Our Home Away from Home
Who says that today's high school students are preoccupied with their phones and computers and lack some of the more fundamental human skills such as conversing with one another and learning from their experiences?
Honestly, we have not seen those high school students at all during our time in Haifa — either among the Americans or the Israelis. We have instead seen students who love to learn, who are perfectly capable of engaging with one another and with adults, and who are eager to make personal connections that are meaningful and long-lasting.
Today was our final day in Haifa - our “home base” in Israel. And in so many ways what makes this part of the program unique and special is that Haifa does become “home” for our American students. You will see from their own words, they really do “get it,” and that they are deepening their Jewish identities by engaging with the land and people of Israel.
This morning we had the opportunity to be with our students in class at the Hugim school, and also had the chance to see the new school up close. It is not only magnificent in its setting overlooking the Haifa Bay, but is a state of the art facility with a dedicated team of faculty and educational leaders.
While most of the teens were in class, our Ben T and his host Alon headed over to the Shabtai Levi Home, a shelter for toddlers and mothers in need. Over the past few months, Ben and his fellow HiBuR participants have been collecting socks and blankets for the toddlers, and after carrying them across the ocean, were finally able to distribute them at the shelter. We are hoping that this partnership with the local Haifa establishment will become a HiBuR tradition.
The morning began as our American students joined a class with teacher that just for today had a discussion about the world today - about diplomacy, globalization, and the state of our communities today. They came away from the class very enthusiastic and animated; they were comfortable participating and a few commented that they wished their own schools offered a similar course.
Following that, we had a special interactive lesson by a representative from Facing History and Ourselves. The students read a famous short story The Fable of the Goat (1925) by the Nobel Prize winning Israeli author S.Y. Agnon (1888-1970). The American and Israeli students read the story in Hebrew and English and worked in groups to discuss its meaning and message. I was so impressed to hear them discussing this classic piece of Israeli literature that describes the Jewish yearning for a homeland, the difficulties between Israel and the Diaspora, and the often challenging but fruitful tension between the generations of parents and children.
The story led to a conversation about the complexity of Jewish identity and the mystical connection between the Land of Israel and the People of Israel. Our students - your young adult children - found the metaphor, cracked it open, and began speaking of their own perceptions of Israel - both real and ideal- and their own first-hand connections to Israel through their relationships with Israelis. They articulated the value of Jewish peoplehood that is at the center of the HiBuR program and defines the uniqueness of the world Jewish community: that there is a sacred quality to our connections with one another as Jews who share memory, history, and in our students’ case, a positive sense of hope for the future.
Together with Galit, one of the three teachers who visited us in the fall and we look forward to host again next year, we walked from the school into the center of town to see the Baha’i Gardens and enjoy the view of Haifa Bay from the Promenade. The students stopped to play charades, reviewing some of the places we have been to so far and sharing laughs about some of the fun they have enjoyed this week.
Israeli educator Abraham Infeld wrote (2017) that one of the most important goals for Jews today is to build a Jewish community that values “maintaining unity without requiring uniformity.” Infeld’s lesson resonated with us. It is a vision of inclusion, acceptance and diversity. It is a message that would benefit not only the Jewish people but all of humanity. May we make it so.
Rabbi Breindel and I never cease to be amazed by the capacity of your children to laugh and learn and bring kindness.
Tomorrow we have a 6 am departure for Masada and the Dead Sea and then on to Jerusalem.
Rabbi Lisa Eiduson