January 7, 2018

Starting High School in a Foreign Country

Samantha Rigante ‘21

Israel is one of the pillars of Judaism. It is the Jewish homeland, where the forefathers started their lives and the Temple once stood. It is fitting then, that GOA freshmen start their high school experience in Israel on the Na’ale program.
Na’ale allowed the freshmen to speak Hebrew, hike up mountains, strengthen connections with old friends and make connections with new ones.
“One thing I loved and will always remember from the Israel trip was making new friends and bonding with people I never thought I would have been friends with,” freshman Kayla Blecherman said.
The students were able to experience the differences between Israeli and American cultures and to see the different types of Jews living in Israel. They were shown that not all Israeli Jews are observant and saw the ways different sects observed customs.
“I think it’s interesting to see the differences between our culture and Israeli culture,” Liat Cohen said. “We’re all Jewish, but Israeli Judaism is very different from ours.”
The freshmen visited Israel’s popular tourist sites, such as the Dead Sea, where they floated in the clear, blue waters and gazed at the surrounding mountains. They also toured Tiberias, bordering the Sea of Galilee. The freshmen explored the city, bought falafel and partied on a disco boat on the sea at night.
“My favorite part of the trip was definitely hiking Mt. Arbel because I love hiking and I got to do it with my friends. The sights we saw from the top were unbelievable,” Marin Gold said. “I also loved the disco boat on the Kineret because we all got to party on the water and it was so much fun!”
Na’ale also visited the main street in Jerusalem, Ben Yehuda. Ben Yehuda has a very active nightlife – most stores only open after 9 p.m. The center is always crowded and features some of the best food in Israel.
“We don’t have food like this in the United States,” Hayley Lampert said. “Definitely take advantage of the food.
“It’s some of the best in the world!”
Visiting the Kotel, however, was possibly the most anticipated part of the trip. The Kotel, what remains from destruction of the Second Temple two thousand years ago, is located in the heart of Jerusalem. Tourists travel to Jerusalem from around the world to experience a structure dating back to the Temple’s operation and to pray at the wall. Many ninth graders had deeply moving experiences.
“Going to the Kotel was the highlight of my trip because I felt a connection to the other people praying there,” Lily Berman said. “We’re all so different but praying in the same place.”
Many GOA freshmen also enjoyed spending three days with Israeli teenagers. The freshmen spent two nights at their host families’ houses, where they were able to develop close connections with their new friends. Other highlights included touring the school in Merchavim, experiencing daily life as an Israeli teenager and embarking on an archaeological dig.
“We can all learn a lot from their experiences and where they live,” Emma Burke said.
Maya Soudry particularly enjoyed the dig.
“We got to learn a lot about the history of Israel and the people who lived there thousands of years ago, while bonding with our new Israeli friends,” Soudry said.
Upon their return, many freshmen advised younger students to deliberately socialize with their entire grade when they go to Israel. Na’ale provides the rare opportunity to spend every moment of the day with the freshmen class, exploring the world’s holiest travel destination.
“Israel is a great opportunity to make better friends. It’s easier to bond because you’re with these people from when you wake up until you go to sleep,” Michael Lurie said.

Na’ale allows GOA freshmen to connect not only with Israel but with the grade and new Israeli friends. GOA’s Class of 2021 certainly learned to cherish every moment of its trip to Israel, and students will carry the memories with them throughout their high school experience.

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