Grade 9 Israel Experience: Arrival & Jumping into Israel

After months of planning, trans-atlantic communication, and preparation in the classroom, it was finally time to head to Israel on the grade 9 trip!

We met at the airport at 3:30 AM for our 6 AM flight to Toronto- from there, we’d be on our way to the holy land. A few students weigh in on how it felt to leave in the middle of the night for a flight to Israel:

Batya: I was so excited! Even though we didn’t have to leave for the airport until 3 AM, I had my shoes on 11 pm. I was calling my friends and making sure I was ready to go.

Alex: I woke up at 1:45 and was super tired. But at the same time I was excited because I knew I was going to be in Israel the next day.

You know international travel is lots of “hurry up and wait.” But with such a great group of students (nine of our students left with us from Calgary, two more were already in Israel awaiting our arrival), the time seemed to pass relatively quickly. Before we knew it, we were stepping out of the plane and on to the land of Israel!

As many times as you’ve been to Israel, for me, there’s still nothing like the excitement of walking down that long hallway in Ben Gurion Airport, knowing delicious shawarma and the hot Tel Aviv sun awaits you on the other side. I couldn’t even get them to stop to pose for a picture!

Adam: I was relieved that the flight was calm – I didn’t even puke. And I was super excited to finally step out into the holy land.

Student: I was so tired it felt like I could barely walk through the airport. But we made it to the van and I got in the mood to start our time in Israel.

We grabbed our luggage as quickly as we could and went outside to hop in our van. Obviously we need to ride around the holy land in style… our van comes decked out with a deluxe surround sound system, wifi, and about a dozen young CJA students eager to experience Israel up close and personally. 

Our first stop- before even heading to our hotel to put away our luggage- is the ancient Herodian port city, Caesarea. Like any site in Israel, there are centuries of history to sift through in order to truly understand what you are looking at. Luckily, we have an experienced guide by our side- the incredibly knowledgeable Naveh. 

In this picture, we are standing inside Caesarea’s ancient Hippodrome (horse racing arena). The Hippodrome was built by King Herod 2,000 years ago and hosted the first ever Olympic games outside of Rome. Naveh challenged us to think about the contradictions involved with such an enterprise. Was Herod playing Olympic host to gain honor and glory for the Jewish people? Or was he just sucking up to his Roman overlords? These apparent contradictions are what makes Israelite history- both ancient and modern- so interesting and meaningful.

Student: I loved being able to see and touch ruins that are 2,000 years old- I even sat on an ancient toilet. We got to learn what real life was like for Judeans in the Roman period.

Zoe: It was super cool being able to see the sea that close up as soon as we got to Israel. We also had some background knowledge on Caesarea because we learned about it in school, and it was really neat being able to see it in person after all of our learning. I said to myself, “Oh wow, we actually are here!”

Of course, it’s always easier to ponder the big questions of Jewish history when you have this good of a view of the Mediterranean! 

After lunch in Caesarea- hello delicious hummus!- it was finally time to head to our hotel. We are staying in the city of Tiberias, on the shore of the Kineret (Sea of Galilee). 

We were all whooped from our flights, but such a packed itinerary allows no rest for the weary. After dinner, we explored Tiberias, visiting the grave of the Rambam and the boardwalk right next to the Kineret. Like Caesarea, Tiberias has a long history that is deserving of much more than one blog post, and we did our best to take it all in before bedtime.

That night began Yom HaShoah, and we finished our (very long) day with a moving ceremony led by Naveh, whose great grandmother is a Holocaust survivor, and still alive at 96 years old. Rachel survived Auschwitz as a 17-year old- not much older than our students- and made aliyah to Israel following the war. She still lives in the same kibbutz she moved to upon making aliyah all those years ago. 

David: It was a special moment to learn from a family member of a Holocaust survivor.

Akiva: We learn about the Holocaust a lot at CJA but hearing a first hand account in Israel was super impactful.

Tomorrow, as Yom HaShoah continues and we wake up for the first time in Israel, we will dedicate our learning to Naveh’s grandmother Rachel. It will be another packed day with so much to explore, full of learning, questions, and beautiful sights and sounds.