From Cleveland to Israel: An 8th Grade Reflection

Tags: Partner, Israel, Family, Teens, Overseas, Federation

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Each year, 8th graders from Gross Schechter Day School and Mandel Jewish Day School – two of Federation’s beneficiary agencies, travel to Israel to experience in-person everything they’ve learned in the classroom about Israeli culture and history. They also have a chance to spend time with their peers in Beit Shean, Cleveland’s sister city.

We asked the day school students and teachers to reflect on their journey. Here’s what a few of them had to say:

“Even though we only spent two days with our buddies from Beit Shean, we felt such a connection with them. We bonded over Judaism, fashion, music, celebrities, and all sorts of things. Also, it was pretty funny that they all thought I was super tall. That was kind of a new experience for me.” – Sadie, student, Mandel JDS

“It was really cool how my pen pals and I became so close in a span of just three days. We walked to the park and had a really good time. It was cool because we spoke different languages and lived in different places, but still managed to build a strong friendship in only three days.” – Rebecca, student, Gross Schechter Day School

Gross Schechter Day School students bond with their peers in Beit Shean.

“I never expected to have to tell the 8th graders that they had to speak in English while in Israel, but that was an experience I had today. Over the past month in Israel Studies class at school, the students created games to help teach English to students in our partnership city of Beit Shean. As a teacher myself, watching our students teach was a moment that filled me with so much pride. They bonded over cities in Israel, food, celebrities, and sports. Smiles were infectious and laughter rang in the air. To the younger students in the school, our students from Cleveland were celebrities and although I may be a little bit biased, today our students definitely earned that title. My face hurts from smiling and my heart is filled with pride and joy.” - Devorah Shiffman, Community Service Coordinator, Mandel JDS

“For me, the trip was amazing. One day, we went to the Kotel for Thursday tefilah, where I was lucky enough to read from the Torah at the holiest place on Earth for the Jewish people. I also enjoyed hanging with our pen pals from Beit Shean. We hung out and played water games in the springs. On our last day, we toured and volunteered at their school. This trip was the trip of a lifetime!” – Kobi, student, Gross Schechter Day School

“Our Beit Shean buddies were really nice, despite the language barrier. At times, we used Google translate. Even though we couldn’t use our words as much, we still found a way to communicate with our buddies, and that was really special.” - Emma, student, Mandel JDS

Mandel Jewish Day School 8th graders experience Cleveland's sister city of Beit Shean, Israel.

“During my three-week journey through Israel with Gross Schechter Day School’s eighth graders, I saw the amazing impact of a Jewish day school education. At school, the students had learned about King Herod and Great Revolt with their Judaic Studies teacher. Because they had that strong knowledge base, our guide didn’t have to start with Masada 101; she was able to create exciting experiences, ask higher-level questions, and really make them think. Their day school education was what allowed the eighth graders to connect to Israel and Jewish history on a deep and powerful level. With the students, I cried on Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, and celebrated on Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. Over the years, their teachers had helped them to know and love Israel, so they were primed to connect on a deep level. Our students never felt like ‘strangers in a strange land.’ Our children are our future—and viewed through the lenses of my Israel bifocals, the future of the Cleveland Jewish community is bright indeed!” – Rabbi Jonathan Berger, Gross Schechter Day School

“As simple as it sounds, this routine act of rolling out of bed felt markedly different for me and the students. They had a palpable sense of excitement and curiosity manifested in a number of ways – from the unique Israeli breakfasts of vegetables, cheese and spices, and pastries to touring the ancient and deeply spiritual cities to an awesome dance party with their Israeli counterparts from Beit Shean. Curiosity and a willingness to try new things is clearly a driving force behind this group and the type of trip they set up for themselves.” – Adam Levine, 8th Grade Educational Coordinator, Mandel JDS

For more information on our partnership with Beit Shean, Israel, contact Ilanit Gerblich Kalir at 216-593-2815 or ikalir@jcfcleve.org.

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Learn More: Partner, Israel, Family, Teens, Overseas, Federation