COVID-19 heavily impacts the Capstone Israel Trip: New safety precautions are added including a 14-day quarantine, fewer seniors attend the trip


Photo provided by Naomi Jaray (‘20)

The Class of 2020 and their counselors in Israel last year before they got sent home due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

Rochelle Berman, Incoming Managing and Copy Editor

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the senior Class of 2021 is preparing to go on their Irene and Daniel Simpkins Israel Capstone Trip in a different manner than ever before. After the Class of 2020 was sent home prematurely from the trip last year during the onset of the pandemic, CESJDS was determined to continue this culminating aspect of the curriculum.

At the time of publication, Israel is in the middle of its third lockdown over the course of the pandemic. Its borders are closed to anyone who is not an Israeli citizen or Israeli resident but are widely expected to reopen in the next few weeks.

Many health and safety precautions are being taken by JDS and Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI) to limit possible exposure to COVID-19. The most significant change will be the absence of the visit to Poland and Prague, where students in the past have had the chance to visit important Jewish sites such as Auschwitz.

When the students arrive in Israel on Feb. 22, they will immediately begin a 14-day quarantine period on the Almog Kibbutz in the West Bank before traveling to the Hod HaSharon campus, their home base for the duration of the trip. The trip will still include multiple overnight stays across the country that are in line with current Israeli and AMHSI COVID-19 guidelines.

Senior Sophie Shrock will be the third child in her family to attend the Israel Capstone Trip.

“It was never a question whether or not I would go,” Shrock said. “My brothers went and loved it, and I can’t wait.”

Despite the 14-day quarantine and other safety measures, some families continue to be uncomfortable with the idea of their children traveling to a foreign country and being away from home during a pandemic.

Senior Judah Teitelbaum decided not to attend the trip in part due to his upcoming gap year program in Israel, but his primary concern surrounding the trip was traveling and touring during the pandemic.

“[I am not comfortable attending the Israel trip with] the uncertainty of it all. They couldn’t really give a definite itinerary, and no one really knows what’s happening with the virus,” Teitelbaum said.

In order to maximize the safety of those attending the trip, middle school history teacher and Israel Engagement Coordinator Eytan Apter’s job is twofold: to logistically coordinate with AMHSI and ensure sufficient health precautions will be enforced. Apter is working to create a memorable, fun and safe Israel Capstone Trip during the pandemic.

“There are things in the past that haven’t worked out well,” Apter said, referring to the concerns about the proper management of students during the trip after several were expelled from the program in 2019. “Muss has changed those policies. … I’ve been working to liaise with Muss to make sure our needs and the students’ needs are met from our end.”

This year, not only did Apter have to do the usual coordination with AMHSI to ensure the students get to and from Israel safely, but he had to address health precautions due to the pandemic. Dean of Students and Interim High School Principal Roslyn Landy is confident in AMHSI’s health and safety guidelines.

“I think they (AMHSI) will be on top of it,” Landy said. “I just hope our kids will follow the rules.”

Israel, being a small country, has been able to enforce all three of its lockdowns successfully enough to bring down their cases of COVID-19 to a manageable number. Additionally, its vaccine distribution has been extremely successful, with 30% of its population already vaccinated (as of Jan. 19).

One drawback for some students and parents is the political implications of staying on a Kibbutz in a disputed region. Senior Eilah Goldberg finds the school’s decision to allow the students in the West Bank unsettling.

“I was very shocked to find out how deep into the West Bank [the Kibbutz] was,” Goldberg said. “…Also, [the] moral issues that arise with the settlement being close to the border, I find that very unusual for us.”

AMHSI made the decision to hold the quarantine on the Almog Kibbutz, and after researching the location, JDS did not oppose this choice.

“The decision to hold the quarantine on the Kibbutz Almog was made by AMHSI. When the question of safety was raised, we, and AMHSI, checked with the [Israeli] Embassy, our Israeli faculty and I was in touch with family in Israel; everyone assured us that it is perfectly safe,” Landy said. “It is a wonderful place for the seniors to quarantine.”

In previous years, students have had the opportunity to visit friends and family while in Israel on several weekends. There was also an option for students to spend time with their families during Passover either in or outside the country.

While this year does not present the opportunity to be with family on Passover, AMHSI amended their policy to allow visitors outside on the Hod HaSharon campus and students to visit family within walking distance of the campus. Masks and social distancing will be enforced for visitors.

Nonetheless, about 63% of the grade is still planning to attend due to the opportunity the trip presents as a closing point to a strange high school experience.

While Goldberg is upset by the location of the Almog Kibbutz, she is still planning to go on the trip and looks forward to the parts of the trip following the 14-day quarantine.

Despite the differences in this year’s trip, students and administrators alike recognize that it will still serve as the capstone to a JDS education.

“The capstone trip is really important to me, and I’ve been planning on going for a long time,” Goldberg said. “Even though things are slightly changed and it’s not the same as it has been previous years, it’s still going to be really fun and enjoyable and I’m excited for it anyways.”

Because of the trip’s history and importance to the school, the administration put in their fullest efforts to continue offering it despite the difficult circumstances.

“We very much want the trip to go forward because we believe it is such an invaluable experience,” Landy said. “Our seniors look forward to it from when they start kindergarten, and we want to be able to provide the opportunity for them.”