As a young kid, I grew up in Memphis, Tenn. My father got a job as a Marketing executive for Maybelline Cosmetics, and we moved from New Jersey to Memphis, Tenn. My mother enrolled in a Psychology MA, and later a PhD, program there, and we began our new life in the great southern state of Tennessee.
My sister and I attended a Jewish day school called the Memphis Hebrew Academy, or MHA for short. Perhaps you have heard of it recently…this past summer there was an attempted terror attack on the school, but due to preventative measures, there were no casualties, and the culprit was apprehended.
At MHA, we learned what it means to be a Jew in today’s modern world. We learned how to read Hebrew, write Hebrew, understand the daily tefilot, and love the Jewish holidays. Yes, the obvious holidays of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot were obvious ones. But, Yom Haatzmaut was a holiday that the school had to teach us how to appreciate.
Before Yom Haatzmaut, we learned songs like “Am Yisrael Hai”, and “Haveinu Shalom Aleichim”. We learned the map of Israel, and we decorated the halls with Israeli flags. We also learned Israeli traditional dances like “Shaftim Mayim” and we sang Hatkivah, the national anthem as the festivities came to a close.
Eventually, my father found a new job for another cosmetic company, Aziza/Cutex, up North…and we had to move to our Yankee roots once again. We moved to Connecticut…to a small town, with a tiny Jewish Day School called Hillel Academy. It was quaint, quiet, and unassuming. At the school hey-day there were 116 students from Kindergarten through 8th grade. Yet, the curriculum was similar to the MHA, just a smaller student body, with different New York accents. No longer were we saying “Shalom Y’all” and now we were suddenly Yankees and Mets fans vs. the Memphis University Tigers NBA fame.
When we learned about the Jewish holidays, there was an Israeli teacher who would teach us songs about each holiday. I connect to songs very strongly. I learned every word of each Naomi Shemer song by heart. I lived and breathed those songs…yearning for a time that I too, could travel to Israel.
Many of my best friends had gone to Israel on summer trips, or to visit family or friends. The longest trip I had ever been on was the one from Memphis to New York, which we sometimes took to visit grandparents and cousins up North. My latest flight that I could remember was the 4-hour flight that included our smuggled hamsters(in a peanut butter jar with holes…thanks to Mom’s ingenuity), and a drugged dog that was not ever the same after she took a tranquilizer to knock her out for the flight. I could not imagine a flight to Israel…11-12 hours on a plane…the thought was mesmerizing and terrifying all at once for a kid of 12 years old.
Yet, all of my friends said that the flight was great, they projected movies the whole time, for the entire flight. The food was Kosher, and the captains, stewards and stewardesses were Jewish Israelis. And, that was only the beginning…once you got there you could visit the Holy Land, the land of the Jewish Nation. Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, the Golan, the Galil, the Dead Sea, the Red Sea, and Gaza (Yes, it was in our hands at the time)…were all easy to reach via car, bus, and even sometimes small aircraft.
I remember praying that one day I could go to Israel. And, then…something magical happened. Our principal at Hillel Academy, Rabbi Nahum Amsel, entered our classroom before the Passover holiday and told our classes that we, the 6th-8th graders were about to embark on a wonderful adventure…a trip to Israel.
“What?!?” we all screamed in delight. “Ok, Ok, calm down” Rabbi Amsel replied. “We are creating a very special school-wide adventure for Yom Haatzmaut. We are going to take a trip to Israel!” We all looked at him quizzically. I remember my friends and I rolled our eyes at each other…how could we go to Israel…the whole school? There were murmurs and whispers in our class. Rabbi Amsel explained “We are creating a pretend trip to Israel for our school, each of you will be working with a team of teachers to create a flight to Israel…complete with passport control, a captain of the ELAL plane, a flight with stewards and stewardesses, snacks, and beverages. Others of you will help us decorate each of the Middle School classrooms as important places to visit in Israel. You will decide how to give the younger grades a tour of these particular sites and teach the students something about that particular space.
“Wow! That is so cool!” We were all chattering and fist-bumping each other, and asking each other what we would do…be in charge of the flight or the room tours. It was as if our 5th to 8th grades suddenly felt we had a mission to teach the younger grades about the State of Israel. We could not wait to get involved. It was a mission of pride, and joy to do so.
Weeks of planning ensued. My sister was a Co-Captain of the plane. My father gave her an old sports jacket, and I remember decorating it with epaulets to mimic the look of a real Captain’s jacket. We found a hat to match the look, too. She was so excited to take her role. And she practiced her “lines” for the takeoff, the turbulence, and the landing.
When the kids arrived at school that day, they received pretend Passports. The different classes were given a time for their flight, were shuttled through customs, and then entered our Zimmer Hall, a small social hall that was usually used as a lunch room during the week, and for shul kiddushes on Shabbat afternoons.
The hall was set as if kids were boarding a plane. Seats were assigned. Kids were told to “buckle their seatbelts” by their stewards and stewardesses. And, we were off…yes, the flight was an easy ride. There were a few mentions of turbulence by the staff. Some of the crew complained that the kids did not enjoy their peanuts and were throwing them on the floor. But, overall it was a success.
When the plane landed, we all clapped and “Hallelujah” played on the loudspeaker. Just like on an ELAL plane at the time. I am amazed how even in today’s day and age, Israelis are quick to clap when they land in the State of Israel on a flight. It is an affirmation that “Yes, we have made it safely to our HOME.”
The rest of the day continued with tours of Jerusalem in one room, followed by Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea and Masada, and the Israeli Shuk. There was falafel and pitot for lunch that day, as well as hummus and tahini. At the time, none of those items were easy purchases to find at Trader Joe’s. I honestly have no idea how the school procured them. I imagine that they sent some parents to Brooklyn or Queens to beg for some small falafel stands for their recipes and ingredients for the Israeli delights.
Of course, there were flags…lots and lots of Israeli flags. We were so excited to take them home. I remember keeping mine on the shelf in my room for many years afterward. And, I still have a HUGE affinity for seeing Israeli flags hanging all over this beautiful country that I call home. As we say in Israel לא מובן מאליו this beautiful flag can hang proudly and with honor in this beautiful country.
I think that this Educational moment, lead by Rabbi Nachum Amsel, and our other teachers and staff members was a terrific teaching moment. It was a way in which we could all live and breathe the moment of being in Israel for a day. Even if we did not really travel there, we as the students tried our hardest to make the trip as real, and true as we possibly could. None of my friends from that time have forgotten that incredible moment. We ALL continue to have a huge love of the land of Israel, its people, and its purpose.
I wondered what song could conjure up the feelings of home, and there it was…My friend Phyllis uploaded a Koolulum video and shared it on a community women’s group in my neighborhood. For those who do not know Kululum is a group that creates massive choirs in a matter of hours. They teach a song, have three to four-part harmonies, and record it for all to enjoy. Often the songs are Israeli pop hits. The participants pay a small fee to participate. The results of the musical experience are incredible. And, the diversity of the audience is always astounding.
This time, the Koolulum project decided to create a worldwide song to protest the Kidnapping of over 239 people on the dreaded October 7th day that will be forever known as the Black Sabbath to many Israelis. The group decided to make the recording not only in Israel but throughout the world. Watching that video brought tears to my eyes, as I realized how powerful a song can be in a time of need, in a time that we really just need a prayer for our Kidnapped victims to just come HOME.
May our God in Heaven help our Kidnapped victims come home. Perhaps they will not need a flight. For, they were already blessed to be living in this incredible land. But, it is time for God to hear our prayers. Bring them home.