Rabbi Loren Sykes is the Principal of the NFTY-EIE High School in Israel. In these weekly postings, he gives a description and rundown of what the group is doing day to day, which he hopes sheds some light on what the EIE experience is like.
This past week, our attention in Jewish history focused on the Six Day War and on Passover preparations. Earlier in the week, we visited Ammunition Hill, the site of a key battle in Jerusalem that paved the way to freeing Mt. Scopus, a small Israeli enclave within Jordanian territory, and to the liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem. Located near what was the training center for the Jordanian Police, Ammunition Hill is a series of bunkers and trenches built by the British during the Mandate. Ammunition Hill was the site of fierce fighting and hand-to-hand combat during which thirty-six Israeli soldiers died.
From Ammunition Hill, we traveled a short distance to the Mt. Scopus campus of The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. As I wrote above, prior to the Six Day War, Mt. Scopus was part of Israel but was cut off from the rest of Jerusalem. During that time, the Mt. Scopus campus was inaccessible and university activities were moved to the Givat Ram campus, near the Knesset and the Israel Museum, which is home today to the engineering and other science based departments. There is a magnificent outdoor amphitheater on Mt. Scopus with a perfect overlook of the Temple Mount and the Old City. Visiting the campus put into perspective just how central the battle for Ammunition Hill was and how it opened the way to attack the Old City. During our time on Mt. Scopus, we also heard about study-abroad options for EIE students for the future.
Yesterday, EIE visited the Nachalaot neighborhood of Jerusalem, one of the oldest neighborhoods outside the Old City. Nachalaot is a fascinating place, perfect for understanding the patchwork quilt of old and new that characterizes so much of Jerusalem and Israel. In Nachalaot, you find Hareidim, Hasidim, Sefaradim and Ashkenazim that have lived in close proximity for over one-a hundred years. Recently, the neighborhood gentrified and is now home to college students, artists, and a growing secular population. Given the diversity of the neighborhood, one of the most amazing things is that everyone gets along despite the wide range of observance choices and lifestyles.
The other reason Nachalaot was so good to visit on Thursday is that Passover preparations were in full gear. Students got to see people bringing their dishes for koshering, some by boiling, others by blow torch. It is fascinating to see the whole country engaged in this kind of preparation. We also got to visit the synagogue established by the great-grandfather of Ruth Cohen, one of our madrichot. Ruth’s father came and told us the history of the synagogue and invited students to join them on a Shabbat.
There was one unifying narrative to our week, “This year in Jerusalem!” For most EIE students, this is the first time they will be in Israel for Passover. They visited key sites in the Battle for Jerusalem and the Old City. They saw the Old City from a bird’s eye perspective. They saw Passover preparation. And then, Thursday evening, they headed to their host families for Seder. For our students, this is the first time they experienced one of their holidays, Passover, as a national holiday, as part of the majority. There is truly nothing like knowing that the entire country is somehow involved in Passover preparations and celebrations.
On Sunday, we gathered together for a major tiyul during the intermediate days of the holiday – The Yam l’Yam or Sea to Sea hike. I will be joining EIE students for the first three days of hiking.
Best wishes to you and your families for a Joyous and Meaningful Passover,