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.
It is hard to believe that this is the last week of EIE Spring 2016! On Friday, our students will be back in their parents’ arms and homes, leaving Kibbutz Tzuba, their madrichim, teachers and administrators behind (at least physically). I am certain that our parents are very excited for their return.
Over the past week, I have been constantly asked if I am excited for the students to leave. Nothing could be farther from truth! Like the rest of the teachers and staff, I am very sad to see this group return to the US for several reasons. First and foremost, these students are a great group! Second, they will be the only students who are my “first” group. There is always a unique relationship between a teacher or principal or camp director with his or her first official group. And this cohort has taught me quite a bit, from what is currently important to teens in general to what is important to them as young Jews to countless other topics. I will truly miss them and look forward to seeing them during my visits to the US or their visits here in Israel.
The last two weeks have been jam packed with activity! Together, we experienced the deep sadness and national mourning of Yom HaZikaron – Memorial Day – to the swift transition from grief to joy as we immediately started celebrating Yom Ha’Atzmaut – Israel independence day. On the eve of Yom HaZikaron, we joined together at the Kotel for the National Ceremony that marks the start of the day. We heard powerful and inspiring words from our President, Reuven “Ruvi” Rivlin and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Gadi Eizenkot. The next day, we joined the Kibbutz for their memorial service. Taking place in the military section of the cemetery on Kibbutz Tzuba. After a long siren, members of the kibbutz spoke about those who fell in battle, sang songs and read poems. It was an intense and meaningful ceremony.
In the evening, our students once again joined with the Kibbutz for the transition ceremony. They even performed a dance! Later in the evening, the students traveled to downtown Jerusalem to join the throngs of people who go to celebrate and enjoy live music, speeches and lots of general revelry. In the morning, our students went to the beach and had a traditional barbecue next to the Mediterranean Sea. It was a fantastic week. EIE students came to understand what independence means for Israelis, the high price – in terms of human life – at which it comes and the joy we still feel sixty-eight years later, after two thousand years of exile.
Last week was equally intense but for a very different reason: final exams! From Hebrew to Jewish History to APUSH to math that is beyond my comprehension, every student had multiple exams, essays and projects to finish. There was an enormous sense of relief at the conclusion of the Jewish history final. At the same time, there were many students that were very sad that it was the last class with their teachers. Several students reported that they cried at the end of class. They also told me the profound impact their Jewish history teacher had on them. By late in the day on Thursday, all exams were completed and the academic portion of the EIE came to an end! We celebrated in the evening with one last visit to the Malha Mall for a chance to have dinner and shop for gifts, etc.
On Sunday, EIE began a three day trip that started in Jerusalem with a visit to the Knesset, followed by two days in the North and a session at the IDC Herzliyah, an interdisciplinary college with a highly respected English language program. Early in the year, our students also heard about the junior year abroad program at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Our visit to the Knesset comes at a time of political upheaval in Israel replete with internecine fighting, tensions within parties, several Knesset members leaving their parties and even leaving the Knesset itself. It was interesting to see how the Knesset felt on Sunday and to hear the reactions of the students.
As the semester winds down, I want to take this opportunity to thank our parents:
Thank you for your willingness to invest so seriously in your student’s Jewish education, identity and knowledge of and commitment to Israel.
Thank you for entrusting your student to us and allowing them to spend a semester so far away.
Finally, thank you for entrusting them to a first semester principal. While our exceptional staff is filled with veterans and EIE has an outstanding, deservedly so, reputation, it is still a risk to allow a student to participate in a program during a transition in leadership.