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Grade 12 Gray Academy students enjoying time in Tel Aviv



By Faith Kaplan, July 6, 2010

Having gone on my own Grade 12 Israel trip in 1979, I am a bit of an expert on Grade 12 Israel trips. We had an outstanding time, made all the more outstanding because I was staying on to study at Hebrew U, and so I was looking forward to my son’s trip when Adam’s class graduated two years ago.  As part of our master plan to brainwash the children to make aliyah so we can follow them when we retire, we  made sure our children were exposed to Eretz Yisrael during their teenage years.  And we were not alone. Adam had been to Israel twice by the time he graduated high school, so you can imagine how my anticipation turned to apprehension when I saw that his Grade 12 trip itinerary offered a “taste of Israel” trip to students who had been to Israel previously. In fact, only one of the graduates planning to go on the trip had not been to Israel by Grade 12! Despite assurances to the contrary, my fears were realized. Adam and his classmates spent their time seeing sights they’d seen before, put up in out of the way hotels, and discouraged from exploring the real Israel by an overly cautious Israeli guide. I was disappointed that the tour company was indifferent to creating a “learning about Israeli society firsthand” trip that would given these young adults an opportunity to be part of the society they had studied from afar and observed up close. Adam came home having had a good time with his pals, but felt that his Israel trip could have been more than it was. 

This year, in time for Yael’s grade 12 trip, the school put the trip out to tender and a new tour operator was chosen. Thirteen of the sixteen students planning to go on Yael’s class trip had been to Israel previously, and many had been numerous times. This operator considered student and parental feedback from previous trips and developed an excellent itinerary. This year’s class spent one week in Spain visiting Madrid, Grenada, Cordoba, Toledo, Seville, and Gibraltar. They went to Jewish sites, learned about the conquest of the Moors and the expulsion of the Jews, and generally enjoyed sightseeing. None of them had been to Spain before. They flew to Israel for two weeks of hiking, climbing, exploring, rafting, rappelling, swimming, and generally having an adventure. The students’ guide was interesting and extremely knowledgeable and travelled with them throughout Spain and Israel. Their accommodations were comfortable and well located, the food was great in Israel (though not so great in Spain), the bus driver was great in Spain (though not so great in Israel), and the itinerary was FUN because the programs were different each day. They were physically active. They went to clubs. They explored cities at night. They spent Shabbat in the Old City of Jerusalem at the Sephardic Education Centre with Rabbi Yossi Benarroch (class of ’75), whose nephews are fellow students. They had FUN and the photos posted on the tour website and all over Facebook show laughing, happy children.

Yael’s trip was an improvement over Adam’s, but she and her classmates did not have an opportunity to spend time with Israeli peers outside of a couple of hours with their friends from the Partnership 2000 exchange in Kiryat Shmonah. Our 2 months on Kibbutz Ein Hanatsiv in the Beit Shean Valley in 1979, unsupervised because our chaperone took ill and disappeared as soon as we landed, enabled us to see Israelis up close. I learned to understand and speak Modern Hebrew. I understood the brilliant job that Camp Massad’s founders had done in recreating an authentic 1950’s kibbutz experience on the shores of Lake Winnipeg. When kibbutznikim asked where we learned Hebrew and Israeli dancing, we replied “Camp Massad at Winnipeg Beach”.  In the 70’s, north end Talmud Torah kids who could speak Hebrew and went to camp went to Camp Massad. In those days, BB Camp was more for public school and Peretz Schul kids, and the odd south ender who’d gone to Ramah.  Our grade 12 trip taught us that “religious” Jews came in all levels of cuteness, temperaments, and hairstyles and that modern orthodox Zionists were really just like us – except they kept Shabbat. We worked on the kibbutz and travelled a little bit, just enough to connect with the land, the people, and each other. It was glorious.

Yael’s group enjoyed each other’s company and would have been happy to spend another week together doing meaningful volunteer work and getting to know Israelis first hand. I  recommend a week or two of volunteering be built into the trip but next year’s parents can work with the school and tour operator  to suit the preferences of the Class of 2011. Happily, they have an excellent starting point.


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