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Sophomores Go On First Ever Heschel High School Washington Trip

After a four-hour bus ride, Heschel’s sophomore class arrived at The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Students were granted freedom to roam independently and ample time to absorb the tragic history on display. Each student felt the impact of the Holocaust differently as they explored the museum. 

Sophomore Jordan Nili said, “Personally, although I come from an Iranian background with no direct ties to the Holocaust, I still found myself deeply moved.” 

Sophomore Danni Grinker said, “My experience at the museum was made more meaningful by the fact that I had taken the 10th grade Holocaust literature elective first semester. The museum really helped to contextualize the personal accounts that I had read of what it was like to live through this genocide. Of course, I had a decent amount of previous knowledge on the Holocaust, but during my trip to the museum, I paid extra attention to learning about the Nazis’ rise to power. I think it is important to understand how authoritarian regimes arise in the first place so that we can identify the warning signs in contemporary contexts.” 

After the Holocaust Museum, the students ate delicious falafel and shawarma at the Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center. Then, they attended the interactive comedic murder mystery Shear Madness. The show features five characters who come together in a barber shop one morning. At the end of the first act, the lady living on the floor above them dies. The characters leave hints throughout the entire first act to help the audience figure out who committed the murder, and then, during the second half, the audience questions the suspects to uncover the true murderer. 

Sophomore Gaia Reisfeld said, “I really liked that the play was engaging, and it was nice that we had a say in the plot. It was a very nice and happy way to end such a long day.” 

After attending morning services at the University of Maryland Hillel, students took a guided walking tour of D.C., visiting The Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. Students learned about the memorials while walking around with friends and enjoyed the memorials’ beauty. 

Later that day, the sophomores walked around Old Town Alexandria. They visited shops, walked along the river, and enjoyed local ice cream. 

Sophomore Charlie Shiff said, “It was nice to have a little break just to hang out in between all the really cool places we went to.” 

Sophomore Amelie Prevor said, “It was great to walk around with friends– I got lemon sorbet and a bracelet!” 

In the afternoon, the students were invited to the White House Executive Building to speak with Heschel alumni Gabriel Barnett. Barnett is a Senior Legal Assistant in the White House Counsel’s Office and a Senior Advisor in the Office of Public Engagement. At the time the sophomores met with him, he was also serving as the Acting White House Liaison to the American Jewish Community. Barnett spoke about his path to his current position as Biden’s senior advisor for Jewish public engagement, as well as his work for the Democratic Party since his junior year of high school. After Barnett finished speaking, he opened the floor up to questions. Students asked him questions about his opinions on Israel, his day-to-day schedule and his plans for the future. 

Sophomore Bobby Covit reflected on meeting Barnett: “Being inside the White House complex, especially so close to the West Wing, was an enormous privilege, and Gabe Barnett was so welcoming to us. Having a recent Heschel alum who is already so accomplished is very inspiring for me and I’m sure for my peers as well. I mean… what a role model to have.” Many students marked the visit as the highlight of their trip. 

On Thursday morning, the trip concluded with a visit to the African American Culture and Heritage Museum. The main exhibit covered the history of African Americans over hundreds of years in the Americas, including slavery, the Jim Crow and Reconstruction eras, and the civil rights movement. The rest of the museum was filled with interactive and colorful exhibits showcasing African American culture. 

Sophomore Omer Dayan said, “I think it was really interesting to learn about African American culture, and I will definitely come back in the future so that I can see more exhibits.” 

After the museum, the sophomores boarded the bus and headed home. The students arrived home tired, happy and fulfilled with their learning experiences in Washington D.C.

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