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Learning About Giving in Medieval Poland and Modern Israel

Danielle Twilley, of Salisbury, MD, with Yad LaKashish program participant Nina Chachoya.

JNF Wire Report

Learning About Giving in Medieval Poland and Modern Israel

By: June Glazer

When you hear the phrase “Jewish community,” a workshop for elderly artisans and a nutrition rescue operation aren’t usually the kinds of things that come to mind. What do these have to do with the Jewish community? That was the central question 28 students from Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI-JNF) explored on a recent class trip to Jerusalem.

Located in Hod HaSharon, some eight miles northwest of Tel Aviv, AMHSI, which is part of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), is a premier study abroad high school that offers formal classroom study along with experience-based learning. Its students hail from North America and beyond, bringing general studies from home, and learning a dedicated curriculum which includes an intensive review of ancient and modern Israel along with over 4,000 years of Jewish history. The students on this trip are part of an eight-week session at AMHSI-JNF that includes a trip to Poland for a week in the middle of March before returning to their home schools to finish out the school semester.

“The context for today’s outing has to do with the history course this group is taking,” said Benjy Behrman, an Israel Studies educator at the school. “In our course we’ve reached the medieval period and are focusing on the aspect of ‘community’ in Europe,” Behrman added. He went on to tell the students that they would visit two Jerusalem-based projects that serve as examples of contemporary Israeli ‘communities.’

Their day in Jerusalem began with a tour of the studios at Yad LaKashish (Lifeline for the Old), an initiative that provides low-income elderly men and women with art studios and materials to create handcrafted, professional quality Judaica and gifts, thereby giving them purpose and creating a social setting built on emotional and financial support. There students met program participants who were working on projects ranging from household and decorative items to jewelry and accessories.

Noah Beckwith and his Pantry Packers team prepare food crates for Israel’s needy.

“In class we are learning about tzedakkah [charity] and about how medieval communities helped their poor,” said Noah Beckwith, an 11th grader at Pittsfield High School from Pittsfield, MA. “We learned that the highest form of tzedakkah is to teach someone a skill so they can take pride in what they do. What Yad LaKashish does relates directly to this idea.”

The second site the group traveled to was Pantry Packers, a rescue project that delivers monthly crates containing foods and household maintenance supplies to Israel’s poorest families and senior citizens. At Pantry Packers, students and visitors assist in helping pack food staples that are then placed in the crates. The staple that day being packed was dried black beans, and the students divided into teams to man four stations, preparing packaging and labels, filling bags, and loading and sealing the crates.

“I love volunteering and I’m really looking forward to this,” said Danielle Twilley, 16, of Salisbury, MD, as the group was being briefed on the tasks they would be performing. “One of the things I love about Israel is the way people here work to better the lives of others.” Twilley is homeschooled and her experience at AMHSI-JNF is only the second time she has been in a school environment. “It’s great,” she said about her studies at AMHSI-JNF.

“We want our students to experience for themselves how the tzedakkah component works in the community,” said Behrman, adding that they would shortly observe another community when the group travels to Poland as part of the students’ studies. “In addition to studying the Holocaust, they will learn about the thousand years of robust Jewish life that preceded it, and then they will discover the reemergence of the Polish Jewish community and culture since World War II.”

“The trip will connect with what we are doing here today in Jerusalem and, in fact, the students will now begin studying about the arrival of Jews in Poland in the Middle Ages,” Behrman said. “They travel quite a full circle, learning history where it happened and connecting the lessons to today. It will be great to see what kind of leaders they turn into tomorrow!”

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JEWISH NATIONAL FUND (JNF) began in 1901 as a dream and vision to reestablish a homeland in Israel for Jewish people everywhere. Jews the world over collected coins in iconic JNF Blue Boxes, purchasing land and planting trees until ultimately, their dream of a Jewish homeland was a reality. JNF gives all generations of Jews a unique voice in building a prosperous future for the land of Israel and its people.

JNF embodies both heart and action; our work is varied in scope but singular in benefit. We strive to bring an enhanced quality of life to all of Israel’s residents, and translate these advancements to the world beyond. JNF is greening the desert with millions of trees, building thousands of parks, creating new communities and cities for generations of Israelis to call home, bolstering Israel’s water supply, helping develop innovative arid-agriculture techniques, and educating both young and old about the founding and importance of Israel and Zionism.

JNF is a registered 501(c)(3) organization and United Nations NGO, which continuously earns top ratings from charity overseers.

For more information on JNF, call 888-JNF-0099 or visit


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