by Sophie Zuckerman ’25
The trip you have all been waiting for is now only a week away. There are still many unknowns that remain. Will Israel’s borders be open? Will students be eligible for boosters?
Through all these bumps in planning this Israel experience, people like Director of Upper School Admissions Jackie Grosser, who will lead the ninth-grade trip, Director of Student Life Josh Ull, who will lead the tenth-grade trip, and Associate Head of School Rabbi Harry Pell have ensured that the freshman and sophomore trips to Israel will be memorable, educational experiences.
Although this trip will be similarly structured to the eighth-grade trip students were originally supposed to take, there will be some differences.
“The biggest difference between these trips and the eighth-grade trip is that these trips are a little bit shorter,” Pell said. “When you were an eighth grader, your grades were important, but no college will ever look at an eighth grader’s transcript. Students, teachers and parents are a little more relaxed when it comes to academics and grades in eighth grade, than they are in ninth and tenth grade.
“What we were looking to do is get as much time in Israel as possible, while taking as little time out of the ninth- and tenth-grade academic years as possible.”
For many students this experience is a make up for a trip they missed in past years due to COVID. For others, the trip is a welcomed surprise. Sophomore Lucy Abner, who joined TLS in high school, is grateful for the opportunity to be included in this special adventure.
“I feel very lucky that I get to do this trip because it is so talked about at Leffell, and I was not going to experience it because I was not here in eighth grade,” Abner said. “I think it is going to be a really amazing trip because Leffell definitely knows what they’re doing.”
While this trip is intended to be a memorable experience and has been in the planning process for a very long time, there have been a fair amount of challenges in the making of it.
“The biggest challenge we have right now is keeping up with Israel’s ever changing rules regarding visitors entering the country,” Grosser said. “While things seem to have settled down over the past few weeks, we still need to make sure we’re abiding by their rules in terms of COVID testing, quarantines if necessary and any other restrictions Israel may impose before or during our trip. We are lucky to have great partners in Israel who are keeping on top of all of this for us and in partnership with us, and we’re increasingly hopeful that we’ll be able to make it to Israel as planned.”
Furthermore, the uncertainty of this trip’s restrictions that may or may not be in place have made it very difficult to prepare for.
“Every country in the world has dealt with COVID differently, but Israel has been fairly unique,” Pell said. “There have only been four countries in the world to my knowledge whose instinct for COVID has been to close their borders to all foreigners for extended periods of time: Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel.
“Fortunately, I do not have a connection to any of those countries besides Israel. As Jews, we have an intense connection to Israel, but for some time we could not travel there, because American Jews who are not also Israeli citizens could not enter Israel, and that was very challenging. That has also made it challenging to plan for a trip…will Israel be open? We do not know. The borders were closed, we did not know when they would open. The students we want to bring are required to be boostered but they are not yet eligible to be boosted. So those disconnects have been the greatest challenge.”
Aside from COVID causing so much uncertainty, another slight obstacle to overcome has been the number of students who will attend.
“The ninth grade is extremely big and we had to get special buses,” Pell said. “Usually a grade at our school fits on two buses with the staff. The normal buses we use would not have necessarily been big enough for the ninth graders. So there have been some challenges around that.
“There are some logistical challenges around having us all in one place at Fuchsberg for Shabbat. We will be taking up almost the entire facility, and Fuchsberg is the most popular youth hostel in all of Israel.”
Having two grades from TLS all in Israel at once is certainly not something that as a community we experience often. Although the ninth and tenth grades will be traveling at the same time, there is only one time they will really be together.
“The grades will be together for Shabbat in Jerusalem, which I think will be really nice to be able to say half the highschool students are in Jerusalem for Shabbat together, particularly Kabbalat Shabbat, overlooking the old city,” Grosser said. “I just think that it is an amazing opportunity that we may never have again. So I am really excited that the two grades will be together for those few nights.”
For students, it is exciting to be traveling with other grades.
“It will be good to have the experience with more people, and it will make the grades closer as we go through high school together,” Abner said. “So I think it will be a bonus to be with the ninth grade.”
It is not something that we as a school experience every year, taking two grades at once to Israel.
While it may be frightening to travel in these uncertain times, the benefits of this trip seem to outweigh the difficulties of it.
“I would be more nervous if we were going to expose students or faculty members to an illness that could be life changing,” Pell said. “At this point, fortunately, I do not think the illness will be life changing. If anyone tests positive, it will certainly be inconvenient, but not life changing. Meanwhile, I do think this trip can be life changing, in a really good way.”