One of the questions I often get asked is, what makes Moriah different to other schools? As a non-Jew and a person who is not part of the local community, I feel that I can answer this question quite objectively. For me, it is without doubt the Jewish life of the school. There are many other schools with similar excellent academic and co-curricular programs, but there is only one Moriah for Jewish life.
We often think that Jewish life is tefillah, Jewish Studies, Jewish History and Hebrew, and after going on this year’s Israel Study Tour (IST) with Year 11, I have a far greater understanding of Jewish life and realise that Jewish life is far more than just the formal curriculum.
I believe that IST is not just another school trip, it achieves many of our aspirational Jewish Life goals whereby all Moriah students should:
- Learn about Judaism
- Experience a deep sense of belonging
- Feel connected to Israel
- Be immersed in Jewish values and traditions
- Learn that they are each a link in the chain of Jewish continuity
I feel so incredibly privileged to have been able to attend IST with the Year 11 students. Not only were they an amazing group of students to be away with, the experiences I was able to be a part of were amazing. I feel that after being on IST, I have a far greater understanding of Judaism, Jewish Life, and Israel and it has really helped me to understand Moriah and all of its nuances so much better.
This was my very first trip to Israel and I feel so incredibly lucky to have had this experience and to be able to see and experience Israel through a Jewish lens. Many of the students have said that IST was an unforgettable experience, where they made memories that will last a lifetime. I feel exactly the same way.
So, as a non-Jew, what was so memorable about IST?
- I had my first Shabbat experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was so impressed by the way in which the students participated in the prayer services, the evening Tisch, and by the ruach and spirit in which the students participated in all activities. I also loved listening to the passionate debates about Judaism in parliamentary time. After a very busy week, I also really appreciated the opportunity to slow down, to rest and to reflect on the week that had passed. I came away thinking that Jewish people are so incredibly lucky to have Shabbat to look forward to each week. I know that whilst I was on IST, I began to look forward to each Friday evening!
- I was so fortunate to be in Israel to commemorate Yom HaShoah, to hear the sounding of the siren and to see Jerusalem come to a stop. I was also in Israel for Yom Hazikaron and had the opportunity to attend two services and listen to the moving stories of families who had lost loved ones. I then got to experience the celebrations for Yom Ha’atzmaut and see the pride that people have, living in Israel. During my two weeks in Israel, I got to experience things that many Jewish people have never had the opportunity to experience.
- I loved visiting Mea Shearim and having a tour of this area with our guide, who explained the practices and beliefs of the different Jewish groups who live in this area. In many ways, this was one of the highlights of the trip for me as I found this absolutely fascinating.
- I really enjoyed visiting outstanding and highly informative museums such as Gush Etzion Heritage Visitors Center and Khan Sha’ar HaGai, which explained the persistence and struggles experienced in the formation of Israel.
- Visiting the Kotel was very special, to be able to see people fervently praying, and to see boys from around the world celebrating their Bar Mitzvahs surrounded by family and friends. Being at the Kotel with our students highlighted for me how important the Kotel is for Jewish people.
- As a History teacher, I was in my element, being surrounded by thousands of years of history every single day and hearing all of the different stories. Each time we would visit a site, I would spend hours afterwards researching so that I could learn more. I just kept wanting to learn and know more. Visiting Masada, the Old City, the Dead Sea, Jerusalem, and Tiberias, I felt like I was immersed in so much that I had grown up learning about.
- And most importantly for me, seeing the students soak up all of these experiences and their levels of engagement and appreciation.
I have heard about IST for many years, and it is only when you get to experience this amazing trip with the students that you understand its power, importance, and significance in providing students the opportunity to truly connect with their Jewish life, their heritage, and their sense of identity.
I feel incredibly grateful to have had this unique opportunity as a non-Jew, which I will never forget. I feel a great bond with the Year 11 students who were absolutely wonderful and I am so glad that I got the chance to eat lots of rugelach and drink loads of iced coffee!
Having worked internationally for many years, I have been on many overseas trips, but I can honestly say that I have never been on a student trip like IST. For me, IST encapsulated the Jewish Life of our great school and really is a living example of our point of difference and what makes us very different to all other schools.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Hemphill is the Head of High School at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.