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Celebrating Israel and the Return of the Israel Encounter

Steve Freedman
We were overjoyed with gratitude when it became clear we could resume the Schechter Israel Encounter this year. Tzionut (Zionism) is a core value of Schechter Bergen - and inspires us to “...foster a love of the State of Israel, Zionism and the Hebrew language as an essential part of each student’s Jewish identity. Our Annual Eighth-Grade Israel Encounter solidifies our students’ connection to the land, culture and people of Israel.”

We cannot imagine a stronger culmination of our students’ studies nor a better way to encourage them to remain connected in some way to Israel and the organized Jewish community than the Schechter Israel Encounter trip. The Israel trip has a significant and often profound immediate impact on most of the group participants. It helps to promote reflection on who they are as Jews, strengthening their ties to Israel and Judaism, helping them to bond with their peer community. It teaches them, through an immersive experience, much about Israel and Jewish history. Their Schechter education comes alive in Israel as they complete this part of their journey, excited by their Judaism and inspired by their surroundings. 

As I write this blog, our eighth graders are already in Israel, in the middle of a journey of a lifetime. In every grade we teach our children about the role the land and State of Israel has played in our lives, why Israel is so important to the Jewish people, its contributions to the Jewish people and humanity, and its personal connection to each one of us. We help our students to find their voice in support of Israel and to foster a love for Israel. 

Next week, our eighth graders will celebrate Yom Ha’Aatzma’ut in Israel, while the rest of the Schechter Kehillah celebrates it, here, at school.  On Yom Ha’Atzma’ut, the eighth graders will watch an aerial and naval show as well as participate in local celebrations in the north of Israel. At Schechter, our students will  spend the day engaged in all sorts of activities celebrating the modern state of Israel. On campus, we will end the day with a big carnival for the entire family planned by AHAVA (click here to sign up)!  It is important to celebrate the existence of Israel and its all-encompassing importance to the Jewish people and I hope every family will join us. 

As American Jews, we can have our opinions about Israeli politics and how the government handles its affairs. But, there are some truths that are undeniable, and chief among them is the truth of Israel’s right to exist and the existential need for Israel to exist for the protection of Jews throughout the world. We are proud to be a school that has at its core the love of Israel and our unwavering support for Israel, regardless of the ever-changing political climate. As Jews, we should, without question, be tireless supporters of Israel and be vocal about its right to exist within secure borders, free from the fear of terrorist attacks. 

Israel is an amazing country – rich in history, culture, meaning and world-leading innovation. It is the home of the story of our people and it is the spiritual center of the Jewish people - the place where our ancestors created our collective memories through building our culture, our traditions, our language and our relationship with God.  Israel is where sights, sounds and smells evoke a deep feeling of belonging and connectedness with the past, present and future.

Today our eighth graders are at home, in Israel, and when they return, our hope is that they will reflect our vision of a Schechter Bergen graduate, and as it written in the Portrait of a Schechter Bergen Graduate, they will say - “We love and support Israel: We celebrate and advocate for the State of Israel as the home of the Jewish people and appreciate its full complexity. We understand and promote Israel’s history, vibrant culture, and innovative spirit.”


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