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  • 28 Feb 2018 by Karen Lucy

    The ECE-RJ journey to Israel revealed many walls and/or barriers; the cold, protective walls facing Gaza, the holy and inspirational wall in Jerusalem and the earth tone sand walls of Negev.  In contrast of these barriers, the visits to the various preschools created such hope and dreams for the future of Jewish children in Israel and the United States.  As an educator, I choose to view my world through a bright lens encouraging children to develop their strengths for success. Likewise, the Ella tree in Negev displays towering strength of growth in a relatively barren ecosystem. Continue to stand tall, sisters, by guiding children like the Ella tree.  

    Ode To Ella

    As I rest beneath your expansive arms -
      always welcoming
      always strong.

    I imagine you at other times -
      as you mature
      as you grow.

    Were others kind to you -
      were they respectful
      were they interested?

    At times I feel your crisp, cool breath -
      it tingles my skin
      it makes me smile.

    Ella, your earthly beauty -
      is majestic
      is surreal.

    Another day, another time -
      I hope to see you bloom!

  • 28 Feb 2018 by Laurie Matez

     Today we left from Tel Aviv to go to Kfar Aza, a kibbutz on the border of The Gaza Strip.  One might ask themselves whether or not this is a safe place to be, and I too was curious as I had never thought of being in a place where I might be in danger. We were assured that we were safe, and that our experience would be intriguing. Upon arrival at Kfar Aza, we had the opportunity to meet with the childhood director for the gan on site.  She gave us insight into another childhood education system and style. We were lucky to speak with Ralph Lewinson, the sort of manager of the kibbutz to explain to us why he chose to live in this area and what the kibbutz life has to offer.  Ralph explained the history of where his family was from, and claimed “before I came to Israel I had no soul - I came HOME.” He also explained the manner in which children on this kibbutz...and around Israel are protected and that they do not live in fear.  They are aware of what goes on around them and best equipped to handle the challenges of living so close to the Gaza Strip. One final quote which touched my soul was that “Israel is an island of sanity in a sea of insanity.” Use your imagination to picture what that means for Israel, it’s people, and those around its land.

    We took a bus ride to a small area called Moshav, where we had a visit with a lady named Tzameret. She lives close to the Gaza area, and feels the daily stress of living in an area threatened by missiles.  She took her fear and created an art piece called “Path to Peace” wall where she created mosaic stones to be placed on a wall between Israel and Gaza. We participated in this amazing and moving workshop by placing our stones on the wall. We gathered together in front of the wall to sing “oseh shalom” as a group.  This was so powerful being all together with a common idea of peace for our world. Even though we stood not far from Gaza, there was a sense of calm, togetherness, and hope that there could one day be a peace for all.

    our final stop for the night was for a dinner in Yerucham.  We were treated to a dinner made by a woman who provides food for the people in her town.  She has a unique back story of her path in life, however, she has surely found her home here cooking for those around her.  She is one of the queens of Yerucham.

    off to Mashabey Sade kibbutz for our overnight!

  • 27 Feb 2018 by Sonia Ferreria

    What a different experience- impossible not to float. Floating in the Dead Sea is THE most unique experience I have ever had in my life! Walking into the water you can feel a salty ness on your skin. At waist level the water just seems to pick you up! It is a weird feeling at first, but I relaxed and it was fun and somewhat unbelievable that one can float so effortlessly. Floating in the Dead Sea is like a life lesson…Sometimes in life you just have to let go and go along for the ride, or float in this case! Once you let go, amazing things can happen! For me, the fact that I was floating in the Dead Sea made my heart full of joy!! I felt inspired and the luckiest girl in the world to have the sun shining above me. ~The most important tip is to have fun and enjoy the fact that you are floating in the saltiest body of water in the world and are standing on the lowest point of dry land on Earth!

