by Lauren McGirk
Touching down at Ben Gurion airport, spirits were high and everyone was so excited. After collecting our luggage, we were off to our first kibbutz. On our first day we headed to Save a Child’s Heart, a wonderful charity that provides heart surgery for children in developing countries. We learnt about the children’s backgrounds and the stories they had to tell. The next day we had free time in the Nachalat Binyamin, an Arts and Crafts market in Tel Aviv, where we shopped ‘to our hearts’ content’, browsing the local market.
After two nights we left and went to our favourite place of all with so much outdoor space and room to play football: Nes Amim. Everyone enjoyed this kibbutz so much. The history behind it was that German pastors built it after the Second World War, to create a kibbutz based on the values of peace and reconciliation. It was during our stay up north that we enjoyed beautiful hikes, white water rafting on the Jordan River and a river cruise on the Kinneret.
We stayed in Nes Amim for a whole week which really wasn’t long enough. We laughed, we played, we learnt but most importantly we became closer with each other and with our teachers.
Our hikes were something special; especially Mount Masada beforehand we slept in a Bedouin tent and we were educated by someone who lives there all the time. We had to wake up at 4:30 in the morning to get a head start climbing in time to see the sunrise. We had two separate tents, one for boys and one for girls. Singing songs and telling stories it was definitely something we will all remember. The heat on some of the other hikes was challenging but we powered through with help from the teachers of course. We saw the most amazing sights. Whilst hiking in the Jilabun we came to a waterfall that we swam in and splashed around. We also walked through water tunnels. They were small narrow caves with water flowing through them.
Another highlight was our volunteering in Leket, to pick corn for people who can’t afford to buy food from the shops and market. It was an exciting experience but it was definitely hard. Afterwards we visited an organic farm and picked beetroots and prepared them for farm. We fed baby cows with bottles and made meals for them. We fed chickens and they pecked the food from our hands and then we collected the eggs they laid. After lunch we went on a 2 and a half hour hike on Nachal Amud.
Leaving Nes Amim was the saddest time of our trip. Next was “the long drive” that everyone had been talking about since the first day – the drive to Jerusalem. As we arrived in Jerusalem our wonderful tour guide Jules played a song about Jerusalem. The sight was beautiful and we could see everything. A few days into our stay in Jerusalem we visited Har Herzl, the military cemetery and memorial where over 40,000 graves were. Some of the people buried there were as young as 18. This was an emotional experience for everyone.
After this we walked straight to Yad Vashem, where we heard a holocaust survivor speak about his experience and we were able to ask a lot of questions to which we got some fascinating answers. Learning about the holocaust and what the Nazis did really helped us understand more about our history.
Our next stop was “Pantry Packers” where we put rice into a bag using a machine, labelling the bags. These labels included the name of our school so that the people eating it would know that JCoSS produced it. We had to use a special machine to seal the bags. On our last Shabbat we visited the Western Wall, girls wearing their prettiest outfits and boys looking dapper. We all took time in writing private messages and praying. We stood in a big circle where our madrachim conducted a service where we sang songs at the top of our lungs. We are not going to deny that we got given some interesting looks. On our last few days we had trips to the park and fields where we could all relax and spend time together. On our very last day everyone was so sad to be leaving and some people even cried.
I know I speak for all the staff and most definitely students when I say The Year 9 JCoSS Israel journey was an unforgettable experience that we will all treasure for the rest of our lives.