Henny is the Director of Educational Advancement at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston, New Jersey.

Sammy is the Director of Hebrew and Israel Education K-12 at Donna Klein Jewish Academy, Boca Raton, Florida

Jodi is the Principal for Student Culture & Success at Gesher Jewish Day School in Fairfax, Virginia.

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Amy Wasser

Amy is Prizmah's Senior Director of Prizmah School Services. Learn more about her here.

Rebecca is the Israel Education Coordinator at SAR High School, Bronx, New York.

Israel Educator Mission Reflections

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As I prepared to take part in this mission, one of the mantras that kept going through my mind was, How could a journey I have taken so many times all of a sudden be so different? I have led countless trips to Israel; have gone on my own with family and friends, even in times of unrest. And yet, I knew these few days would bleed familiarity with the unknown.

The beauty of being a “regular” visitor is that you feel at home, walk familiar paths and go to favorite places, but this time those places of familiarity would have a palpable sense of change, and I needed to experience that. In my role of building relationships with day school and yeshiva leaders, I needed to be with them in this strange and shared space of new unfamiliarity in learning how to bring Israel, the real Israel, back to their students and our communities.

And we did that. We each retraced steps we had taken before with a new and profound sense of respect, humility and an openness to listening. Although I could not put myself in the shoes of those whose stories we heard, I listened to how this amazing group of educators would translate these words back to their students; how the music, art and poetry of the heroic Israelis would make a difference in North American classrooms. I experienced the incredible unity around bringing the hostages home, and wondered if any other country could exemplify this. I experienced the depths of sadness combined with the determination of forging ahead.

We saw Israel. We will bring this back and I am honored to be a part of helping our educational leaders reimagine what they can do.

- Amy Wasser, Prizmah’s Senior Director of School Services

Har Herzl

At Har Herzl, a sacred memorial to fallen soldiers, we were solemnly reminded of the sacrifices made in defense of the nation. Walking among the graves, listening to the stories, and hearing from our tour guide, the cousin of a fallen soldier, personalized the collective sacrifice made by each and every Israeli. Each grave, fresh with dirt, pictures, and art, served as poignant reminders of the price of freedom and the ongoing work required to safeguard it.

We engaged in the conversation: How do we bring this home to teach our students? We spent one evening using Israeli music as a powerful tool for teaching, learning, and healing. Learning through music, utilizing the prolific writing of Israeli music since October 7 as a teaching tool, we recognized its potential to facilitate learning and healing. Music, as a universal language, allowed us to delve deeper into themes of resilience and hope, offering a nuanced understanding of Israel’s journey. We recognized that songs have the unique ability to encapsulate emotions and narratives. We acknowledged the responsibility of educators to convey the complexities of Israel’s narrative, with music serving as one powerful medium for storytelling.

- Jodi Hirsch Rein, Principal for Student Culture & Success, Gesher Jewish Day School, Fairfax, Virginia

Stories of Weight and Resilience

Ahead of the trip, I was filled with trepidation at the thought of visiting the sites impacted by October 7. I felt compelled to bear witness, but also was worried at the emotional weight of what I was about to encounter. In hindsight, I am so incredibly grateful to have gotten the opportunity. In Judaism, memory is the bedrock of our collective experience, and being able to be present, to hear and then retell the stories I heard is a profound privilege.

At the same time, hearing from Israelis impacted by the events of October 7 has been a lesson in national resilience; not at the cost of minimizing the weight of the trauma that has occurred, but through recognizing its impact on each individual, and leaving room for an appropriate response as Israel, and the Jewish world at large, attempts to move forward.

- Henny Bochner, Director of Educational Advancement, Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy, Livingston, New Jersey

Processing Sessions

The first time we met as a group, we took about ten minutes to fill out a personal timeline of our experiences, feelings, activities, and teaching since October 7. We then shared our timelines in small groups. This exercise offered us the opportunity to reflect, many of us for the first time, on our lives since October 7, and to discover the similarities in our reactions, frenetic activity in school, and the constant reevaluation of teaching about this moment, in this moment. This processing session set the tone for the mission—time to reflect, thoughtful sharing, and a takeaway activity we could bring back to our schools.

After a very difficult day visiting Otef Aza, including Ofakim, Sderot, and the site of the Nova Festival, we concluded our evening by listening to Israeli songs written since October 7. Some songs were hopeful, others angry, and others celebratory of the heroes in Israeli society. We listened to the music, read the lyrics together, and discussed what these new songs say about Israel in this moment. It was the perfect coda to an emotional day… and something we could bring back to the classroom. I have since used this lesson with my own students and they found it as powerful as I did that evening.

- Rebecca Wolf, Israel Education Coordinator, SAR High School, Bronx, New York

Ofakim

Visiting the city of Ofakim, for me, embodies the essence of the song “Giborei Al” by Hatikva 6. The song’s message, that everyone would leave everything behind in a second if the flag calls them, resonates deeply. Listening to teachers and students share their memories, as they unfold and reflect on their personal stories, made me realize that these stories are not just their own; they are the story of the people of Israel. It’s a narrative of resilience and bravery.

- Sammy Chukran-Lontok, Director of Hebrew and Israel Education K-12, Donna Klein Jewish Academy, Boca Raton, Florida