11th Grade Reflections on Muss
Muss was different for every person depending on their individual perspective. Each experience is unique. And yet Muss is also this great common experience uniting everyone who participated. It changed all of our lives.
Before Muss, I was skeptical of those who would rave about how amazing Muss was and how they would never be the same after they returned. I couldn’t believe that Muss would live up to that much hype. But in the end, Muss exceeded my expectations.
It’s true that every day on Muss is special and memorable – it’s a three-month-long adventure. Nicole Epelboim ‘23 said the most meaningful moment for her was “one trip where we went to the Bar Kochba caves…, [where] we sat in the dark and lit matches so we could see each other and started singing various prayers and songs.” On Muss, we are so consistently assailed by breath-taking views and spiritually impactful lessons that we almost get used to constantly being awestruck.
Muss made me reconsider my Jewish identity and this was true for the people I spoke to. In Israel Studies, we learned the entire history of the Jewish people. Our teachers forced us to contemplate what Judaism means to us in ways that previously never occurred to us, our new perspective of the entire history of the Jewish people leading to deeper contemplation of the values that have driven us all this time. We also forged a very real connection with the land of Israel, which was something new to me, even though I had visited in eighth grade. I felt like I was on hallowed ground. Lila Elkins ‘23 remarked about Tzfat that “the air feels different there, holier, and closer to God.” Through all the hikes, simultaneously exploring the landscape and learning about the living history beneath our feet, we became physically and spiritually connected to Israel. One step at a time, we came to know and love every harshly beautiful and beautifully harsh inch and acre of the Promised Land. Elkins was so moved by the experience that she “ definitely know[s] that one day [she] want[s] to move to Israel.” When Muss ended, it felt like leaving home rather than returning to it.
During that plane ride, my acute sense of loss intensified with every mile. I felt – I feel – such a deep love for the land of Israel, completely separate from the complex politics and controversies that overwhelm it in the US.
That being said, Muss wasn’t always overwhelmingly positive. Sometimes it could be just overwhelming. I always heard about how much closer our grade would get on Muss, and while that did happen, it wasn’t always easy to navigate the constant socializing. When remarking on grade bonding at Muss, Lila Elkins ‘23 said that “Muss made me see everyone’s real personalities and learn to love everyone individually.” Spending so much time together brought everyone closer, but the lack of privacy and boundaries also caused friction. Nicole Epelboim ‘23 remarked that “the hardest part of Muss was constantly having to be around people and not having any real alone time. While I love my friends dearly, it was strange transitioning from seeing them mostly at school to being with them 24/7.” Communal living is really difficult. I thought it would be like a three-month-long sleepover, but the reality was more complicated. Having to live with people for an extended period of time makes it impossible to get away from all the little annoyances, like messiness and unexplained odors, and you inevitably get on each other’s nerves. Everyone has different living habits, and we had to learn to coexist and make accommodations, which couldn’t happen without some drama. Also, we all only have so much social stamina. No matter how much we love each other, being with other people all the time isn’t always effortless or healthy. It was hard to find time for ourselves, and it took a conscious effort not to let our self-care slip through the cracks amidst all the excitement and socializing. I think that ultimately, not only did we all learn valuable life skills that will help us when we’re living in dorms in college, but we also grew closer together by overcoming our small struggles and petty squabbles. Being tested and challenged strengthened our friendships.