More than 200 people packed Congregation Beth El in Sudbury for an Oct. 13 “Pop-Up Israel” event. Participants enjoyed food prepared by visiting Israeli students and teachers—and showed support for them and for Israel a week after the Hamas attacks.

Fifteen students and two teachers from Hugim, a public high school in Haifa, Israel, were wrapping up a week in the U.S. as part of the HiBuR exchange program, in which they visit cultural and historic sites in New York and Boston and stay at the homes of American students from MetroWest (see a blog entry here.)

HiBuR is one of several experiential programs offered by J-LOFT (Jewish Learning Opportunities for Teens).

The students got to Beth El bright and early the morning of the event to begin chopping vegetables for the Israeli salad, grinding chickpeas for falafel, making vegetable soup with couscous, and spreading pita bread with za’atar seasoning. Others decorated the synagogue’s sanctuary with Israeli flags and Stars of David, or made signs for the silent auction of Israeli gifts they’d brought with them. Between sold-out ticket sales and the auction, the event raised nearly $5,000, which will go toward providing food and supplies for Israeli reserve soldiers and evacuated families.

Preparing for Pop-Up Israel, “we worked for 10 hours but it was worth it. Everyone who came and showed support really got into our hearts, and not only our hearts but [those of] our family and friends,” said Elian, one of the Israeli teens. “It was very exciting, and we all had the best time in our lives knowing we were doing what we knew best—being family to each other.”

The Israeli teens arrived in America on their 5,700-mile trip just two days before the attacks. Not surprisingly, they were in constant communications with friends and family back home to learn the latest news and make sure that everyone was safe for now. “The students have been doing great—they’ve been very present in the experience,” said Shoni Aronovich, director of J-LOFT and teen education at Beth El.

The visiting Israelis had the formidable task of “balancing the joy of being here and making new friends versus the anxiety” for those back home, Beth El Rabbi Joshua Breindel said. It was clear at the Pop-Up Israel event that participants were finding a lot of uplift together while also holding moments of solemn remembrance for victims of violence.

In his sermon the next day, Rabbi Breindel led prayers for peace and expressed the community’s conflicting feelings of grief, anger, and compassion for the suffering of innocent people caught up on both sides of the war by quoting from a poem by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai:

“[We need] to love and to hate at the same moment,
to laugh and cry with the same eyes,
with the same hands to throw stones and to gather them,
to make love in war and war in love.
And to hate and forgive and remember and forget,
to arrange and confuse, to eat and to digest
what history
takes years and years to do.”

The American students in the HiBuR program are planning to visit Israel for Part 2 of the program over February break.

J-LOFT is still accepting donations that go directly toward supplying reserve soldiers and evacuated families in Israel. To make a donation or learn more about Jewish teen programs offered by J-LOFT, visit

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