Amy Sapeika writes about Hillel Day School’s signature eighth-grade trip to Israel.
Hillel Day School’s Class of 2022 was thrilled to travel to Israel on Hillel’s signature eighth-grade trip, marking the return of this trip since travel restrictions caused cancellations the past two years. This incredible culmination of Hillel’s Judaic Studies curriculum allowed the eighth graders to truly connect to the full history, tradition and responsibility of what it means to be a Jew.
Their trip began in the north where they hiked, visited the Talmudic Village of Katzrin, bonded with Israeli (and visiting Mexican) teens on a kibbutz, and enjoyed the sights of Tzfat. After a restful Shabbat, a Kinneret Cruise started the new week.
The students then traveled to Detroit’s partnership region, HaEmek, where they met with students at the Yaarat HaEmek School with whom they have corresponded, collaborated and studied with via Zoom over the years.
They then made their way to Jerusalem to experience many significant sites, including a visit to the Kotel where they engaged in personal prayer. After Jerusalem, they headed to Tel Aviv to visit museums, beaches, and partake in shopping before venturing to Masada and the Dead Sea. The trip concluded with a visit to the Negev to rappell down the Ramon Crater, hike and a visit to Ben-Gurion’s tomb.
After many years learning about the Jewish holidays in their Hillel studies, a highlight for many students was the opportunity to appreciate the full magnitude and significance of the holidays that they experienced while in Israel. Students visited Yad Vashem and heard from a Holocaust survivor to mark Yom HaShoah. On Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, they attended a memorial ceremony for fallen soldiers at Latrun, attended a service at the historic battle site of Castel and visited the Mt. Herzl National Cemetery. After reflecting on the sacrifices made to establish the state of Israel, they brought in the joyful holiday of Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day, with a silly string fight on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem.
On the last day of the trip, they visited Special in Uniform, an organization dedicated to integrating young adults with disabilities into the Israel Defense Forces and Israeli society where they performed shaliach mitzvah tzedakah by delivering $1,500 in tzedakah that they raised from the Hillel community prior to their trip.
Many of the graduating eighth graders were part of the first class of 2-year-olds when Hillel opened its Early Childhood Center (ECC) in 2010, meaning these “lifers” have the distinction of being the first class of Hillel students to enjoy 12 years of Hillel Day School education. The eighth graders were able to bring their Hillel experience full circle with get togethers throughout the school year with their 4- and 5-year-old ECC buddies.
Prior to their Israel trip, the eighth graders and their ECC buddies learned about Israel together before the ECC students gave their buddies a blessing and wished them safe travels. After the eighth graders returned, they played games and shared stories about the experience with their ECC buddies. As these ECC students complete their preschool experience and head to kindergarten, many of them shared how excited they are to one day be Hillel eighth graders so they can travel to Israel with their classmates.
Amy Sapeika is communications coordinator at Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit.