Like all good tiyulim to Massada, this one began in the middle of the night. More than 50 sixth graders from the Begin Elementary School in Bet Shemesh arrived at their school at 2:00 a.m. on a weekday in mid-May. Each child was accompanied by a parent.
The tiyul was arranged by the local OU Israel Youth Center. This was a special Bar and Bat mitzvah trip that is part of the Gesharim program which is supported by the Jewish Agency for Israel and is run in the school by OU Israel.
“The sixth graders are learning about Massada all year. That includes heroism, Jewish values and history,” says Rikki Toviana, who accompanied her daughter, Maya, on the tiyul to Massada.
The reason groups climb Massada so early is because of the heat and also to see the sunrise over the Dead Sea.
“We started the climb before 5:00 a.m. when it was still dark,” says Chaim Pelzner, OU Israel Director of Programming. “The kids had to make an effort, so there was a sense of accomplishment when they reached the top. We explained that one of the messages of Massada is that you have to make an effort in order to succeed,” he says.Hillel HaZaken (the elder) explained the meaning of the text אם אין אני לי, מי לי. Hillel was played by Menachem Persoff, Associate Director of Development, OU Israel.
“Seeing the sunrise on the top of Massada is very special,” Toviana says. “It’s the beginning of something new. It symbolizes how our children are starting to grow up.”
“We planned this program to help the kids connect to the history of the Jewish people,” says Racheli Ninio, Education Director, OU Israel Youth Centers.
“This is the generation for whom everything is instant and disposable,” Pelzner says. “ButAm Yisrael isn’t disposable. We explained that Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), Am Yisrael(the People of Israel) and Torat Yisrael (the Torah of Israel) are all part of a greater process.”