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Identity

My Experience with the Alexander Muss School in Israel

January 15, 2020

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

My Experience at Muss was nothing short of amazing. I was granted the opportunity to be an impact fellow, allowing me and nine other students from Philadelphia to travel to Israel for free. I chose to do Muss because my brother goes to a Jewish day school that is partnered with the school. I did not want to miss out on the amazing opportunity to travel to Israel. I knew there were many amazing programs to Israel in the summer, but this program was different. Muss is unique because you are not there as a tourist or just a traveler you’re here as a student you’re living in Israel. The campus is 20 minutes outside the city of Tel Aviv in a suburb called Hod Hasharon, and I lived in a dorm with two other kids, both from Philly as well. We had two Madrichim for our 32 students at the session, who were essentially our “Ima and Aba” for our two month stay. We took our home classes as well as a class called CORE, the mandatory class on Jewish History. The class covers the story of the Jewish people chronologically and allowed for experiential learning where we would travel on tiyulim to places related to what we were learning about in the classroom. Every tiyul (field trip) was exciting and interesting, however, my favorite had to be Masada. For those who don’t know Masada is a mountain that one of the four sects of Judaism, the Zealots, fled to during the Great Revolt. This is about where we stopped in class the previous day. That morning, we got up and took a bus out to the Negev desert. I love how we had been left on a cliffhanger and we would only hear the rest of the story until we had hiked up the mountain and watched the sunrise. I remember exploring Masada and finding out that there was still evidence of a Roman attack. However, the idea of experiential learning actually let me see it with my own eyes instead of sitting in a classroom and looking up a Google image.

Going into HSI, my knowledge of Jewish History was scarce. I started my core class interested in the subject and open to learning. Today, sitting at home, I can say I have formed my own Jewish identity and ideals through the program. What connected me was not only the community in Israel, but the Tiyulim which we went on. I would learn something in class, and then actually see that thing or something related to it in a fun but educational trip. Experiences like Masada, which could just as easily been demonstrated through google images, was how my trip connected me to my Judaism and helped me form my Jewish identity. The material of this class was very powerful and well put together, and I always felt like I was "exploring" something rather than just hearing about it. Class didn't feel like a history lesson, but almost like I was mapping a family tree. I was able to explore Israel with my peers and understand what both the state of Israel and my Judaism meant to me.

As an Impact Fellow, I also had the opportunity to develop specific skills in the leadership arena. I realized that being a leader is not just about how easily you can command a room. Much of leadership has to do with your overall character and how you present yourself. At Muss, I stepped out of my comfort zone in every way as I tried new foods, I met new friends, and I explored new places. I certainly faced new stressors and challenges too and, in turn, developed confidence in myself as an adaptable and more mature person. Over time, my positive energy was contagious and I realized that being positive and confident is an integral part of being a leader. Muss also challenged me to develop myself as a public speaker. I practiced this skill by giving a tour of campus and by participating in public speaking workshops. Now I am able to talk to any group of people, regardless of my affiliation with them or their age, about my experience at Muss. I also learned how to write blogs, and create promotional videos. All in all, my experience at Muss was so amazing. In fact, I don’t even think there is a word to describe the family and knowledge I gained. My life changing experience in Israel helped me to form my own idea of what Judaism means to me, what the Jewish state means to me, and to gain values and skills that would help me forever.

Sam is an Aleph from Liberty Region and studied in Israel for a semester.

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