6th Report From Israel 23.2.23

Hey everyone!

Sorry for the long gap, things have been really hectic here. They still are but I have a spare minute so decided now would be the perfect time to catch up. Continuing on from where I left off last time; the end of Chanukah was amazing. After I said goodbye to Mummy, Daddy and Tzivia, I got on a bus to head back to Tzfat, but in Israel, the land of crazy bus stories, this too turned into another ‘episode,’ because after just a few minutes the bus broke down and they had to bring a replacement. When I finally got back, I arrived during a special Chanukah activity: colour war. More specifically, an intense debate on the themes of both teams. But that was fun, especially as the next day was all tests.

But these weren’t regular tests for the academic subjects we are learning in Sem. No, I am now certified to do CPR, identify when someone is going through an asthma attack or having a heart attack, I can use an epipen, and perform the Heimlich manoeuvre (I still remember when Daddy had to perform that one in a restaurant.) I also know a bunch of  what will hopefully remain theoretical info (albeit useful for a trivia quiz.) I am also able to tell you exactly how to apply the various different types of  tourniquets, but as we weren’t taught the practical for that I’ll be useless in real life, so I don’t think you’d want me with you in a dangerous situation. 

But anyways, back to the matter at hand. After Chanukah we had an amazing overnight trip down to Eilat. We stopped after 4 hours in order to climb Masada at dawn, which was amazing seeing the sun rise over the mountain where my ancestors held their last stand against the Romans before giving their lives in self sacrifice. From there we went straight to Ein Gedi where we first did a water hike, and then went scrambling up mountains. Some slight relaxation as we floated in the Dead Sea, and then it was on to Eilat. During supper we were treated to an amazing speaker and then we got to sleep in a hotel. The next morning we were split up into groups, and were sent to various schools where we gave lessons to the kids, all in Ivrit, but it was amazing. I think the Sem thought we were training for the IDF, as we then went on another hike, a real one, like scrambling through rocks kind of hike. This one was in the Red Canyon, and we were treated to breathtaking views. It was awesome and totally worth the aching muscles. 

Then, with barely a moment to breath, exam season started. 3 big exams a day. It was nonstop tests, nonstop learning. For almost 2 whole weeks. That’s 26 exams in total! But during that intense period I got a really nice surprise, as a very good friend from London who I haven’t seen in half a year came to visit me.

And then came our end of semester break, a well deserved one at that. 

I went with a friend to Yerushalayim where we went museum hopping. We began on Thursday, when we visited the Burnt House (in the Old City). This is the remains of a house from the Second Temple period, which was burnt in the conflagration during the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash in the year 70 CE. Due to the ash everything is preserved as it was then, which together with a video depicting the story of the family who had lived there at that time, really brought everything to life. Then later in the evening, we did the Kotel tunnel tours. The tours take you underground along the entire length of the Western Wall (the Wall that we see in the Plaza is less than a quarter of the actual length), until we reached ground level, standing on the very stones our ancestors walked on their way to the Bet Hamikdash. 

Friday was a heavier day, as we went to Yad Vashem. It was heartbreaking but a really moving experience. One thing that really shook me was looking at a page ripped out of a book planning the final solution; the book listed cities and how many Jews were in each city. On a page of 19 cities, at the bottom was the number 11,000,000! They truly wanted to murder us all, including the 350,000 Jews that were living then in the UK. We could have spent hours there, but since it was Friday we had to leave early, so we sort of rushed through all the hard parts of the actual concentration camps. 

We were staying with my cousin who lives directly across from the famous Ben Yehudah Shuk, so of course we went there right before Shabbos. Now that was an amazing experience, the crowds of people all rushing to get their last minute purchases before Shabbos created pushing on a whole different level. But I found gluten free Challah and cake for Shabbos so I was very happy. Sunday was back on the museum tour, this time to ANU, in Tel Aviv. I had been there with Daddy last year, but it was still a lot of fun. For one, I knew what to miss, and two I learned so much as it is such a large museum that we had to skip parts last time. We were there for ages, and almost the entire time was spent on massive interactive exhibit dedicated to Jewish History. Although I was a tiny bit disappointed, as they had changed something, taking away one of my favourite parts from last time, but whatever:)

That Shabbat off was our “half term” and I got back to Tzfat just over a week and a half ago, and it’s been full swing into the second half of Sem. But they didn’t give us a moment to breath, as 3 days after the semester started, they broke out the Sem Play – to be performed 6 days later. In Ivrit! But it was very fun and a nice challenge to act in a new language. So whilst busy with that, we had to get back into the swing of things. Some of the lessons are new so we got new teachers, but there are still all of my favourite ones. And as ever we have our programmes. Last night we had an amazing speaker, Mrs Chana Margoulis, who told us parts of her amazing life story. She grew up on a farm in Canada barely knowing anything about Judaism. Her family then moved to the city where she went through a rebellious teenage stage, from drugs to Buddhism, then finally finding Judaism. And then just as she was settling down and had started her seminary year in Israel she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. She went back to Canada and Baruch Hashem the treatment was successful and she now lives here in Tzfat. Her talk was really inspirational, and she shared with us how she overcame her challenges, and gave us practical tips for life. I bought her book “Jumping in Puddles” which I will be bringing back here with me.

