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Heschel Sophomores Take on the Negev

Olivia Levine ’25

On April 23, the Heschel sophomores commenced their long journey to the Negev, an important part of their trip to Israel. After visiting the Supreme Court and volunteering at a local Hesed project, the sophomores headed to what would become one of the most memorable moments of that trip.

After the four-hour bus ride to the dropoff location, the sophomores began their first hike of the trip. Maya Seltzer recounts that she was “slightly nervous since the next few days were full of uncertainty. What would sleeping outside be like? How would eighty-two of us deal with this new environment? Despite the uncertainty, I was excited because even though [the desert?] can be nerve-racking, it’s also thrilling”

Following the hour-long hike to the camp, the group set up their sleeping areas, consisting of a foam pad and a sleeping bag. Additionally, they were given some soup and tea, which became a staple over the next three days. As the sun set, the sophomores were served pita, schnitzel, an assortment of salads, and tahini for dinner. 

To pass the time, some started a poker game using sugar packets from the Kibbutz they had stayed at previously. Miriam Gross described this as “so much fun, and …so many great laughs. The Negev brought me closer to people through the simple things in life. In the Negev, we were cut off from many things, but that’s what made us appreciate a simpler lifestyle and create bonds with people we never thought we would before.” 

The second day of the trip was mainly centered around hiking through the Negev. Parker Slarskey, an avid hiker in her free time, was initially worried about hiking in the sweltering heat. However, Slarskey stated that “after the first part, it was pretty much flat. Honestly, I forgot I was hiking for most of it and didn’t feel too tired. I talked with many different people along the way, and we came up with creative games to play to pass the time. By the time we got back, I was definitely tired but felt accomplished.”

After hiking for the whole day, the students were exhausted yet excited for the rest of the night. Following dinner, they held a tekes for Yom HaZikaron. During the tekes, Army Reserve Commander Jarod White spoke about his experience making aliyah to Israel and how the IDF has impacted him as a person. He also spoke about the challenges that came with living in Israel, such as terrorism and the fear of losing loved ones. “The Israeli way of life is going through tough things and coming out of it stronger,” said White. 

Succeeding the tekes, students were instructed to put on comfortable shoes and leave their flashlights behind; they were going on a stargazing hike led by Rabbi Benji Shiller. “I’ve never seen stars like those before. Something about the complete darkness and the desolate setting just enhanced this experience to a completely different level,” remarked Eloise Bregman. After stargazing, students went to bed knowing that tomorrow morning would be their final experience in the desert.

When reflecting on the trip, Maya Seltzer said, “Leaving the Negev brought an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. Not only did we all achieve so much on our own, but together we successfully created the most memorable desert experience. Living in the Negev for two nights and hiking for an entire day in between was no easy task, but we all persevered, learned to adapt, and made the most of our situation. Leaving the desert made me reflect and forced me to realize how much of a heartwarming experience it was to watch our grade overcome challenges together and lift each other up along the way.”

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