By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News

Eighth-graders at Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School are  moving full steam ahead with fundraisers for their graduation trip to Israel in May.

The Hyde Park students are selling Trader Joe’s flowers for Shabbat, raffle tickets for fourth row seats at a Bears-Giants game, and brownies and rugelach for neighbors.

Not all 15 eighth graders at the campus are well off enough to afford the annual trip, which is the tenth in the school’s 70-year history. So, the fundraising, both solo and group efforts, brings costs down from $3,500 to $2,200 per pupil, said Miriam Kass, principal of the pre-K to eighth-grade school where 180 attend.

“It’s really inspiring to see them work on this,” she said.

Ezra Erlbacher has been busy with his grandmother baking brownies and helping launch an online school spirit store. This first-time trip to Israel is important to the 14-year-old. “I can learn about what I’ve learned in the past eight years. I also want to have that last hurrah with my friends, bond with them before we all graduate.”

Right before Rosh Hashanah, Lilah Elia, 13, helped bake round challahs for sale in the community. She has also babysat. She wants to go to Israel because “it’s my homeland. Every Jewish kid should go to Israel.”

Terren Wein has observed the busy fundraising activity over the years. Now it’s her daughter Lilah’s turn. “I think it’s interesting to see them come up with these ideas for themselves and think about why they want to go to Israel. The day school and the community can support the youth as they think about their Jewish formation. ”

As a single parent, Wein said, “I have to be creative to think about how to make this possible for my daughter.”

Underwriters also fund the 12-day trip to bring the price down. No student stays home because the family can’t afford it, Kass said.

The trip provides the connection between classroom learning and seeing the places they’ve read about, Kass said. “It’s a chance to practice the modern Hebrew that they’ve learned.”

Kass said that the trip is a “wonderful culminating and celebratory experience for our students at the end of their time at Akiba Schechter. They come together as a class, their friendships are very deep. With this small group, it feels more like a family.”

To contribute to the eighth-grade Israel trip, contact the Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School at 773-493-8880. Raffle tickets to the Bears game are on sale until Oct. 29. The drawing will be on Oct. 30.

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