Hold it with the pictures! Before we get to the end of the Mifgash and it’s emotional scenes, let’s go back ages ago – all the way to Thursday.
Just like any other day this week, Thursday morning started on a yellow school bus. Unlike all previous days, however, the Israeli students were not together on one bus heading towards some local attraction – but on their host’s school busses – or parents’ cars – on their way to experience a day in an American High School.
What did they learn at school? Mostly that the Hollywood portrayal of the American High School is not exactly what happens between 8am and noon on a random Thursday. Aside from that, many students noted that the learning experience itself was not that different from their school in Haifa, with one major exception, which is the relationship between teachers and students – a cultural difference that everyone on the program has noticed simply by observing the warm, caring, and even friendly interactions between our visiting students and their accompanying teachers.
The end of the school day marked the start of the work day, as our teen rolled up their sleeves and began preparing for Pop Up Israel – a one-night event celebrating Israeli culture (or, to be honest, mostly food), which they will be hosting that evening. Within an hour, the kitchen at Temple Beth Sholom transformed itself from a quiet temple kitchen into a hustling and bustling Mediterranean restaurant kitchen, orchestrated by Natanella and Nurit, the teacher-chefs from Israel. On the menu – with everything made from scratch and with special ingredients brought from Israel – falafel, hummus, tahini, sabich, Israeli salad, vegetable soup with kneidlach (matza balls) and shkedei marak, couscous, shakshuka, pita chips with za’atar, mitz petel, dates, halva, Israeli chocolate spread, fresh sabra, and of course – amazing challahs. To those of you reading this post who weren’t at the event – my sympathies.
As the families and guests began gathering, the students swiftly changed from cooks to servers, DJ’s, auctioneers, and activity leaders, making sure everyone attending has a great experience and feel – as much as possible – as if they were transformed to Haifa for one evening.
Having working incredibly hard on Wednesday at the religious schools, and Thursday at Pop Up Israel, with Friday being the last day of the Israelis on their own, this was a day for them to enjoy, and luckily, the weather agreed. We started the day at the pastoral Sholan Farms – a community non-profit apple orchard in Leominster, maintained almost exclusively by volunteers. The visit began on a leisurely hayride between the orchards, where our teens were able to put their phones down, and soak in the sights and smells surrounding them. Our guides, who also volunteer at the farm, spoke with us about its history, going all the way to Johnny Appleseed, who was a Leominster native, as well as some of the challenges in modern agriculture. We proceeded to pick delicious apples – both for the farm, and for our hosts, for whom, in addition to the apples, we were able to surprise with a full apple crisp baking kit.
From Sholan, we continued to the neighboring Rota Springs, where we were able to admire the New England fall views, while having some excellent ice cream. The late afternoon was a bonus activity the Israelis completely earned – a fun (yet very competitive) bowling session at Apex. As we learned over the week, our friends from Haifa have many skills. Bowling is not one of them.
This beautiful Friday resumed with a lovely pizza dinner at the home of one of our host families, who, like many others, graciously opened their doors this week for a large group of hungry teenagers.
As Shabbat began to move towards us, we each made our way to Kerem Shalom in Concord, to participate in an inspiring and moving shabbat Kabbalat Shabbat, led by Rabbi Darby Leigh. As part of the service, Rabbi Leigh, with the assistance of one of our Israeli students, taught us how to say the Shema in no less than 4 languages – ASL (American Sign Language), ISL (Israeli Sign Language), and of course Hebrew and English. The lovely folks at Kerem Shalom invited us to join their Oneg, where our group was surprised to find a huge cake – with a picture of them printed on it.
Shabbat, being the last full day our families had with their guests, was meant for them to spend together. Again, the weather smiled, and over the course of the day you could find our families and their guests everywhere, having a blast and enjoying each other’s company – from Newbury Street to Portsmouth, from the outlet to the mall, and from the Orchard House in Concord to a pumpkin patch. On Saturday evening, all the students got together one (before) last time, at the lovely home of another one of our families, where they relaxed by the fire and and wrote letters to each other, to be read after the mifgash.
On Sunday, our Israelis spent the morning packing and saying goodbye for what have been their homes for a week, before heading out to the traditional HiBuR Farewell BBQ – an event that starts with hotdogs and burgers and ends with hugs and tears. Again, we were hosted by one of our amazing families, whose backyard was the perfect setting for an emotional farewell, where memories and gratitude were shared, and anticipation for February erupted.
As we conclude the first mifgash since February 2020, our gratitude goes to:
- CJP and the Peoplehood Committee for their continuing support of the HiBuR partnership
- Rabbi Lisa Eiduson, for leading the group through an eventful NYC weekends, by trains, busses, and boats.
- The Hugim School in Haifa, and especially Ntanella Asraf, Nurit Shneider and Hagit Greenberg
- Our local congregations and their rabbis and educators: Beth El, B’nai Torah, Or Atid, Kerem Shalom, Beth Am, Beth Sholom, and Temple Israel of Natick
- Rumemu of the Upper West Side
- Rep. Adrian Madaro and his team, for their warm hospitality and guidance and the State House
- Mayyim Hayyim for making their mikveh accessible for another group
- The Hornstein program at Brandeis: Rabbi Shirley Idelson, Fern Chertok, and Marla Olsberg, and Laura Hyman from the Genesis program, for a fascinating morning
- Sholan Farms, for your generous hospitality
- Last, but not least, our American families. Without your passion, hospitality, flexibility, humor, and love – non of this would be possible.
Thank you for reading. The blog will return in February 2023, with the Israel mifgash.