  • 25 Feb 2018 by Laurie Matez

     Each day will begin with a welcoming of the day either through Music or conversation. Today we journey to the center of Jerusalem, the old city.  Our tour guide gives us a vast history of the Jewish people, Christian people, and Arab people. We enter the old city and immediately you can feel the difference from being outside the walls. Quaint streets, people walking everywhere, and of course a deep history.As we walked down the first street we see a man with a cart full of food rushing to this family, to get ready for Shabbat. We walk through the streets Learning and exploring the many sites within these walls. We have the opportunity to approach the Western Wall and place a  note among the many pieces of paper waiting for their wish to come true. It is eye opening to see the separation of the men and women, although all are deep in prayer and thought in this area. It is a moving experience to sit with others and explore the feelings we have of those who have not come to Israel, or those that we bring along with us wether  in their shoes, wearing their jackets, or just having them with us in our hearts. After a quick lunch, our guide takes us on a tour of the Christian quarter where we walk through the market to get to the Church of the Holy Sepluchre. It’s amazing architecture and structure are so detailed.

    we finish our day with a visit to Kol Haneshama synagogue to join the community in prayer. Dinner in the hotel ends our evening together, Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem!

  • Israel Experience participants enjoyed, "the rare opportunity to touch your roots." with an Archaeological Seminars Institute "Dig for a Day" program. 

    According to the ASI website, "The Dig for a Day program runs three hours. The activity includes: digging, sifting, pottery examination and touring the National Park of Beit Guvrin with an exciting crawl through unexcavated cave systems. Currently, Archaeological Seminars is digging at Tel Maresha, in the area of Beit Guvrin, ancestral home of King Herod. Vast underground labyrinths of man-made rooms are being systematically cleaned and give evidence of underground industrial complexes dating from the Hellenistic period. Remains of olive oil production, weaving installations, water cisterns and baths confirm a high level of material culture."

    We did the dig in 2 of the excavation rooms - Ana and Ronen. Half of the group did the crawl through the unexcavated cave system while the other half went to see how olive oil is made inside a fully excavated cave.

    Check out this quick slideshow of the ECE-RJ visit to the site.

  • 25 Feb 2018 by Carol Paster

    Pen Pals and Olive Wood 

    Shared by Carol Paster
    Photos shared by Tricia Ginis 

    What started out as a simple Facebook post by a fellow woodworker remarking that he was lucky to find a small olive tree branch on the side of the road became an international trades deal thanks to the kindness of strangers. Realizing that olive trees aren’t native to the east coast, I did a little research and found that this wood was from Jerusalem. 
    I immediately contacted Yosef who said he’d be happy to trade his olive wood for something less available in Israel. After 3 months of exchanging ‘pen pal letters’, I had all but given up hope on finding a way to meet Yosef. But leave it to Batya, our incredible tour guide, to arrange for Yosef to meet our bus as we passed by his town.

  • 24 Feb 2018 by Laurie Matez

    A visit to Mashabey Sade classrooms is the first thing on our agenda today.   It has been so wonderful to visit the classrooms in Israel, not only to see the differences, but to see the similarities. Although our languages are different, we are able to speak with the classroom teachers and get a sense of their daily routine’s. It truly is wonderful to see how valued the children are in Israel. They are number one. I believe as we take care of children on a daily basis, they should be .

    Next up, a short day hike in the Erin Avdat nature reserve. Any ideas of what the desert is have completely been removed from my mind. In previous thoughts I imagine sand dunes and many plateaus . This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The desert or Negev, is a wonderful example of layers and layers of history and rock, along with beautiful waters that flow through the land, trees many years old, and nature which grows in places we could not even know. The beauty of the Negev is how peaceful and serene it is all while divulging the history it has to offer.

    Imagine, that all your life you have not visited Israel. You have in your mind a picture of what you believe to be the western wall in the city of Jerusalem. The excitement builds as you’re driving in the bus closer and closer to the city limits. Upon arrival, the  surroundings change, and you begin to see a variety of Jewish people. As we ascend  the road to the top where Jerusalem lies, I get more and more excited as to what lies ahead. 

    We arrive at the Haas promenade for a blessing and a first glance from afar of the holy city.  I am eager to explore this city and to find my connection to its history.


