This morning, we set out for a quiet beach along the Mediterranean Sea in Atlit, where we were greeted by much the same coastal landscape as Holocaust survivors escaping Displaced Persons camps in post-Nazi Europe would’ve seen when they arrived here illegally in Mandatory Palestine after the end of World War II.
There, we were met by Mordechai Cohen, Head of School at Alexander Muss High School in Israel, and AMHSI Israel Studies Educator Danny Stein, who helped us to understand the choices these Jewish refugees faced and their calculus in choosing to come to Israel despite the tremendous risks of the journey to get here and an uncertain future as part of what was known as Aliyah Bet, or the “second immigration.”
We tried to imagine the options of these Holocaust survivors. Broken in body and traumatized in spirit. Without resources or families. Back in camps in Germany in harsh conditions not much improved over when the same camps were used by the Nazis. No past to seek. A dangerous path to an unknown future ahead, through the mountains of Europe, across the Mediterranean in ships not built to withstand open water or to hold thousands of people, sailing through hostile British waters, where they might be attacked, killed, or deported to detention camps in Cyprus.
Yet with the help of the Mossad LeAliyah Bet, an arm of the Haganah, some 100,000 Holocaust survivors managed to overcome these impossible odds and make it to Palestine. To simulate this experience, Mordy and Danny from AMHSI first put us through Mossad training on the beach complete with push-ups, arm wrestling, pyramid races, and practice carrying “refugees” out of the Mediterranean waters. There was a little Israeli dancing and wave hopping thrown in for good measure.
We also learned about Alexander Muss High School in Israel, which is operated by the Jewish National Fund and offers many transformative experiences for teens through study abroad programs in Israel.
Here are some photo highlights from the morning, too, as we were reminded not to take for granted the miracle of a free Jewish homeland in the State of Israel.
We then headed to the historic Atlit Detention Camp, which was restored by the Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites, with great help from Jewish National Fund. Built by the British in the 1930s, the camp was used to detain “Maapilim” (clandestine immigrants) who made the treacherous journey Israel by sea, air and land during the British Mandate. The grounds look painfully like a Nazi concentration camp, including barbed wire fences, watch towers, and a disinfection barrack; the AMHSI educators challenged us to think about how Holocaust survivors were re-traumatized upon arrival in the camp. We boarded the Galina Ship, a multimedia experience that simulates the perilous journey by sea and the hardships endured by the immigrants. We also heard miraculous stories of families reuniting in Israel after the war by inscribing their names in the walls of the barracks at Atlit to find one another.
From there, it was on to the Druze village of Usifiya on the top of the Carmel Mountain, commanding a breathtaking panoramic view of the surrounding green hills and Haifa in the distance. The Druze are Arabic-speaking citizens of Israel who serve in the Israel Defense Forces. We were warmly welcomed into the home of Dr. Jaber Abu Rukun, who gave us an inside glimpse at Druze religious customs and cultural traditions and treated us to a traditional Druze meal with pita with zatar and sweet paprika, eggplant, hummus, rice, salads, and much more.
And then … there was much rejoicing, Druze-style!
Afternoon plans to visit the Aqua Kef floating water park were foiled by a traffic jam near Haifa that not even Waze could solve. We hope to reschedule and had tons of fun anyway relaxing in the pool and an evening of team-building games with Gali. Tomorrow, from our homebase in Tverya, we will head north to the Holy City of Tzfat to get ready to welcome our second Shabbat here in Israel.