Two exciting events kicked off the first week in October at the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway (HAFTR) High School: the school-wide Exodus assembly and Club Fair. The Jewish holidays came early this year, deferring our first full week of school until late September. The students’ energy and excitement was palpable in the HAFTR High hallways, and they seemed genuinely happy to be back to class and to be with their friends.
Having the entire school read the same book was a tremendous undertaking and a momentous occasion. Over the summer, every student in the high school was required to read Leon Uris’ novel, “Exodus.” The book is about the birth of the State of Israel, the founding of our Jewish homeland. It describes the Jews’ fight for survival, the horrors of the Holocaust, and the challenges the European Jewish refugees and Holocaust survivors encountered in their attempt to reach Israel.
The keynote speaker at the assembly was Rabbi Kenneth Hain, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Sholom of Lawrence. In his address, Hain spoke about the effect of the novel on American Jewry. “Exodus” helped us to realize that being a Jew means being a part of a people! You know you are part of something bigger than yourself. He spoke about how fortunate we are in our ability to visit Israel whenever we choose versus the difficulties the people on the ship Exodus had in reaching the shores of Haifa. He urged students to use the occasion of reading this important historical novel to reflect on and strengthen our own personal connection and commitment to the modern State of Israel.
Tuvia Book, the HAFTR High School Zionism instructor, contextualized the historical events discussed in the novel by screening and explaining clips from the Oscar-winning documentary, “The Long Way Home.” This media-enhanced presentation showed harrowing images and reminiscences of the Jewish refugees and crew who sailed on the ships to Israel. Narrated by actor Morgan Freeman, the clips were inspirational and thought provoking. The assembly ended with Dr. Rena Bonne, English Department chairwoman, introducing a short and humorous parody created by HAFTR students depicting the “old Jew” of Europe versus the “new Jew” in the spirit of Exodus protagonist Ari Ben Canaan.
The other highlight of the first full week of school was the annual fall Club Fair. The high school offers a wide range of scholastic, cultural, and athletic clubs and teams to give all of our students the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities in which they are interested. Clubs include debate, drama, mock trial, student newspaper, college bowl, Torah bowl, art, chesed/community service, animal rescue (Mitzvah Mutts), sports, science and engineering, book club, and many others. There’s something for everyone.
In fact, students with initiative and good ideas can even start a club of their own. The hallways buzzed as students explored the different options and signed up for the clubs that appealed to their personal interests. All of the students, faculty members, and administration agreed that the fair was a success. What a powerful way to begin the academic year.