By Amy Sapeika, PTO President
My first clue that this family trip was going to be different was the loud cheering when we first told our children that we had booked flights to Israel for Sukkot. My 9-year-old and 7-year-old sons immediately began firing off facts about all the sights that they wanted to see, and their 4-year-old brother shared in their enthusiasm. We have traveled extensively with our children, but we had never taken them to Israel because I had always felt that they were too young to handle and appreciate such a big trip.
I initially feared a disaster: two weeks of cranky kids complaining about unfamiliar food and long days of touring. My children proved me wrong! Our trip became a wonderful opportunity for us to see the impact that their Hillel Day School education has had on them, in both the depth of their knowledge and their confidence in their Jewish identity.
When our guide posed questions about historical sites in Jerusalem, our children readily responded, recounting details from the Torah and facts about the Jewish experience throughout history. They appreciated the significance of the ancient sites, and asked thoughtful questions. They were eager to pray at the Kotel, and each engaged in age-appropriate personal prayer with ease and confidence.
When we first entered a gift shop in Jerusalem, I expected the kids would ask for touristy junk. Instead, they asked for dreidels. They excitedly explained that in Israel, the dreidels have different letters because they stand for “a great miracle happened here,” as opposed to the dreidels at home where they stand for “a great miracle happened there.” With their new dreidels in hand, they insisted on playing a game in the Old City, because what could be cooler than playing with the Israeli dreidel “here,” where the miracle actually happened.
The boys also impressed us with their Hebrew language skills. They conversed and played with their Israeli cousins, making up games, and telling jokes in a combination of English and Hebrew. They helped us interpret signs and menus, and laughed when they discovered signs with English words transliterated into Hebrew such as טכנולוגיה (technology).
Our children far exceeded our expectations. It wasn’t luck. Their Hillel education has equipped them to understand, appreciate, and love all that Israel had to offer, and what the country means to the Jewish people. As parents, it was an incredible insight into the invaluable gift we are giving our children by sending them to Hillel.