Sleeping Under the Stars: myIsrael 2017

June 2, 2017
Sixty-six Gann sophomores have spent the last seven weeks exploring Israel through an exciting mix of academics, desert camping, socializing, sports, art, robotics, community service and much, much more. They’re participating in myIsrael, Gann’s unique Israel trip where students engage with the country on multiple levels.

The Gann trekkers have met with Knesset members, a Christian journalist, a 90-something pioneer, Palestinians, settlers, representatives of the LGBT community and one of the country’s top junior tennis players, to name just a few. And to experience the life of an Israeli teen in real time, Gann kids did a week-long homestay with the families of students from Ironi Hey High School, Gann’s sister school in Haifa.

“Staying with an Ironi Hey student was an amazing experience,” Zachary Sherman wrote in an email from Israel. “I was welcomed into his family, and I felt like I lived in Israel.”

“A big part of the trip is interacting with people from different backgrounds and with many perspectives,” explains Head of School Rabbi Marc Baker. “We want our students to forge powerful connections to Israel through meaningful encounters with people and to embrace all of the complexity and diversity of the country.” Also important was that the trip be financially accessible to every student. Thanks to generous philanthropic support, twice the number of kids went to Israel this year, as compared to last year.

Unlike most other American high schools' Israel trips, myIsrael incorporates Israeli peers and Gann teachers from multiple disciplines. Also unique is that the students customized their trip by delving deeply into subject areas of their choice. They tested water from the Sea of Galilee as part of the hydrotech course; raced miniature cars they built from scratch at the Technion, considered the MIT of Israel; and cleaned up forests destroyed by fires. They also served as referees for the Peres Center’s soccer tournament, which brought together 800 Palestinian and Israeli children in an effort to break down barriers and form bonds of friendship.

The student-referees embodied Rabbi Baker’s dream for myIsrael of fostering authentic relationships with Israel. “Here the Gann kids were, working with Israeli teenagers, connecting with Israel through their passion for sports and giving back at the same time. That’s the ‘big idea’ of myIsrael,” says Rabbi Baker.

Science teacher Laila Goodman said the camping trip in the Negev desert was one of the trip’s highlights. “Hiking and sleeping in the desert were magical,” recounts Goodman. “The students— American and Israeli— helped each other make it to the top of the hill or descend a slippery spot. They lent their clothes to help keep others warm. On our third night, we built a bonfire and the singing was loud, spontaneous, powerful and full of the freedom that only a night under the stars brings.”

myIsrael was more than 18 months in the making and was co-created by Gann, Israeli educational experts and staff from Ironi Hey. CJP’s Boston-Haifa Partnership, which has been a leader in fostering connections between young Jews in the Boston area and Israel, has been an important partner in making this new program a reality. myIsrael has already drawn inquiries from schools around the country and the world.

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