Photo: The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland has announced the winners of the Israel at 75 essay and art contests for students. Frieda Leah Skolnik, sixth grade, Maayan Torah Day School, won the middle school art contest with the artwork above.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland has announced the winners of the Israel at 75 essay and art contests for students.
“It was so wonderful to see the creativity of our students as they reflected on 75 years of Israel’s history through art and essays,” says Rachel Nelson, JFGP Director of Educational Initiatives & Associate Director of Community Relations. “It was hard to narrow down – so many great pieces were created.”
Kindergarteners to eighth-graders competed in art, and students in sixth to 12th grades in writing. From 50+ entries, the winners are high school essay winner, Sarah Esther Weisman; middle school essay winner, Jacob Jordan; middle school arts winner: Frieda Leah Skolnik (see page 1); and elementary arts winner, Moshe Leib Espinoza.
Elementary school arts honorable mentions are Liam Furtado, fourth grade, Sabin Elementary School; Avigayil Keiserman, kindergarten, Maayan Torah; and Shoshana Dall and Talia Sohn, second graders at Maayan Torah.
High School Essay Winner
BY SARAH ESTHER WEISMAN
Ninth-grader, Maayan Torah Day School
Eretz Yisrael, cherished Land of Israel. I have many vivid memories of you. I was born within your boundaries and was nurtured within you for more than half of my life. You are not like any other land, not like any other birthplace.
You are a beautiful land, physically unique, given a special touch of majesty. You possess powerful scenery: rocky hills and tall mountains, clear waters and sunny springs. Lush green fields and deep, blue skies; colorful valleys and bright sunshine. You are called “אֶ֛רֶץ זָבַ֥ת חָלָ֖ב וּדְבָ֑שׁ, a land flowing with milk and honey.” Your soil brings forth a wide and delicious assortment of special fruits and vegetables: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.
You are home to ancient cities and acclaimed destinations. To give some examples, you host the Kotel (remains of the Western Wall of the Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple), where many Jews go to pray and pour out their hearts. The graves of our patriarchs and matriarchs are in Me’arat Hamachpela and Kever Rachel, in the city of Hebron. Rabbi Akiva and his student, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, both great Torah scholars, are also buried there.
Jews love and feel a deep connection to you. We glow, we sparkle as we speak and tell of your splendor and beauty. After visiting you, we leave spellbound and awestruck. You’re a land that draws Jews from all kinds of backgrounds, from all over the world. Many Jews come to you to celebrate their joyous occasions, relishing your holy atmosphere.
Compared to the rest of the world, though, Eretz Yisrael barely exists geographically; looking at a world map, one almost needs a magnifying glass to find its location. What about this particular piece of Earth is so pulling and captivating to the heart? Yes, it has many distinct features, but can you not find them in other parts of the globe? There are ancient pyramids in Egypt, breathtaking Swiss Alps, powerful Niagara Falls – beautiful settings and historical landmarks all around the world.
Clearly, as impressive as Eretz Yisrael seems to the casual observer, it’s not why the land is so precious and unique. The previously mentioned factors are not, by themselves, what makes the land endearing to the Jewish people. How can we explain the phenomenon of seeing so many being drawn toward the Land of Israel?
Imagine a general who finds a bar of gold, lying on the ground beneath his feet. He would rejoice at his good fortune, of course. Yet, it would mean so much more to him had he received it as a gift from the king himself. Such a gift is priceless. That general would never want to sell it for any amount of money in the world. For the same amount of gold, one can be worth much more than the other.
This parable helps us gain further insight into the intrinsic worth of Eretz Yisrael. The Almighty promised Avraham Avinu (Abraham, our Forefather) that He would give the Land of Israel to Avraham’s
descendants. Later, He gave that promise to Yitzchak (Isaac) and Yaakov (Jacob). What gives Eretz Yisrael its chashivut, importance, is the fact that the King of Kings gave it to the Jewish people. The Almighty, Master of the World, chose to give us a gift. How fortunate we are!
Eretz Yisrael is an elevated place, where we can connect with the Almighty in a different dimension. We were given certain mitzvot (commands) that only pertain to the Land of Israel. An example of this is Shmita (the mitzvah to desist from working the ground for one year, every seventh year). By performing the mitzvot that the Almighty gave us, we deepen our connection with Him.
Eretz Yisrael is a land of natural beauty. More than that, it is a land on which we can easily tap into the feeling of our closeness with the Almighty. A place where we can each feel His immense love for us individually. Even more than a caring father loves his only child.
I feel loved.
Middle School Essay Winner
BY JACOB JORDAN
Eighth-grader, Lake Oswego Junior High
The 75th anniversary of Israel’s statehood is a momentous occasion that deserves to be celebrated. On May 14, 1948, the modern State of Israel was declared by David Ben-Gurion, and since then, it has become a vibrant, diverse and prosperous nation.
The history of Israel is a long and complex one. It has been the home of the Jewish people for thousands of years, yet it has also been a site of conflict and war. Yet despite the challenges, the people of Israel have persevered and built a strong and vibrant nation.
Today, Israel is a thriving country with a strong economy, a vibrant culture and a robust democracy. Its people are diverse, with Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze living side by side in relative harmony. It is a leader in science, technology and innovation, and has made great strides in the fields of medicine, agriculture and education.
Israel has also been a beacon of hope and a safe haven for Jewish people around the world. It has welcomed millions of immigrants from all over the world and provided them with a place to call home. This has created a vibrant and diverse society and made Israel a leader in the Middle East.
The 75th anniversary of Israel’s statehood is a moment to celebrate the country’s accomplishments and to recognize the hard work of its people. It is also an opportunity to reflect on the challenges that Israel has faced, and to reaffirm our commitment to peace and security in the region.
As we celebrate this momentous milestone, let us remember the courage and resilience of the people of Israel and the strength of their spirit. May the future of Israel be one of prosperity.
First-place elementary art was a three-part view of the Kotel plaza by Moshe Leib Espinoza, fourth grade, Maayan Torah Day School. (below)