Now we have just started the month of Adar, and for us it means 2 things. One: as it is the month of Purim, we party and dance every night and we do a load of harmless tricks (or “shticks” as they are known) on our teachers, without getting into too much trouble. And two: it is just 29 days till I fly home. 

Lehitraot, see you in less than month!!


Ps. Here’s a poem I wrote after I visited Yad Vashem 






Just rows upon rows of numbers 

Marching by


Then simply gone 

Swallowed up into oblivion.

These numbers used to have an identity 

A name 

A past

But now they are just a number 

A digit 

Lost in the myriads

6 million.


Numbers or identities 

Numbers or names

Numbers or people 

What are we going to remember?

The sheer magnitude of it all

The total tragedy 

Of 6 million no more?

Or will we remember the personal 

The stories 

What lies behind each number.


The 6 million people 

That make up this horror

Each had a past 

And they should have had a future too.

But it was taken 

Stolen from them 

Along with their identities

Let us not remember 6 million numbers 

Let us remember the 6 million people 

Let us count 6 million lives


Standing at ground level in the Western Wall Tunnels on the very stones that the Kohanim would walk along on their way to the Temple 2000 years ago.

From a Nazi killing camp to a Terrorist attack in Jerusalem – the journey of a gold necklace

This Shabbat, 20th Av marks 16 years since the Sbaro bombing in Jerusalem. Here is a heart-warming story to emerge from that horror.


When a train filled with a large transport of Jewish prisoners arrived at one of the Nazi killing centres, many Polish gentiles came out to watch the latest group as they were taken away. As the disoriented Jews were gathering their possessions to take with them into the camp, a Nazi officer in charge called out to the villagers standing nearby, “Anything these Jews leave behind you may take for yourselves, because for sure they will not be coming back to collect them!”


Two Polish women who were standing nearby saw a woman towards the back of the group, wearing a large, heavy, expensive coat. Not waiting for someone else to take the coat before them, they ran to the Jewish woman and knocked her to the ground, grabbed her coat and scurried away. Moving out of sight of the others, they quickly laid the coat down on the ground to divide the spoils of what was hiding inside.


Rummaging through the pockets, they giddily discovered gold jewellery, silver candlesticks and other heirlooms. They were thrilled with their find, but as they lifted the coat again, it still seemed heavier than it should. Upon further inspection, they found a secret pocket, and hidden inside the coat was …. a tiny baby girl!


Shocked at their discovery, one woman took pity and insisted to the other, “I don’t have any children, and I’m too old to give birth now. You take the gold and silver and let me have the baby.” The Polish woman took her new “daughter” home to her delighted husband. They raised the Jewish girl as their own, treating her very well, but never telling her anything about her history. The girl excelled in her studies and even became a doctor, working as a paediatrician in a hospital in Poland.


When her “mother” passed away many years later, a visitor came to pay her respects. An old woman invited herself in and said to the daughter, “I want you to know that the woman that passed away last week was not your real mother …” and she proceeded to tell her the whole story. She did not believe her at first, but the old woman insisted.


“When we found you, you were wearing a beautiful gold pendant with strange writing on it, which must be Hebrew. I am sure that your mother kept the necklace. Go and see for yourself.” Indeed, the woman went into her deceased mother’s jewellery box and found the necklace just as the elderly lady had described. She was shocked. It was hard to fathom that she had been of Jewish descent, but the proof was right there in her hand.


As this was her only link to a previous life, she cherished the necklace. She had it enlarged to fit her neck and wore it every day, although she thought nothing more of her Jewish roots.


Sometime later, she went on holiday abroad and came across two Jewish boys standing on a main street, trying to interest Jewish passers-by to wrap Tefillin on their arms (for males) or accept Shabbos candles to light on Friday afternoon (for females). Seizing the opportunity, she told them her entire story and showed them the necklace. The boys confirmed that a Jewish name was inscribed on the necklace but did not know about her status. They recommended that she write a letter to their mentor, the Lubavitcher Rebbe ZT”L, explaining everything. If anyone would know what to do, it would be him.


She took their advice and sent off a letter that very same day. She received a speedy reply saying that it is clear from the facts that she is a Jewish girl and perhaps she would consider using her medical skills in Israel where talented paediatricians were needed. Her curiosity was piqued and she travelled to Israel where she consulted a Beis Din who declared her Jewish. Soon she was accepted into a hospital to work, and eventually met her husband and raised a family.


In August 2001, a terrorist blew up the Sbarro cafe in the centre of Jerusalem. The injured were rushed to the hospital where this woman worked. One patient was brought in, an elderly man in a state of shock. He was searching everywhere for his granddaughter who had become separated from him.


Asking how she could recognize her, the frantic grandfather gave a description of a gold necklace that she was wearing. Eventually, they finally found her among the injured patients.


At the sight of this necklace, the paediatrician froze. She turned to the old man and said, “Where did you buy this necklace?”


“You can’t buy such a necklace,” he responded, “I am a goldsmith and I made this necklace. Actually, I made two identical pieces for each of my daughters. This is my granddaughter from one of them, and my other daughter did not survive the war.”


And this is the story of how a Jewish girl, brutally torn away from her mother on a Nazi camp platform almost sixty years ago, was reunited with her father.


[Adapted from the book “Heroes of Faith”, via Cindy Greenstein Vaughn]