Epstein Class Trip was a Lifetime in the Making
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Epstein Class Trip was a Lifetime in the Making

The eighth-grade class at Epstein recently returned from a trip to Israel, having immersed themselves in the local culture and history.

Tefillah atop Masada on Yom HaShoah.
Tefillah atop Masada on Yom HaShoah.

For the eighth-grade class at The Epstein School, the world just got a little smaller. The Jewish world, in particular.

Thirty-two eighth-graders and their coordinators recently returned from their trip, having immersed themselves in the culture, history and cuisine of Israel.

Judson Siegel, 14, gained wisdom from his experiences and insight into local Israeli religious practices.

“Not everyone in Israel is very religious,” Siegel said. “It was interesting to see the difference in observance in Jerusalem versus other places, like Tel Aviv. This was surprising, as I expected that everywhere we went people would be very religious.”

The group is shown singing with Israeli Defense Force soldiers at the Kotel for kabbalat Shabbat.

For Epstein Middle School Principal and trip coordinator Susanna Ames, the primary concern was to provide a safe and meaningful experience for the students while also overcoming the challenges of international travel during a global pandemic.

“Given the current COVID situation, being able to take our eighth-grade Israel trip was not a forgone conclusion,” Ames told the Atlanta Jewish Times, adding that this year’s class trip required more logistical gymnastics than previous years had.

“We had to jump through many more hoops than in years past before we even got off the ground in Atlanta or began touring in Israel,” she said.

For Ames, the highlight of the trip was seeing how engaged, involved and cohesive the unit remained throughout the trip.

“Every single one of them was eager to have new experiences,” she said. “No one shied away from anything unknown. They dove in, took stock of the situation or experience and reflected.”

A group of eighth-grade girls from Epstein praying at the Wailing Wall.

Students soaked up Israeli history, architecture and street food; through that enrichment process, the group dynamics evolved and lifetime friendships were solidified.

“New bonds were formed and stronger connections emerged within the group because of all of the shared experiences,” Ames said.

She thanked the parents of the eighth graders for their trust and commitment throughout the school year and during the time that the Epstein students were abroad.

Other trip itinerary highlights included cruising around the Kinneret; off-roading in the Golan Heights; exploring the water tunnels in the City of David; visiting a variety of local synagogues in Jerusalem; doing tefillah at the Kotel; floating in the Dead Sea and sparking passionate and lively discussions about egalitarian Judaism in Israel.

While in Jerusalem, the eighth-graders encountered a bar mitzvah and jumped right in, singing Hebrew songs and dancing down the street with the rest of the celebrators.

Ames said that while visiting the water tunnels, the students sang in the dark and had everyone turn off their flashlights so they could navigate the pitch-black surroundings as a unit.

Epstein School’s eighth grade class is pictured with their madrichim at the Tayelet overlooking Jerusalem.

“These seemingly small moments were incredibly poignant for me as I knew that these were the moments they’d remember,” Ames said. “In Israel, making totally new memories with the people they’ve shared a million experiences with before.”

For Devin Sonenshine, 13, the excursion to the Dead Sea will stand out as one of the trip’s more memorable experiences.

“One lasting memory that I will cherish is when our whole grade went into the Dead Sea together and put mud on ourselves,” Sonenshine said.

Amy Nowitz, 14, who had previously visited Israel for her sister’s bat mitzvah, also shared her experience on the trip.

“I felt an emotional connection to Israel and strengthen my Jewish identity when I was there. I just felt different being there,” Nowitz said. “Now that I’m home, I will miss spending time with all my Epstein classmates and sharing different and new experiences with them.”

Epstein student, Hannah Throne, reading the Megillah HaAtzmaut in the World Zionist Organization’s Yom HaAtzmaut ceremony.

For a small group of seven students — including Siegel and a teacher — the two-week itinerary just wasn’t enough. They were forced to stay behind in Israel for a third week, as they had tested positive for COVID.

The group spent the week of what they dubbed “Epstein’s Covid Extension Trip” waiting out the end of quarantine, then further explored Tel Aviv, went to the beach, participated in a graffiti tour and visited the Carmel shul.

“Even though we weren’t able to go home with our class, we had fun swimming, eating meals together, hanging out and watching movies in our Airbnb in Tel Aviv,” Seigel said.

The full list of students who participated include: Ezra Adler, Brody Alterman, Sagiv Avigal, Judah Becker, Naomi Brager, Daniel Cohen, Kfir Cohen, Aidan Colker, Abbey Deckelbaum, Graham Gingold, Graham Goodhart, Matthew Grant, Heather Grant, Ezra Heller, Jesse Kaiser, Marion Kogon, Beny Leibowitz, Caleb Lyss-Lewis, Brianna Lyss-Lewis, Amy Nowitz, Ari Oshins, Solomon Raggs, Brock Rodgers, Davis Seitz, Jake Shulman, Judson Siegel, Tyler Silberman, Devin Sonenshine, Hannah Throne, Ryan Tritt, Alexander Tyryshkin and Leah Woolfson.

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