Along with the customary blue and white, Israeli flags, balloons, music and holiday-themed cupcakes that annually appear on Yom Ha’Atzmaut at Hebrew Academy, there’s another tradition that students and staff have long come to anticipate: the arrival of a student delegation from Be’er Sheva – Montreal’s sister city – that visits our school for one week as part of the Gesher Chai program, in conjunction with the Bronfman Jewish Education Centre (BJEC).
This year’s contingent – comprising 10 participants from grades 10 and 11 – arrived at Hebrew Academy on Monday, together with their two chaperones and a mission: to transmit their love of Eretz Yisrael and its people to our High School students.
“These young men and women share what Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut mean to them,” said High School Principal Dr. Laura Segall, who noted that Hebrew Academy is one of four Montreal Jewish schools participating in Gesher Chai. “Many of the participants have lost friends and family in their fight to defend the land and ensure her independence for many years to come.”
Throughout their visit, the delegates meet with students both in and out of class and educate them about various topics related to Israel through engaging activities. The Israelis also design a mural for our school and community that will remain on display after they leave.
“On Yom Ha’Atzmaut, the Hebrew Academy Gesher Chai delegation joins other groups at the Israel Day Rally where they can see, first-hand, how our strong and vibrant Montreal Jewish community truly stands with Israel. Although we may not be there with them physically, they are never far from our thoughts and prayers,” said Dr. Segall.
“I absolutely love Gesher Chai,” said Hebrew Academy Executive Director Linda Lehrer. “Our students are so enriched by the experience. For decades, our school has hosted full-time Kollel Torah MiTzion and Bnei Akiva shlichim, and we are also extremely proud to welcome Bnot Sherut to both our Elementary and High School annually. These representatives from Israel add so much to our programming and overall school spirit. What’s special about Gesher Chai, though, is that it enables our teens to learn from peers their own age. Our students often form lifetime friendships with the Gesher Chai delegates – it’s a wonderful thing to see.”
Yeshivat Amit Teacher Dina Hagbi, who is chaperoning the five male participants, relayed that her students had preconceived notions about the level of Tzionut of those in the Diaspora.
“Before we came to Montreal, we asked our students whether they thought that people in Chutz La’aretz care about Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut. They never imagined that the Hebrew Academy students would be so dedicated to Israel.”
For Ulpanat Amit Grade 10 student Sapir Mantsur, who is outside of Israel for the first time, Gesher Chai has been an eye-opening experience: “It is so nice to see how connected Jews are to Israel outside of the country. The Hebrew Academy girls that we interacted with really conveyed their love for Israel.”
Ulpanat Amit Teacher and Girls’ Chaperone Eva Mansur appreciated Hebrew Academy students’ thirst for knowledge. “Although here in the Diaspora the observance of these holidays is more low-key, it’s understandable given that you don’t live in Israel. But it was remarkable to to see how interested the students were to hear from our delegation, how much they really wanted to learn.”
Yeshivat Amit Grade 11 student Guy Yehuda highlighted that despite the miles between us, Jews in Israel and the Diaspora have a lot in common. “The Gesher Chair program is a very important one because it helps to solidify the relationship between those who are Tzioni in Israel, and those who are Tzioni outside of Israel. We share many of the same values.”
Hebrew Academy Grade 8 student Sarah Bensoussan really enjoyed the delegates’ visit. “The students from Gesher Chai were so inspiring. They taught us about the important role of Tzahal and of the Chayalim, and really highlighted their love for the land. I really enjoyed learning from them.”
“To a certain extent, the fragility and the miracle of the land of Israel, of our having a homeland, is something that I think our students take for granted,” said Dr. Segall. “This delegation of students who listen to the same music, wear the same clothes, and follow the same courses in school, drives that message home. Many are thinking about their upcoming military service, most have lost a friend or a loved one to defending our homeland. The exchanges between the students, both formal and informal, bring to life the meaning of Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut for our Montreal students in a way that cannot be gleaned within the walls of a classroom.”
– by Aviva Engel, Director of Communications