arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport on Yom Atzmaut, they stepped straight into a national celebration. Throughout their two-week tour of Israel, that sense of celebration continued until their return to the United States on Lag Ba’Omer.
The trip to Israel “brings to life everything our students learn during their years at Schechter,” head of school Yoti Yarhi told NJJN as the tour bus weaved through Tel Aviv. “It’s the trip of a lifetime that really strengthens their relationship with Israel.”
As the class strolled along the beach promenade in Tel Aviv, soaking in the Independence Day festivities, grogginess from their overnight flight lifted. The students posed for a photo by the sea, as Israeli revelers cheered and supplied them with Israeli flags and hats.
“It’s so meaningful for us to arrive today because there’s so much spirit in the air,” said student Sonia Betesh of Ocean Township. “It really makes us feel at home.”
Visiting Independence Hall that particular day made classmate Ariel Jacobs, also from Ocean Township, feel “very much in the moment. I did a school project on Independence Hall, and here I am seeing it for real.”
Ariel said she looked forward to visiting Jerusalem for the first time. “I wrote three notes to put in the Western Wall, one for loved ones who have passed away, one for those who are sick, and one with my wishes for the future.”
The school’s itinerary also included an archaeological dig at Beit Guvrin, a camel trek in the Judean desert, a float in the Dead Sea, an exploration of Masada, tours of Yad Vashem and Mount Herzl in Jerusalem and Rosh Hanikra, Acco, Tzefat, the Galilee, and the Golan Heights.
The group was also accompanied by their school security officer Artie Perez.
Although Jack Liss of Morganville had visited Israel five times before his class trip, this was the first time he toured the entire country. “I’ve always been very passionate about my love for Israel,” he said. “Just the idea of having a Jewish homeland and keeping it safe and secure is important to me.”
Orli Weiss of Ocean Township said the trip marked the start of what she knew would be a lifelong relationship with Israel and an inspiring end of her middle school years. “It is unbelievable how much closer a class can become over two weeks,” she said at the end of the trip.
While the eighth-graders celebrated in Israel, their younger schoolmates back in Marlboro, almost certainly looking forward to their own eighth-grade visit, participated in activities and celebrations designed to “transport” them to Israel. Blue and white flags draped the school and Israeli music played in the halls.
Students in grades one-seven went on a virtual tour of the country, while preschoolers participated in a simulated overnight trip to Israel, complete with passports, suitcases, El Al flight tickets, and “visits” to Masada, Ein Gedi, the Negev, and Jerusalem.