  • 24 Feb 2018 by Susan Anderson

    On our seventh day, it was Shabbat. After those seven days of early mornings into late evenings of learning, exploring, processing, discovering and opening ourselves up to more emotions, questions and feelings than we ever thought possible we were very ready for Shabbat.  The morning started off slow wih some people opting to explore the city on foot, have a late, leisurely breakfast, find a new delicious coffee spot or catch up on some much needed sleep. At 10:30am, we all came together after our mornings in smaller groups or alone in Haatzmaut park.  We brought yoga mats onto the grass, gathered as close together as we could to begin our Shabbat experience. "Look where we are!" Shira gestured to the sky and our surroundings. To be together, in the middle of Jerusalem, experiencing this beautiful curated Shabbat celebration was absolutely incredible. 

    The park was full of different prayer groups, families enjoying the warm weather with a picnic or reading books, a group of people playing Frisbee and many people walking their dogs. We drew some attention and a handful of people came close and even joined in by sitting nearby or jumping on a yoga mat and going through the poses with us.  The community that we felt together began to blossom into the community of all of those around us. We weren't all saying the same prayers in the same way, but we were together in that beautiful park, called to be outside and experience something personal, but together. 

    The Shabbat experience incorporated song, prayer and chanting led by Shira Kline and special guests Yoel Sykes and Daphna Rosenberg from Nava Tehila. It didn't take long for our entire group to be surrounded by harmony as we came together over words both familiar and new.  Mary led us in "embodied morning prayer" stretching our bodies and breathing deeply. Laurie helped us explore our Spiritual Wardrobe and we ended dancing in a glorious smush. 

    After a quick lunch back at our hotel, we had some free time to use as we wished.  Everyone split off into small groups, some to do more exploring or shopping and a small group of us went to the Israel Museum.  

    The museum wasn't very crowded and full of interesting exhibits. It felt good to quietly walk in between exhibits and see everything from the modern Ai Weiwei exhibit to the Dead Sea Scrolls and everything in between.  The museum was surrounded by a gorgeous outdoor art garden that led to a breathtaking panoramic view of the city.  An exhibit of chimes filled the air with delicate music as you explored all of the different paths and sculptures. 

    This Ai Weiwei installation made entirely of Lego definitely spoke to the early childhood educator in me!

    We returned to the hotel with enough time to quickly get ready to meet back at the park for Havdalah. We sat in the falling twilight and allowed ourselves to really feel the transition from Shabbat to the week. We waited for stars to appear in the Jerusalem sky and were led in meditative music by Shira and guest vocalist Netanel Goldberg. "Sing however you need to to sing yourself home" Netanel guided us. Again, our voices raised into the skies of Jerusalem as we huddled closer than we thought possible and whispered a holy goodbye to Shabbat as darkness swept over the park. 




















    Each day on this trip I experience amazing things that will be forever solidified in my memory, but I think that Shabbat in Jerusalem, surrounded by this group of women, wrapped in songs, prayers and chants that have become a comforting soundtrack to my every day thoughts...this may be the memory that shines the brightest.

  • 23 Feb 2018 by Tricia Ginis

    The Israel Experience participants were fortunate to take in the inspiring work of the "Path of Peace" project. Find out more about this incredible project at the Path to Peace website.

    "Path to Peace" - is a joint mosaic creation, by thousands of people, towards hope, love, and happiness among all people. The creation is placed upon the border wall that divides the Gaza Strip and Israel, adjacent to the homes of Moshav Netiv HaAsara.

    The creation is seen from both sides of the wall, spreads on the gray security wall and completely changes the place's atmosphere.

    In this unique project, the visitors are invited to take an active part in the creation of the peace wall, every visitor writes a personal wish on the back of a colorful mosaic piece and glues it onto the security wall. The mosaic pieces are made by hand-work in the Path to Peace workshop. Among the colorful and optimistic pieces, we can find different designs such as flower and butterflies, mosaic pieces with the word Peace in different languages and more.

    Tricia Ginis shared some colorful photos of their visit to this unique site. 

