Day 5 – July 7, 2022
Last night we arrived in the holy city of Jerusalem. As we entered the gates of the city the excitement in the bus was tangible. The strong spiritual connection to this beautiful ancient city was visible on everyone’s face.
Our first day in Jerusalem! A short walk from our hotel took us to JNF / KKL World Headquarters, which has operated from this site since 1923. We were given an enthusiastic welcome by Andy Michaelson, Head of VIP visits who gave an engaging overview of their history and work. Andy also told us his own story of how he fell in love with Israel, built his life here, and how JNF works to benefit all the citizens of Israel.
A fascinating and moving part of the presentation was viewing one of the 247 Honour Books, which recognise donors and other groups. This was the smallest one, a children’s book dated from 1932-33 and is hand-scribed. A poignant point is that it could be the only place these children of the 1930s are remembered. All books are being digitised to go online when the new museum opens there soon. We also heard from Esther, who runs the Australian fundraising department, who gave us a warm welcome.
Yigal finished the session with a story about how he asked a friend on the best way to prepare for Yad Vashem…. the answer was to just to be quiet and listen.
The meaning of Yad Vashem reflects memorialisation. Names… giving names back to those who lost their identity. An Eternal Flame Burns there symbolizing that there was never a day during the Holocaust when there wasn’t someone who became a victim. The museum name comes from Isaiah, Chapter 56, Verse 5:
“And to them I will give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name that shall not be cut off.”
We started with a talk by Rabbi Moshe Cohen on strategies for teaching the Holocaust to students, and he outlined pedagogical ways to bring the stories into age appropriate context. A fascinating and valuable teaching resource and methodology. Next we took a tour through the exhibits with one of the YV guides, who encouraged us to think of the Holocaust as being about people – their stories and their lives. Through artefacts in context, testimony and narrative, we learned how very personal each of those stories are, and about how those events unfolded, on all sides of the occasion. It was a moving session that was at once challenging, motivating and reflective. Afterwards Simmone shared her mother’s survival story with us, and the effect of those events in her family. Heartfelt thanks Simmone.
We also visited the synagogue and heard about the Ark from the war period, given by the President of Lithuania who visited in 1990s. Here we were presented with letters from home, written by our loved ones especially for us. Everyone in that moment reflected in the value of family in our own lives. Not a dry eye in the house. Thank you JNF, that was a special gift.
Boys Town is a modern orthodox school for boys that was established in 1948, by an American Rabbi, as an orphanage for children of the Holocaust. The school currently has over 900 boys enrolled and is at capacity. The school has become increasingly popular as academic achievement has excelled as the school’s matriculation rate is 92.5% compared with the national average of 71%.
Lunch began with a brocah, a blessing, which is indeed what Boys Town is to the students who attend it.
The session commenced with a video of smiling faces of young boys who had ‘limited backgrounds and limited futures’ giving positive comments based on their personal experiences.
Boys Town focuses on taking boys off the streets, providing a safe environment and a future-ready education filled with endless possibilities, solid values and enormous opportunities.
Alon Madmon gave an inspiring presentation demonstrating the passion and dedication he feels about ensuring a quality education for these students. The commitment of the staff is evident in a story related about the Deputy Principal who received a call at 2am one morning by a student in desperate need of a place to stay. A taxi was sent to collect him and bring him safely to Boys Town.
Technology is a strong focus at the school and a robotics demonstration was given by four of the boys from the Robotics Team. This was wonderfully entertaining and showcased their amazing talents. They created a robot to make deliveries and and received first place in the Lego League competition in Jerusalem.
Shay, a student at the school whose father worked as a mentor there when he arrived in Israel from Brazil 25 years ago, said ‘ I love this school’ because it opens doors for every student’. Eliezer, a year 8 member of the Robotics Club said with a big cheeky grin ‘The school puts you on the right path because of the opportunities it gives you… so we all just love it.’ The clubs and activities they provide range from music to kick boxing so every boy can find their strength and shine.
A few words that encapsulate what the participants and staff feel about Boys Town: brilliant, unique, inspiring, generous, endearing, compassionate, motivating, caring, innovative, enlightening, forward thinking and giving.
After a very informative tour of the school we headed off to the City of David where we visited the underground tunnels and did an archeological walking tour of the city of David. As we walked through the rocky tunnels, our tour guides provided us with a wonderful understanding of the purpose and meaning behind these tunnels, we felt as if we were transported back in time. The purpose of these tunnels was to channel the water (the most precious thing) from the spring to an open reservoir within a walled city, to protect the people from the outside enemy. The archeological walking tour was a wonderful pathway to the next part of the tour, the Kotel (Western wall), the most significant site in the world for the Jewish people.
We finally made it to the Kotel and we stood, we prayed and we watched hundreds of young people singing and dancing, some with their eyes covered in anticipation of seeing the Kotel for the first time.
Today we felt privileged to be able to soak in the atmosphere of this holy city as each one of us built our own connection to this spiritual land.
Serena (Arthur Phillip High School), Alexa (Moriah College) and Jeffrey (Sydney Jewish Museum)