Teenagers in Nirvana T-shirts and baseball caps clasping their water bottles danced joyfully as the hot sun hovered up above. No, this isn’t a snapshot from a typical day at a Tel Aviv beach, but rather, a celebration of Judaism and the completion of a new Torah scroll atop Mount Masada overlooking the Dead Sea.
These students were part of a group enrolled in a sixweek study abroad program at Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI-JNF), and there’s a good chance that many have never once danced in celebration for a Torah scroll. Yet, somehow their feet were moving with the surrounding rhythm, almost as if once they heard the music playing, their Jewish souls awakened to rejoice in the beating heart of the newly birthed Torah before them.
For the AMHSI-JNF students, Masada was just one stop in their summer experiential learning adventure, where they learn 4,000-plus years of Jewish and Israeli history outside the classroom, see for themselves why the Holy Land is unique, and experience where history took place.
“I like these trips because we learn about something in the classroom and then we get to see it with our own eyes,” said Jonathan Yass, an AMHSI-JNF student from North Carolina. “You hear about Israel as the Holy Land, but you never get the chance to come out and see the place. Now, I’m here and it’s amazing.”
For more than 45 years AMHSI-JNF has been credited with connecting young people to Israel and for also providing one of the best high-school educational experiences to help get students into the colleges of their choice.
On this day, the students visited Masada not just to learn more about and understand the history of the Jewish people. The stop there, and the pre-dawn 1,150foot climb up they made, was intended to celebrate the future of the Jewish people, as the students were also the first to witness the dedication of a just-completed Torah as part of Jewish National Fund’s (JNF-USA) new Be Inscribed
program, which provides donors the opportunity to purchase letters, sentences, Torah portions, or even the entire scroll in order to contribute to the legacy of the Jewish people.
“One of the greatest mitzvot [good deeds] is to write a letter in a Torah, and Be Inscribed
will allow hundreds to participate in this mitzvah and be connected to Torah,” said Ron Werner, an AMHSI-JNF alum from Denver, Colorado and incoming president of AMHSI-JNF’s board of directors.
“Donors will now have the opportunity to buy letters to honor those they love, be it in honor of a bar- or bat-mitzvah, a parsha
[Torah portion] for the weekend a happy couple is getting married, or even a sentence to celebrate the joy of a new baby,” said Werner. “We will connect people in America to Torah scrolls and Judaism, the same way we have planted 250 million trees in Israel for over a century,” he added.
Each completed Torah will be given to one of Jewish National Fund’s partner organizations in Israel, with the first going to Alexander Muss High School in Israel.
It is not an accident that Jewish National Fund-USA selected AMHSI-JNF to be the first recipient and for Masada to be the location for its Be Inscribed
Masada’s storied past of the Jewish people standing up to those wanting to vanquish them, coupled with AMHSI-JNF’spurpose of ensuring Jewish continuity, provides the perfect backdrop for such a momentous occasion and location.
“I know you’re all tired and exhausted,and you want to get off this mountain. Let us remember that our ancestors who were here 2,000 years ago – they were not able to do that,” said Rabbi Leor Sinai, co-executive director of AMHSI-JNF, in his reference to the revolt that took place against the Romans at the very spot two millennia before. “If it’s hard for you now in the heat of the sun, just imagine what it was like for them. This is a moment in your life that you will never forget.”
“There’s a reason why we’re here: This is history in the making. We are their legacy, and when you go home and you’re with your friends and peers, you’ll be sharing this story with them,” Rabbi Sinai added.
The celebration did not end at Masada though, as students continued to dance with their new scroll the following day at the school’s Hod Hasharon campus.
For some, even seeing the scroll itself was a transformative event. “One of the students told me that until yesterday she had never seen nor held a Torah scroll,” said Jewish National Fund CEO Russell F. Robinson.
“Here is a young woman who comes to Israel for her first time, never saw a Torah before, but now better understands 4,000 years of Jewish history because she’s learning it at Alexander Muss High School in Israel. There’s simply no other place like this.”
Jewish National Fund hopes that what happened that day on Masada – no matter how joyous – will be the beginning of a journey and not the end.
“I say to each of you that you’re here because you represent the future. Before you leave Israel, pick up a stone and put it in your suitcase to take home with you,” Robinson told the students. “However, I ask you to take upon yourself a responsibility, and that is to bring the stone back. If you make that promise true, we’ll have celebrations like this for thousands of years.” This article was written in cooperation with JNF-USA.
For more information, please visit: www.jnf.org/home.