Israel Letters

Unit 1: Ancient History, Israel 2021

February 23, 2021


It has been our practice to write a blog on our Israel trips. It gives the parents a glimpse into the daily activities and learning that their teens are experiencing, especially since communications are so limited.  This isn’t the case this year, but continuing our tradition allows us to give you a fuller perspective of our Israel program while making a record for years to come.


Today we completed our first unit of Israel 21 - a class that offers students the opportunity to engage in deep Israel study with our master educator and tour guide, Shai Nahon. We began with ancient history to put everything else that follows in context.  This is the densest portion of the curriculum - to understand the complexities in the very heart of Israel and Jerusalem -- the site of the Temple Mount.

Our students learned about where, how, and why the Temple was built at the exact spot where later the Muslims constructed the Dome of the Rock.  We call it the Western Wall and the Temple Mount.  The Muslims call it Haram al Sharif or the Noble Platform. It is the holiest site to the Jewish people and the third most holy site to the Muslims. Are you beginning to see the complexities that our students are just starting to unravel?  And the questions are percolating in their minds.  Nathan asked a great and very honest question: If Israel rules in Jerusalem and there are so many conflicts and problems, why do they allow the Muslims to control the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif site?  We’ll be looking at that question for much of our time.

Shai took us up to the Temple Mount, a place that is not allowed for in-person student tours.  We walked with him up the rickety wooden ramp through two Israeli security posts and the Jordanian Waqf, paying close attention to the people around us.  We even noticed that one man was barefoot. The students quickly made the connection between Moses who removed his shoes when he was in God’s presence and this man who was preparing to stand on holy ground. We even got to see the inside of the Dome of the Rock.  The walls and ceiling were beautifully appointed and the light made the space seem surreal, but then we saw the rock.  And it was just that -- a very big rock that carries the foundational history of the Jews and the Muslims.

And then we ventured live to the Western Wall with Avi, a tour guide and friend of Shai’s who was armed with a live camera and the notes that our students wrote to be put in the Wall.  Avi walked us down to the men’s side of the Wall and showed us all the temporary partitions that have been put up for Covid. For anyone who had ever been there before, it was a strange sight! It was a quiet evening at the Wall but still the array of people was interesting to watch. Avi took our notes from the envelope and quietly put the notes, one by one, in the crevices of the Wall.  Our classrooms were silent.  As Eliana said, she could feel the holiness in the silence of Avi putting our notes in the wall. It was a moment of connection.

Yesterday, the students received beautifully designed Israel sweatshirts.  Thank you, Anya, Bev, and Pamela.  They enjoyed a delicious boxed Israeli breakfast of bourekas, rugelach, and Israeli salad. Thank you, Frena Bakery! 

We pick up again next Wednesday when we venture outside of Jerusalem to learn how Judaism was able to continue without a central place to gather and worship.  

Beverly Pinto

Visit the Western Wall with Shai HERE!

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