Alexander Muss High School in Israel Students Inspired by Visit to Sderot
August 4, 2016
Adam H. Brill, Director of Communications
Alexander Muss High School in Israel Students Inspired by Visit to Sderot
By: Allison Levine
JNF's Sderot Indoor Recreation Centerin Israel.
On a bright, warm Thursday morning in July, a group of students studying abroad at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI-JNF) went on a different sort of field trip. Rather than visiting typical, or even to-be-expected, sites in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, or hiking in the north exploring archaeological sites, on this day the students left their Hod HaSharon campus to travel to the southern city of Sderot.
At an overlook pit stop on way to their destination, students learned about the history of Sderot, the largest city amongst the communities situated a few miles from the Gaza Strip. This field trip was an on-location social studies lesson. Their teacher, Reuven Spero, explained the background of the situation and went into detail as to what the current picture looks like in the area. “Israel’s Iron Dome is phenomenal that is saving lives all the time, but it also gives the illusion that life is normal here. Life is nothing but normal here,” Spero said, while many of the students pull out their maps to gain a better understanding of where here is. Among other stops in Sderot, the class visited a local police station to see rocket fragments and visited Jewish National Fund’s (JNF) Sderot Indoor Recreation Center.
Eighteen-year-old Matan Rudner of Dallas, Texas has been to Israel a few times before but, like some of the other students in the group, never visited Sderot. “The trip to Sderot is really meaningful to me,” said Rudner. “I’m a person who is concerned about Israel, someone who is involved. To be able to come here and see Sderot helps me gain a greater understanding of the situation facing residents here.” Standing on a dusty hill overlooking the Gaza border, Rudner added, “I’ve been involved with raising money for projects in Sderot. Standing here helps me put the pieces together.”
A soon-to-be senior at the Greenhill School in Dallas, Rudner’s post-high school plans include moving to Israel and joining the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). “My parents are supportive of my decision to move here, but they said that I had to spend a summer in Israel first to get a better sense of what there is and to see if I really want to make the move. AMHSI offers a six-week summer program with an in-depth academic curriculum. I felt that this was the best program for me to spend a good amount of time in Israel and to learn more about what I’m getting myself into,” said Rudner with a chuckle. “This program has been incredible,” he continued. “My favorite part of this experience has been watching my friends transform during the program. It’s inspiring for me to see them gain a new understanding, new insights, and a deeper connection to Israel.”
When asked who he thinks is the ideal candidate for this program, Rudner said: “Really, everyone should spend a summer at AMHSI. If all Jewish teenagers came on this program, the Jewish community in the U.S. would look so different—we’d have a very different story going on in America.” In terms of why he plans to move to Israel, Rudner said he “Wants to be in a society that reflects my own values. I feel that this is my home.”
“Standing here, right by the border with Gaza, we have the ability to understand the complexities of the situation,” reflected 17-year-old Carolyn Friedman, who will be starting 12th grade at North Springs Charter High School in Atlanta, Georgia. “When you come and view Israel as a tourist, you don’t normally come to a place like Sderot.” Speaking about the program’s approach to learning, she added, “Our teachers encourage us to debate and dive deeper into subject matters, something you don’t normally get to do elsewhere. Whether we are talking about Sderot or any other issue, AMHSI takes you to a level you wouldn’t get anywhere else.” While eating lunch at a local hummus restaurant in downtown Sderot, Friedman took a moment to talk to some locals sitting at a nearby table, asking questions about their lives and experiences in Sderot. “It’s one thing to hear about places, but you have a distant picture of what things are really like. To be here, learning about the situation on the Gaza border, and asking people whose lives are here what it is really like—it’s a totally different experience.”
In 2013 JNF acquired management of the AMHSI and incorporated it into its Israel Advocacy & Education Department. AMHSI-JNF runs sessions year-round and its programs provide high school and college credits to students. As a benefit of this partnership, the students also visit JNF sites around Israel. “How can you visit Israel and not visit JNF sites?” Spero, a 20 year veteran teacher of AMHSI-JNF, remarked. “JNF projects are part of so many stories, so many pieces of the puzzle in Israel. I think that JNF’s goals integrate well with the goals of our program—we will only continue to grow and deepen our connection and opportunities through our partnership with JNF.”
“My parents are Israeli and I have a lot of family living here. I thought I knew so much, but I was shocked to learn that I didn’t really know anything about Israel at all,” said Maya Lebowitz, 16, an incoming 11th grader at Palmer Trinity School in Miami, Florida. “AMHSI’s program has truly opened my eyes.”
“There has been a lot of talk among students about how this program has really changed their lives,” continued Lebowitz. “A lot of it’s about Israel and Judaism, yes, but so much of this program teaches you to think differently, to approach issues differently, and to ask better questions. What we gain from this program carries over into so many parts of our life.” Being in Sderot gave Lebowitz a glimpse into daily life in this part of the country. “Sderot is a place that lots of tourists don’t get to see, and it’s also a place that many Israelis don’t visit. Today it feels quiet and safe, but you can see the tension that’s ever-present.”
At JNF’s Sderot Indoor Recreation Center—a fortified indoor playground for kids of all ages—Shmuel Ohayon, the center’s director, spoke to the group. Ohayon described the construction process and explained how the center is built to withstand even a direct hit from missiles coming from Gaza. “In the Gaza border communities, 74% of our population has been diagnosed with trauma, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),” said Ohayon. “By coming here and creating this facility, JNF has changed the quality of life for our children in a way that cannot be full expressed.” Ohayon also spoke about his dream of one day being able to bring a group of children from Gaza to come play at the Sderot Indoor Recreation Center. “I have a colleague in Gaza and we are in touch often. The logistics and the bureaucracy haven’t allowed for this idea to work out just yet, but children are children—they remain outside of politics. I haven’t given up on this dream yet.”
At the end of the tour, students were given a chance to play at the center and interact with the local children. “Kids are kids,” said Lebowitz. “They deserve to grow up with a sense of normalcy and the situation here is far from it.”
“I know now why I’m Jewish,” Friedman added. “I know from discussions on philosophy and by asking questions and seeing places like Sderot, why I love Israel, and why I want to be Jewish for the rest of my life, and AMHSI has been there to guide me all the way.”
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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 www.jnf.org.