What do you get when you combine 185 eighth
graders, 41 staff, six coach buses, and one action-packed week touring Israel?
Ta'am Yisrael: A Taste of Israel, a life-changing program of JUF's
Community Foundation for Jewish Education, which celebrated its 16th successful
trip to Israel in February.
"It's interesting when you hear about things
in Hebrew school, but when you come here and actually experience everything, it
makes you think about things in a whole different way," said participant
Parents, too, said they saw changes in their
children who have returned from the program. "My eyes get misty when I think of
the love of Israel and the depth of joy about being Jewish that the week
brought into my daughter's life," said Susie Wexler.
excerpts from the 2014 trip blog below for your own "taste" of Ta'am
We woke up to a sunny,
mid-60s day, with the gorgeous Tel Aviv beach and palm trees making for a
scenic drive as we set off for our destinations.
Our bus groups
traveled to Rabin Square, the Palmach Museum, Independence Hall, the Ayalon
Institute, and tikkun olam volunteering sites. At Leket, a food
harvesting program for the hungry, we picked nearly six tons of
clementines-enough to feed more than 1,000 hungry Israelis!
brought more new friends as we traveled to Kiryat Gat, JUF's Partnership
Together region, for icebreakers, dinner, and a HUGE dance party with Israeli
peers. Although the teens had known each other only a few hours, it didn't take
them long to form conga lines, dance to "Gangnam Style" and sing Miley Cyrus
songs at the top of their lungs like they'd been friends forever!
At the Beit Guvrin Archaeological Dig, teens
played anthropologist, crawling through tunnels and digging for artifacts. "It
was fun going through the holes, and seeing what people carved and how they
lived," said Eli Wolfson.
Our final evening in Tel Aviv, we were treated
to a private preview of a brand new show at the Nalaga'at Center, which
promotes disability awareness. Students were amazed by the capabilities of the
talented performers who have visual and hearing impairments, and especially
enjoyed getting to meet the actors after the show. "It was cool to see how they
worked in different ways than us," said Izzy Heichman. "It was really
interesting and impressive. I mean, I can't even play an instrument, and they
From there, we ventured out to Tel Aviv University's weekly
Israeli dancing night, which attracts about 500 people every week. Our bright
orange t-shirts and multicolored hats quickly overtook the massive gymnasium
dance floor as our teens put their newly learned dance skills to the test!
What an amazing
experience touring the Old City before Shabbat! Several teens have already
commented that Jerusalem feels like "a whole different country" compared to Tel
Aviv's beaches and modern feel. There's something about walking on the same
ancient stones as our ancestors that transports you to another time-there's
nothing and nowhere like it!
jam-packed days of traveling and touring, a relaxing, fun-filled Shabbat was
exactly what our group needed. After havdallah, we headed out for a
mesmerizing viewing of the Tower of David "Night Spectacular," a breathtaking
outdoor sound and light show that brought the citadel to life with laser light
depictions of the history of Jerusalem. From there, we took the teens out to
experience a typical Saturday night for Israeli teens-a.k.a. the mall, complete
with a kosher food court!
One final stop on our way back to the hotel:
a surprise midnight visit to the Kotel.
Our final morning in Jerusalem, we visited Yad Vashem,
Israel's national Holocaust museum and memorial. As we walked down the winding
path, many of our participants said the exhibit that most moved them was the
famous display of shoes that had been left behind by people who died in the
camps. "That was somebody's," said Leah Rubinberg. "I tried to imagine a person
standing there, but they don't exist anymore."
In addition to touring
the museum, we heard from survivor Asher Ud who told us, "You heard it from a
man who [experienced] it through his own body. I [tell my story] because I'm
sure the people who hear me will be my ambassadors when I'm no longer
After a stop at the Valley of Communities, we made our way to the
Dead Sea, where participants took a rejuvenating (if somewhat cold) dip in the
We awoke to an amazing
sunrise over the Dead Sea right out our hotel windows. After our last
Israeli breakfast together, we headed straight to Masada. It was quite the
workout-but it was worth it once we got to the top and experienced the
breathtaking views! After a morning service together on top of the mountain, we
split into small groups to tour the ancient ruins.
From there, our buses
veered off the main road and took us down a dirt path right into the midst of
the desert for a Bedouin-style celebration of our week together. Participants
went on camel rides,
learned to make pita over the hearth, enjoyed a
delicious fire-roasted dinner, and partied the afternoon away with drumming,
dancing, and the chance to try out various musical instruments from around the
We closed out the evening with a group shehecheyanu and
singing of HaTikvah before heading to the airport-an inspirational end
to an incredibly inspirational week!
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