PYW Allowed Me to Make the Best Memories of my Life
By Brittany Kahn on June 13, 2011
I recently returned from an incredible trip to Israel where I lived and attended school for two months. The program is called the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), an intensive program for US high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Students spend many hours a day studying for CORE, a difficult but rewarding class in which 4000 years of Jewish and Israeli history is taught. Students are tutored for their American classes, such as math, science, and foreign language, in order to stay up to date with their US based studies. On the day that I found out about this program, I was a sixteen-year-old, sheltered, and somewhat bored kid from New Jersey. I had no idea what to expect. Still, I signed the little slip that stated that I was interested, and my journey of getting to AMHSI began.
When I first heard about “Muss,” it sounded amazing. Going to Israel would not only be a fun way for me to shake things up, but it would also hopefully open my eyes up to the world a little bit, and possibly burst my small-town bubble. From the moment that I heard about the program, I knew I had to go. I excitedly told my parents as soon as I got home. But my excitement subsided quickly, because when I told my mother, her first reaction was, “We’ll never be able to pay for that.” And I realized that she was right, because my Dad had recently left his job, and our finances were uncertain. I quietly thought about the opportunity, for the entire summer. In the beginning of my junior year, just when I was ready to give up my dream, my local Director of Admissions called our house and reignited my interest.
This was where JNF stepped in. I knew, even with the generous merit and financial aid scholarships provided for me by Muss, the local JCC, and my congregation, I still would not be able to make ends meet. My Director of Admissions told me about JNF’s program called Plant Your Way to Israel (PYW). For every $36 tree that was donated in my honor, $18 went to planting a tree in Israel, and $18 would directly go to my account for the trip. I emailed all of my friends, and all of my parent’s friends, many of whom generously donated. PYW was the push that I needed so that I could afford this extraordinary trip.
Before long, I had found myself in Israel. I had always thought eight weeks would be such a long time, but I now realize just how short it really is. I guess that is a testament to how amazing Muss is, because you never realize how fast time is going until you’re home. During on-campus days, we would start CORE class at 8:00 in the morning, take a 40-minute break at 10:00, and then continue the class until 12:45. The class was very difficult; my hand to grew sore every afternoon because of the sheer amount of notes we had to take. Even so, that class was also awesome, as it allowed me to think deeply. We went on fieldtrips two or three times a week. One slogan for Muss is “Learn in a classroom without walls.” For example, the day when we climbed up Masada, we had to wake up at 3:30 in the morning. When we had reached the top, we had class. On the ruins of an ancient civilization, we discussed the Zealots and what we would have done if we were in their predicament over 2000 years ago. CORE class has made me into a more knowledgeable person, a harder-working individual, and a much better student.
If there is someone else who wants to plant his or her own way to Israel through PYW, I have some advice for you. You can do it. There were countless times during my fundraising when I was ready to just give up and stop trying to get to Israel. But I stuck to it, and it gave me the best two months in my entire life. There are more people who would be willing to donate than you think; you just need to spread the word. As long as you set your mind to it, there is no reason that you would not be able to have just as amazing an experience as I had.
Brittany Kahn is a high school student from Kinnelon, NJ.
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