Like many students their age, the students of Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy (LYA) in Longmeadow, MA, studied the conversation between Chana and Eli Kohen Gadol at Shiloh, at the beginning of the book of Shmuel. As a result of her prayer, the prophet Shmuel was born, and Chazal established rules for shmoneh esray following Chana’s example.
Students of LYA took this a step farther, when they found themselves standing at the site of the mishkan in Shiloh, hunching their shoulders against a cold wind. Shiloh was the first stop of LYA’s Israel Experience 2017, LYA’s 10th trip to Israel for middle school that was held in February.
The mishkan stood at Shiloh 369 years. As such, it was the capital of Israel, where people gathered for each of the shalosh regalim, and some of our prophets’ speeches there are recorded in Tanach. Standing at the site of the mishkan, the students discussed Chana’s prayer, the life of Shmuel, and the impact of the mishkan on the lives of Jews at the time.
From Shiloh, they rode to Har Kabir, in Elon Moreh. Har Kabir overlooks a steep drop to a valley that runs east to west. It is along this valley that the Torah describes Avraham’s trek into Israel: “Avraham passed through the land, until the place of Shechem; until Elon Moreh.” Standing on the cliff above, with the sun’s rays piercing through breaks in the clouds, it was not hard to picture Avraham’s caravan passing below.
“What an amazing way to begin our Israel Experience praying at the very site where Chana’s prayers were answered, and viewing the place where Avraham took his first holy footsteps in the land promised to him by G-d,” remarked Rabbi Chaim Kosofsky, a chaperone of LYA’s Israel Experience. “Our first day really set the tone for the trip where our entire group rose to the occasion every day.”
Each day of the trip, students traveled back in time. In some places they relived ancient history, while in other places they experienced more recent history. Sloshing through the Chizkiyahu water tunnels in the City of Dovid they travelled back 3,000 years. At the Valley of Tears, in the Golan Heights, where soldiers of Troop 77 held back an overwhelming force of Syrian tanks, they went back to 1973 and the Yom Kippur War, and viewed how Hashem protected His holy land through miracle after miracle.
The students took every opportunity to reinforce their Yiras Shamayim, strengthen their Yiddishkeit, and make connections to the school’s curriculum. The students spent ten very busy days in Israel rising at 6:00 a.m. to daven in a minyan before beginning their touring. The students fit over 40 sites and activities into their schedule.
“Going to Israel was inspiring and meaningful,” commented 8th-grader Yoni Gesin upon returning. “The most meaningful part was visiting all the places we study about in school in real life, and of course davening at the Kotel and feeling the holiness of the Bais Hamikdash.”
“Visiting Kfar Chabad and 770 was especially meaningful to me since both my great-grandfathers were two of the original founders of Kfar Chabad following World War II,” remarked Batya Wolvovsky, a 7th grader. “Last year I did extensive research into my family history for a school project and this year I am viewing the information I researched in real life. Of course visiting with my great-grandmother who lives in the Kfar was an extra special bonus.”
Another meaningful experience was davening shacharis at Me’aras Hamchpaila and touring ancient Chevron. “It was especially emotional to walk through the ancient land that was purchased by Avraham as a burial site and to stand at the excavated city gate, where the Torah says Avraham purchased the cave from Ephron,” remarked Gavriel Wolff, an 8th-grade student.
“A goal of the LYA Israel Experience is to allow the students to connect to Hashem, the land of Israel and strengthen their Judaism,” commented Rochel Leah Kosofsky, chaperone and LYA Israel Experience coordinator.
“Whether walking through the Kotel tunnels, touring the shuls of Tzefat, riding donkeys at Kfar Kedem, standing at the border of Israel and Lebanon at Rosh Hanikra, or even just shopping in the shuk and eating falafel, our students rose to the occasion through learning, helping each other and bonding with Israel and generations of Jewish people. The Holy Land really brought out the best in our students.”
LYA reached a milestone this trip, as it was the school’s 10th Israel Experience. LYA’s first trip to Israel was 18 years ago in 1999. LYA works closely with My Israel Connection (www.myisraelconnection.com) to plan and arrange a custom itinerary. Chaperones Rabbi Chaim Kosofsky and Miss Bracha Kosofsky sent pictures and comments to parents in real time via whattsapp. At night, Mrs. Rochel Leah Kosofsky posted a blog with a detailed description of the day’s events and more pictures. The blog can still be read at www.LYA.org.
This trip was the first time a former student on the trip returned as a chaperone. Miss Bracha Kosofsky participated in her LYA Israel Experience as a middle school student eight years ago. “It was intriguing for me to participate in the same trip from a different perspective. I now appreciate my own middle school trip even more after seeing the transformation in my students on this trip,” commented Bracha Kosofsky.
LYA is very proud of its students and the growth they experienced on this trip. It was truly life-altering for them. “Israel is such a holy land and a beautiful place with so many historical sites that are an important part of my life,” remarked Efrayim Gesin, a 7th-grader. “I am so glad to have had the opportunity to build this connection to the land.”
For more information about organizing an Israel trip for your school, please contact Rochel Leah Kosofsky at email@example.com.