BY RACHEL SHARPE
This past summer, four CCHS students experienced Israel through a unique study abroad program while earning high school and college credit. The program is offered in two summer sessions and during the regular school year.
Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI) is a six-eight week academic travel program that teaches students about the 4,000 year old history of Israel by physically reenacting it. Students live and attend classes in Hod Ha’Sharon, just outside of Tel Aviv, and go on field trips three to four times a week to explore and learn about not only the ancient history of Israel, but also the issues that Israel faces in the present day.
“The land of Israel became our classroom,” junior Adi Braha said. “We studied the history in chronological order by actually going to the sites and learning about what happened there.”
For these students, having such a hands on learning experience helped them to fully understand the history and to connect to it on a more personal level.
“My favorite site we went to was the ancient Bar Kochba caves, where the Jews hid during their revolt against the Romans,” Braha said. “Once we entered the pitch black caves, our teacher told us that we had to find our way out through one of the many passageways. It made us feel like we were actually there in that time period.”
Since they were right around the corner from the actual conflict, the students studied the Israeli Palestinian struggle in depth from its beginning to today. Amidst the conflict, the teachers went out of their way to make sure the students felt safe.
“While there are security challenges in Israel, they are far away from most places we ever visit, and are generally limited to certain areas which we avoid,” AMHSI teacher Danny Stein said. “We are in daily contact with the government’s ‘situation room,’ which has every single field trip of every school in its computer system. If there is any danger at all, they inform us not to go on that trip that day or to change the route.”
The students felt secure living on a campus with students from all over the world in college setting. The students were given freedom to explore the town of Hod Ha’sharon on a daily basis and to immerse themselves in the Israeli culture.
“I really felt like I was a citizen of Israel,” junior Jake Plonskier said. “On a teen tour, you are constantly moving from one place to the next. On AMHSI, I was a resident of Hod Ha’Sharon. I knew the owners of my favorite panini restaurant, I knew the guy who cut my hair. I had a home and a community that I was a part of.”
With freedom came a great deal of responsibility. The students learned how to allocate their time without their parent’s assistance.
“Living in a college like environment where class ends at noon and you could have up to 12 hours of free time a day, helped me establish ground rules,” Plonskier said. “I had to tell myself, okay now it’s time to study, and now it’s time to go play basketball and eat dinner.”
For these 4 students, living in Israel also helped them to gain a broader view of the world around them. The experience made them more aware of social, cultural and national issues.
“This experience made me realize that there is more going on around the world outside of where I live,” Braha said. “Now I keep updated with the news and am much more aware of global issues.”
Above all, AMHSI provided these students with a lifelong connection to the land of Israel and to their religion that they will continue to carry with them the rest of their lives.
“Studying abroad was an amazing experience and really teaches you a lot,” junior Dylan Bomstein said. “You get to experience a new culture that you would have never been exposed to.”
Upon their return home, these students are already thinking of ways they can bring back what they learned in Israel to the local community and to students at CCHS.
“As president of CCHS’s Jewish Student Union, I want to institute monthly Jewish/Israel history seminars, so students can learn about great Jewish heroes and wars,” Plonskier said. “Whether it is about Eli Cohen, a former AMHSI American student who fought in the Israeli army or Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who has been held captive by Hamas now for five years, discussing these subjects will help students gain a better understanding of the history and issues facing Israel which make it the country it is today.”