Class of 2020 capstone trip cut short by coronavirus


photo provided by Josie Stein

Members of the Class of 2020 pose for a final photo in the late afternoon before leaving for the U.S. Many of them were up since 2 a.m. to cherish their final day together.

Matthew Rabinowitz, Managing Copy Editor

The CESJDS capstone trip was cut short due to U.S. fears that Israel would shut its borders and lock the alumni in Israel. 

JDS alumni on their capstone trip were woken up at 3 a.m. IST on March 15 to emails from their parents giving them permission to board a privately-chartered jet home to the U.S.

The $500,000 El Al flight was paid for by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which funds the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), and also transported roughly 200 other Jewish-American teens at AMHSI and in programs funded by the JNF. 

“When we got the information from Muss that they couldn’t run the program anymore, there really wasn’t a decision to be made. It was just about communicating out and figuring out how to get the students home as soon as possible,” Head of School Rabbi Mitchel Malkus said. 

Students on the trip were devastated by the sudden cancellation, the final blow to their already-ruined experience. The Eastern European portion of their capstone trip was canceled, and AMHSI had originally booked standard tickets for the students to return home on March 21 after learning that it would be unable to continue its program due to Israeli restrictions on boarding schools.

“We were all really upset, but Muss spun it in a way to emphasize the importance of having one week left and how they were going to make it the best week possible, and so we were holding on to that little excitement of having at least a full month,” Josie Stein (‘20) said.  

But that final week never occurred because of the sudden change-of-departure and chartered flight. 

“It didn’t really hit us that day,” Stein said. “That day, we all felt numb.”

High School Principal and Associate Head of School Dr. Marc Lindner, as well as JNF Campus Fellows, ushered the Class of 2020 onto busses back to Rockville, Maryland after the class arrived at JFK International Airport in New York that evening. 

Even within their own homes, many of the students were forced to isolate due to fears that they might be contaminated by the coronavirus, rather than just isolating from the outside world. 

“Kids are being isolated to one room, they have their own private shower and parents are putting food at the bottom of the stairs for them,” Stein said. “It’s been really scary to see some people be kept under those restrictions while others are out and about, hiking, doing whatever they want.” 

While Stein and other students continue to mourn the loss of their last time as a grade together, Dylan Platt (‘20) looks at the cancelation from a different perspective. 

“I, unfortunately, agree that it should have been canceled, looking at the U.S. now and how bad it is here, and what’s happening in Israel as well,” Platt said. “They closed everything. We wouldn’t have been able to do anything. We would have stayed on campus. It’s not better here, but at least you’re with your family here.”

With everyone home, the Class of 2020 will continue the educational and cultural experiences that they would have had in Israel proper.

“They [AMHSI] will be offering online learning with our students covering many of the topics that we (sic) on the itinerary for the trip,” Malkus wrote in an email.