I grew up in Miami and live in Israel since 1988. There's a lot more to Israel than what you see on the news. I've seen Israel grow from an agricultural society in the late 1980's to the modern, hi-tech focused society we are now. Israel is always growing, developing and changing. Israel's immigrant society has created a rich culture. There's music for everyone - folk, pop, electronic, Arab influenced, jazz and even American blues.

There's so much packed into such a small country in Israel. Its a 45 minute drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In less than two hours, you can drive from the Negev desert to the Galilee. This is what Israel looks like to me.

HaderaA quiet town in Israel
AradA pretty gem in the Negev
The NegevDifferent places in the Negev
Eilat Part desert town and part beach resort town
Kibbutz Ruhama A kibbutz in the northern Negev and the site of the first modern Jewish settlement in the Negev
Jerusalem in the Snow Jerusalem of Snow!
Jerusalem Jerusalem during Passover 2009
Various Photos Various photos from 2000-2003
The Israel Trail The Israel Trail is a collection of Israel's nature trails, going from the Lebanese border to Eilat
Culture in Israel Israel has so much music!
Israeli Music My Israeli music collection
Aliyah Tips Considering a move to Israel?

In September 1987, I went to HSI - the Alexander Muss High School in Israel. HSI is a two month program in Hod Hasharon. In those days, Hod Hasharon was a small town surrounded by orchards. There still are some orchards today. HSI started in 1972 and is still going strong. They have since developed other Israel programs for students and adults. HSI is a special place - the teachers and education are top notch. Most of the two month program is obviously focused on learning and seeing Jewish history. We visited Jerusalem and Tel Aviv a bunch of times. We had classes and took notes in places like Masada and the Golan Heights and went on hikes all over the country.

I know that the Birthright program is bringing Jewish youth to Israel and that's a good thing. Birthright is free and HSI isn't. But HSI is a deeper and more intimate experience. There are things you can experience in two months that you just can't do in ten days. We learned and saw so much in those two months. I hope students consider HSI. Go for the good bottle of wine over the cheap stuff!

In 1988-1989, I went to the American Program at the Pardess Chana Agricultural School in Pardess Chana, Israel. In the 1980's, Pardess Chana was a sleepy town of orange orchards, a few stores and a few schools. The Agricultural School there was always well known throughout Israel. From 1983-2001 there was an American program at the school. We studied most of our classes according to the US high school system and it counted 100% as my senior year. We also studied Jewish history and Hebrew. Our Jewish history teacher also taught at HSI. Hebrew was more intensive than a language class in the US - we received two years language credit for that one year of Hebrew.

And then there was the lifestyle! We lived in the dorms with the Israelis. We were a small American program of 25-30 11th and 12th graders in dorms with a few hundred Israelis and a day school of a lot more. Very immersive for a 17 year old. We heard Hebrew from our Israeli friends, in town and on the radio and TV. We ate Israeli food and got used to Israeli pizza. We were able to leave the campus a lot and we explored Israel on our own. Every student had something they did to help the school once a week. Every Tuesday, most of us in the American program picked oranges in the morning and we usually didn't have classes after lunch that day.

When it was really cold in the winter, our teachers would sometimes agree to join us in a dorm room for a class. We went on trips around Israel as a group and with the Israelis. On weekends, we'd sleep on the beach or head to Jerusalem and stay in youth hostels. Pardess Chana was more country town than suburb in the 80's. All of the store owners recognized the American students and we were treated well. By January, we all knew enough Hebrew to get around. By June, we'd been all over Israel and had experienced a full school year in Israel. A ten month adventure.

If HSI goes much further than Birthright, imagine what an entire school year in Israel is like! Ten days, two months and ten months.

The American program closed in 2001 and I attended the closing graduation. There used to be many full school year American programs in Israel for 10th, 11th and 12th grade. There was Nir Ha-Emek, Beit Ha-Shita, Kfar Blum and others. We met the students from the other schools throughout the year. When I speak to friends who went to those programs, our experiences were very similar - all were American programs in small towns or kibbutzim.

Hundreds of former students of HSI, Pardess Chana and the other American programs have moved to Israel over the years. I've met many of them - in the real world and online. I hope one day there will be more American high school programs here. It was an amazing adventure for a teen and set many of us on an interesting path in life.

Kenny Sahr