BY NATHALIE BOLDUC —
While most SHS students were taking final exams, Kayla and Eliana Wasserman, juniors, were exploring Israel and Poland.
Their trip lasted two months, from April 23 to June 23, including a one-week visit to Poland at the beginning and the remainder spent in Israel.
Eliana and Kayla travelled with a group from Alexander Muss High School in Israel. Schools can use this program to organize trips, but the Wassermans have always been connected to it.
“I always expected to go because my parents were always so involved in the program and helping out the director,” Eliana said.
The Wassermans chose this specific session because it fit best with their schedules and because they thought it would have a bigger impact on their lives.
“This program was different because I was a lot older … and we learned about the actual issues of Israel and not just, ‘Israel is perfect,’” Eliana said.
Their session was the first of its kind to do the March of the Living, an event where thousands of Jews march from Auschwitz to Birkenau, the largest concentration camp complex built during World War II.
In addition, the Wassermans also visited museums and camps in Poland. This part of the trip was very structured, so there was not much time for individual exploration.
“I would like to go back to Poland for a more relaxed trip and look at Europe,” Eliana said.
“There’s so much more you can see beyond Shorewood,” said Kayla.
Both Eliana and Kayla agreed that the people were the best part of the trip. Students came together from various states and even Canada to participate.
“I don’t know how I would’ve met those types of personalities if it wasn’t for this trip,” Eliana said.
In order to keep up with their classes back home, the students all had tutors to help them with their work. Shorewood teachers mailed the Wassermans notes and tests for them to take.
“It was really stressful and everyone was really high strung,” Kayla said, due to only having four days to complete all of the work that usually took five.
“Looking back I had so much fun, but living in it was so stressful,” Kayla said. “Studying abroad is really different in general because you’re not there to have a really fun vacation, you’re there to learn things.”
When they were not doing schoolwork, the Wassermans hiked, learned about the culture and sightsaw.
“It was very outdoorsy, but there was also the aspect of the modern part,” Eliana said.
They experienced deserts and mountains, as well as the technology and innovation of the cities.
“It’s so breath-taking; a camera can’t even capture what you’re seeing … it’s unbelievable,” Eliana said.
One of the biggest differences the Wassermans noticed between Israel and Shorewood was how upfront people are there, as well as the continuous activity.
“There’s no down time … even though stores have to close, everything is still moving, which is amazing to see,” Eliana said.
“Everyone goes through the army so they all think they are very tough,” Kayla said, which contributes to the people’s forward behavior and hospitality.
The Wassermans also experienced the Israeli-Palestinian conflict firsthand.
“Because I was there, I definitely know more about what’s going on and I care more than the average Joe,” Eliana said.
About an hour after they left a border town, there were rocket strikes. The Wassermans have family currently living in Israel, and it is very scary because “they wake up not knowing if they’re safe and have to go to bomb shelters daily,” Eliana said.
Kayla and Eliana both plan on returning to Israel.
“I feel like as a Jewish person, I have a responsibility to go there and experience it, because that’s our homeland and we have to defend it and be a part of it,” Eliana said.
Kayla would like to go back either before she graduates high school or during college, as that is something that many of her Jewish peers do.
“The experiences I went through and the things I saw were so beautiful,” Kayla said.
“I find myself always thinking about [Israel] and its existence,” Eliana said.