  • Israel Experience particpants recently visited "Bustan Yafa" - a bi-lingual (Hebrew, Arabic) kindergarten, that operates according to the Waldorf educational methodology and serves children of both nations. The kindergarten was established in 2010 by Ihab and Ora Balha, out of a personal need to provide their own children with an educational solution that would continue the manner in which they were educating their children at home: integrating two languages, religions and cultures, in a path of love. Beyond bi-lingual education and multiculturalism, we also stress humaneness and respect between people and people and the earth, and works to educate towards sustainability. The children experience the connection between people and the earth, without harming the environment, while showing their respect for the earth and creation. Find out more at their website:

    Here are pics from our visit to Orchard of Abraham’s Children courtesy of Tricia Ginis:


  • 22 Feb 2018 by Laurie Matez

    Wow, wow, wow! I could not imagine that our second day could be even more momentous than the first.  I came to Israel as part of an educators trip to see preschools and learn about the land of Israel.

    I never imagined the impact I would feel from all my interactions and observations.

    We started our day with a visit to Ashkol Yachalom .  We were treated to a most delicious breakfast selection, followed by a delightful group of children singing songs of peace, love and harmony. We enjoyed a whirlwind visit to their gan, to see how they experience education in their communities.

    From there, we were on our way to the city of Holon. We met Rabbi Galit who gave us a short commentary on the creation and challenge of developing a pluralistic school community and congregation.  We went to visit these two ganim, and saw the differences from the one before. Each school has its own charm and its own style.

    Our third stop to the Orchard of Abraham children’s garden, was to me, the most touching.  We met Ihab, an Arab man, and his wife, Ora, a Jewish woman. We sat in the garden of their school for a brief introduction to their life and how this school came to be. These two created this school for their children so there would be a place of neutral learning and appreciation.  They hired both native Arab and Hebrew speakers as the teachers so the children would be exposed naturally to both languages and would not have to choose which they were more comfortable using, as they would be able to use what came to them automatically.  After some small confusion, we were invited back to their home for som lunch and the remainder of the story of how they met.

    We took off our shoes as we entered their sacred home and sat on the floor, eager to try the foods created by the women of the town who cook in order to make their living.  We feasted on homemade hummus, labeneh, rice with veggies, and various salads….all too delicious to describe.  While sitting in their home, they told us the story of their journey to be together and the unimaginable hatred they had to endure before they came together as one.  They have three beautiful children and a strength beyond words.

    We think that life is easy, but it is not. Each day there are real struggles all across our world.  These visits are eye opening to the long road ahead of us.  I reflect deeply on what I am seeing and ask myself how will this change me and the way I view others.

  • 20 Feb 2018 by Laurie Matez

    I am so lucky to be able to be in Israel on the trip of a lifetime. I’ve thought about my expectations for this trip, and I have set them aside. I go into this trip with an open mind and open heart to absorb all I can from the land of Israel.

     Our day begin with introductions and welcome of Shira (both Kline and song), encouraging us to reach into our very being and to feel all which we will experience.

    We started our tour with our guide, Eli, who took us through the neighborhood of Neve Tzedek.  This neighborhood is an old neighborhood, the first outside of Jaffa and sits in the shadow of the modern city Tel Aviv. We are introduced to many famous people who have helped to develop and settle the area.

    After this tour of the quaint city, we headed over to Independence Hall for an introduction to the history of when Israel became a state. We  listened as David Ben-Gurion read aloud the declaration of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. This was followed by the shehechianu  blessing and the singing of Hatikva, the national anthem of Israel, where we all stood and sang together.

    Following this emotional moment, we walked in the city to the Carmel shuk, or market.. It was exciting to walk through the narrow paths and look at all the colors of the fruits, vegetables, spices, candies  and other items for sale. It was a an explosion of the mind.

    We were treated to a graffiti tour by the artist Remi Meiri.  He took us through the streets to show us the artwork which is painted in the city to enhance the peoples experience as they walk or drive through the streets. We had a visit to his art studio, and were excited to paint our very own masterpiece on the city walls.

    To end our evening, we went to the cooking studio for a hands on experience creating delicious Israeli cuisine to eat. We had such fun sharing, laughing, and being in our hevruta, or friends group.

    I cannot imagine what tomorrow will bring.                         

  • 20 Feb 2018 by Shelly Sender

    What a love story!

    We visited the “Orchard of Abraham’s Children,” which is located in Jaffa, a mixed Arab-Jewish town, alongside Tel Aviv.   We were greeted so warmly by Ihab Balha  who was very excited to be surrounded by 40 women!  His charm along with his height and long black-gray hair coupled with a long white robe made a lasting impression.   He spoke Hebrew beautifully and he told us his unusual story about the creation of the school, “Orchards of Abraham”.

