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Teen Time in Israel Runs the Gamut
The first was a Saturday-night boat ride near Tiberias, where she and classmates from Abrams Hebrew Academy in Yardley got to dance to Israeli music. Up next on her list was a trip to a rehabilitation hospital for Israeli soldiers in Tel Aviv, which proved more touching than entertaining.
"We got to meet people who had been through a lot, and yet they showed that they can still go on," said Gerewitz, who spent May 16 to May 27 in the Jewish state with 36 other members of her eighth-grade class.
The group - some of whom received financial aid from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia to attend - swam in the Dead Sea, rode donkeys in the Galilee, spent Shabbat in the Golan Heights and even graduated middle school at the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem.
Zeev Bielsky, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, spoke at the ceremony that echoed the students' official graduation, to take place this month.
While some parents flew to Israel for the ceremony, others could follow along by logging on to the Abrams Web site, which provided itinerary information, updated pictures - even a video of the graduation just two hours after it had ended.
"The parents - they loved it," attested Rabbi Ira Budow, the school's director, who participated in the trip along with five other staff members. "To be able to do that is a real neat way of keeping in contact and letting the parents in on the excitement."
Paget Berger, mother of 14-year-old Aaron Berger, supported that notion: "Having the Web site brought a sense of immediacy. I didn't want to talk on the phone with my son every day. I wanted him to have that degree of independence."
Berger's son - a first-time visitor to the Jewish state - found the country's history fascinating.
"I knew that there was a lot of history there, then I go and there was so much more than I actually thought," he recalled, adding that he was surprised to find out that Napoleon Bonaparte once spent time in Israel. "Every single place had something significant happen there."
For Gerewitz, who had traveled to Israel with her family twice before, the idea of a land where Hebrew is the state language proved both instructive and moving.
"It was really interesting, walking around hearing people speaking Hebrew," she said. "Reading signs in Hebrew was really nice."
Some of the Abrams students will continue their Jewish education after this academic year, while others plan to move on to secular private or public high schools. This trip allowed the group to spend time with one another before heading their separate ways.
"It was like the icing on the cake," said Faith Meltzer, mother of 14-year-old Jillian Meltzer, who plans to attend Akiba Hebrew Academy next year.
Berger, who plans to return someday, is happy to have had the chance in the first place.
"The trip really balanced learning with fun, and getting to know the culture more," he said. "I know that not too many other schools do it, so I feel privileged to go on a trip like that."