Chicago high schoolers return from semester abroad in Israel

A group of Chicago high schoolers who joined the more than 30 American students studying at Jewish National Fund-USA’s Alexander Muss High School in Israel (Muss) recently returned to the States after spending an enriching and action-packed semester abroad learning and living among the people of Israel in their ancient homeland.

While ongoing security challenges have grounded Israel’s tourism economy to a halt, the students staying at the program’s campus just outside of Tel Aviv say they never felt in danger and that there was nowhere else they would rather have been.

“Friends asked if I was crazy to go to Israel during this period of intense war and upheaval,” said Talia, a Chicago Muss student. “Others asked me if I felt safe going and how my parents felt about it. And although it was a bit scary at first, my parents and I didn’t hesitate. We understood that now, more than ever, this was important.”

As Jewish National Fund-USA’s premier college-prep, study abroad in Israel experience, Muss blends American-accredited secular classes with a unique experiential Israel studies program and provides students with the knowledge, skills, emotional resilience, and pride they need to proudly advocate for Israel and the Jewish People, even amid surging hate and ignorance.

Throughout the semester, the students visited famous and lesser-known historical sites like the ancient fortress of Masada and the Western Wall. A visit to the Atlit Detention Center Heritage Site taught students of the hardships post-WWII Jews experienced when they emigrated to Israel, while spending Shabbat in the northern city of Tzfat introduced students to the center of Jewish mysticism in Israel.

“Trip after trip after trip, I found myself falling more in love with Muss,” said Lily, a Highland Park native. “We got the unique opportunity to explore new places and go back in time, learning the history and significance of each place we visit. Not only has this allowed me to be better connected to the land of Israel, but it has also allowed me to learn my own history as a Jewish person and get to know my own origins.”

In addition to learning about Israel’s past, the students got a firsthand look at both the grief and resilience of Israel post-Oct. 7. They visited the site of the Nova massacre and traveled to villages in the south that were destroyed in the attacks. Yet, they also saw these communities being rebuilt while meeting Israelis who embody the Jewish People’s unbreakable spirit.

Now, as the students return home with college on the horizon, the Muss alumni are prepared for both the academic rigor and the ever-present threat of anti-Israel campaigns. They feel equipped and excited to advocate for Israel and take their rightful places among the young Jewish leaders across the nation.

“I know that I will need strength and courage when I go off to college, to face those who hate Jews or those who deny the atrocities perpetrated against us,” said Talia, another Chicago student. “I don’t know yet how I will react at the moment when faced with antisemitism and hatred, but I do know that after being here in Israel, experiencing life here in Hod HaSharon and all that Muss offers, I will be well equipped to stand stronger for what is right and stand strong for freedom.”

For information about Jewish National Fund-USA’s Alexander Muss High School in Israel, visit

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.