    We gathered in the school’s backyard garden surrounded by active  goats and rowdy chickens.  Ihab grew up in the house in which the school is located.  He is one of five children of a loving Palestinian Arab Muslim family. However, his father’s love only went so far. He hated Jews and he taught his children the same hate. Ihab worked in a restaurant where he encountered several negative interactions with a Jewish customer, but strangely enough, this turned into a lasting dialogue between the two of them.  His view of Jewish/Arab relationships slowly started to change, but never shared these views with his family in order to preserve his relationship with them. Ihab had a serious fall-out with his father when they got wind of his changing attitude towards the Jews.  They did not speak nor see one another for the next five years, a painful time for the entire family. For comfort,  Ihab turned to Islam and the Quran, and he became a Sufi mystic.  In 2008, Ihab reunited with his family and made pilgrimage to Mecca.

    At the age of 35, Ihab attended a retreat at Sinai where Ora, who was an Israeli Jewish woman, was  dancing around the fire.  He met Ora and fell madly in love with her.  They married two days after they met, and he struggled with how to tell his parents.

    Ihab decided to introduce her to the family without revealing that they were, in truth, married. He brought her home along with a group of Jewish and Palestinian Arab “friends,” the first time Jews had ever set foot in the Balha home. Ihab’s father told Ora and the other Jews how he hated and resented Jews who he believed had stolen so much from the Palestinians during the 1948.

    When Ihab’s dad was alerted about Ora through a cousin, he exploded and said  “You Jews have stolen everything from us, and now you steal from me my son!?” Ora said, “I love your son.”

    Ora was soon pregnant with their first child, and she and Ihab decided that they wanted to raise their son with Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslim Arabs. They had the vision of starting a nursery school but needed a building. Ihab’s parents volunteered their house, in which the school is today located. They call the school “The Orchard Of Abraham’s Children.” Ihab’s father visits the children each day and is a loving “grandfather” to them all, Arab and Jew.

    We were then invited to go to Ihab and Ora’s home where we were treated to a very authentic Palestinian meal as we engaged in further conversation. 

    What a heart wrenching and beautiful story!  The transformation of intense hatred to love and mutual understanding.  

    It was a beautiful afternoon!

  • ECE-RJ 2018 Israel Experience welcomes 40 Early Childhood Educators from across the US to learn and experience all that Israel has to offer!

  • 19 Feb 2018 by Susie Weiner


    With our humorous and very knowledgeable guide Elli we explored Neve Tzedek.  As a small group, we heard fascinating stories about how Neve Tzedek looked before Israel was a state.  This early morning walk and tour helped set the tone and historical relevance of the week ahead.  When we arrived at Independence Hall where the official declaration of the state of Israel was held in 1948, I bumped into a group of teachers from my local Detroit Hillel Day School.    It was a great reminder how small Israel is.


    During our free time for lunch, in the Shuk HaCarmel, my group saw some huge pomegranates, delicious halva and sumptuous spices.  I purchased all my gifts for my family that day.  DONE.


    After lunch we took a Graffiti tour.  I have done something like this in South Beach Florida on a vacation and it was very cool to compare cultures, murals, and graffiti between Florida and Israel.  The guide was a local artist who had so much knowledge to share and we even got to paint on a mural outside his studio. 


    We ended the day with an interactive cooking activity.  My group made shaksahuka, which is one of my favorite Israeli meals.  The chefs who were helping us gave us a glimpse into the gruff- cocky Israeli male stereotype.  As preschool directors, we called his bluff and found he was a teddy bear inside.  We worked as a team and ate like Queens Esther.  The group of 40 was already jelling and forming great connections.  That was only day one, it was awesome!


    Susie Weiner Temple Beth El ECC Director Bloomfield Hills, MI


  • 12 Feb 2018 by Christine Long

    We are looking forward to learning along with our Israel Experience participants. Bloggers can post travel tales, memorable moments and insights. We are also looking forward to viewing photos of the people and places encountered along the way. If you need help, please contact Tricia Ginis or Susie