I have to admit that I was skeptical about MUSS being a “life changing” experience that everyone raved about. However, I will say that MUSS was an incredible experience. From the beginning, I could tell that the Alexander Muss High School In Israel was a school like no other. Our first trip, about three days in (once the jet lag had worn off), was to Tel Gezer. We were all jittery, not knowing what to expect from our first tiyul, but it exceeded expectations. We learned how to navigate our huge maps, sit in the dust, and how much water to bring.
That first week involved a lot of classes, figuring out the campus, shopping at Ofer’s, an on campus store, and walking around Hod Hasharon. Shabbat was a welcome reset. We took pictures, sang songs, and recited prayers during Kabbalat Shabbat. We spent all of Saturday together as a grade, relaxing.
Come Tuesday we geared up at seven in the morning to hike Gilboa. Gilboa was nothing like what I expected. It was almost completely vertical, and we were all red and out of breath by the end. Its redeeming quality was that it ended with a trip to the Sachne springs. We spent our first overnight in Jerusalem, and woke up to a jam-packed day, involving water tunnels and the Kotel. Together in the tunnels, we walked in total darkness, singing along to multiple speakers. Our second Shabbat (but first off-campus one) was in Haifa. We spent the day at the beach, and stayed at a beachside hotel. Another Shabbat was spent at a Tel Aviv beach. Each night off campus was a welcome opportunity to room with new people and form new connections. One of my favorite days was hiking Masada. The day started around 4 AM, and after eating two rolls of bread for breakfast, we began the hike. It was tough, but the rising sun energized us. We had our Israel Studies class on top of Masada for the next five hours, including a moment to shout over the mountain, hearing our echoes. Luckily, we got to take the cable car down before refreshing in the Dead Sea. Other amazing trips included a day in Tzfat, the Bar Kochba caves, and seeing the ruins of a Crusader castle.
While the trips were super fun, another amazing part of MUSS was the liminal spaces, such as the bus rides, and the time in our dorms. I truly felt a deeper connection to many different students in my grade, especially people that I hadn’t had the chance to talk to before. On a religious note, as a grade, we spent Yom Kippur together in Jerusalem. Fasting together as a grade was incredible, and we ended the fast at the Kotel with hundreds of other hungry Jews.
Beyond spending time with the grade, I also got the opportunity to connect with family members and friends who live in Israel. I spent Rosh Hashanah with my cousins in Nofit, and Sukkot with family friends at the Kineret. MUSS gave me the time to connect with my family, my Judaism, and my classmates.
It’s impossible to talk about my MUSS experience without mentioning the war. On Friday, October 6th, we spent the day at the Jerusalem shuk, and the night in services, davening for Simchat Torah. We went to bed and expected to wake up for a full day of synagogue in Jerusalem. However, I awoke to banging on my hotel room door and the realization that I had slept through a Red Alert Siren. For the next five to six hours, we found ourselves running to the bomb shelter in the hotel multiple times. But, this did not stop us – we continued the Simchat Torah services in the shelter, connecting with other Jews in the hotel.
We had no idea what was happening. For the next five days, we stayed in bomb shelters, said goodbye to our beloved madrichim, who were called up to serve, and prayed for the safety of Israel. School kind of simmered out, except for Israel Studies, in which we continued to learn about the ongoing situation in Israel. We learned that we were leaving 12 hours before we did, and our last night was spent frantically packing, trying to fit everything into one suitcase. Most of my items were donated. The morning of our departure was rough, and we were forced to say goodbye to our second home far too soon. However, we were also grateful for our safety, especially when so many people couldn’t leave. I went to Europe for the first time (yay Rome!), even if I only spent the night in a hotel.
It was hard to adjust back home and back to regular school. School is so different here. I couldn't see my madrichim or my teachers anymore (and I was used to seeing them daily), and I had to say goodbye to family over text.
I also had to let go of everything we were supposed to do that we couldn’t. Yam Le Yam was supposed to be the Monday after Simchat Torah. Gadna. Two more open weekends with my family. The entire second half of MUSS.
Not being in Israel, especially in its time of need, was and is rough. Every morning I check the news and every night before bed I pray.
Back at campus, we’ve made the most of the situation. We have (almost) daily special classes with guest speakers, who discuss topics ranging from antisemitism on college campuses to their thoughts on the current conflict. We even had the opportunity to work with the art department to create a visual representation of our thoughts and feelings. We’ve gotten to talk with some Israeli soldiers, and we have constant discussions in our JS and Hebrew classes about the war and how we are feeling.