The Pardess Chana American Program 1983-2001
June 2001

I just found out that my high school is closing. An email arrived at 3am on Friday night from Rena saying that "the American Program is having its final graduation next Wednesday at 8pm. All alumni are invited to attend."

I drove up with Yasha Harari (who spent a year at the Nir Ha-Emek American Program and whose brother Nat was my roommate in Pardess Chana). Everyone was in that small room that's to the right when you walk in the chadar ochel. That's the room they took us to when we got off the bus from the airport.

Menasha, the farmer dude, was there. I said hi and told him that a bunch of us have been here through the years. He said he saw a memorial plaque for Golan Azani (1990-1992 in Pardess Chana), an alumnus who was a friend of mine and who sadly died in a car accident during his army service. I showed him the dedication for Golan that's in a Jordan Travel Guide that I wrote in the 90's. I said hi to Ofra, the woman who still runs the kitchen.

As far as teachers go, Stan, Dave, Rhonda, Yoni, Risa (who was more of a teacher to a bunch of us), Iris and Reuven were there. They looked great. It was really cool talking to each of them -- 5 minutes of catching up and beaming smiles.

We were ushered to the big room. The 30 students of the program walked in, one by one, to applause; the 6 graduates with caps and gowns. Two students got behind the microphone and began the English and Hebrew simulcast. The Israelis spoke (the principal of the Israeli school, the head of the dorms, etc.). Rena spoke. She mentioned by name the 6 alumni who were in the audience. Then the names of the few students who have tragically passed away - including Jake Levy from my year.

Rena leaves behind two olim programs that were started during the Russian aliyah. A total of 300 students! They were the majority in the dorms, not Israelis like in my day. There are olim from as far off as Australia, Serbia and Croatia (those two in different years!). The current situation made it impossible to convince American parents to send their kids here for a year. Besides the olim programs, Rena and the program are the reason many of us spent time in Israel after high school. Many of us are still here.

Rena said that the program was closing after 18 years and that she was very pleased with the last group. A few students and one alumnus spoke. The lights went out and Dave did the slide presentation. Smiling students and some nature shots. Then the teachers handed out the 'awards of excellence.' Rena announced the valedictorian. One by one, everyone (10th-12th graders) received their certificates or diplomas. The valedictorian called on the seniors to move that dangling thing on the cap from the right to left to signify graduation. Two of the 6 seniors are off to the army!

The ceremony was over. On the wall behind us was a long poster with the names of every student, from 1983-2001. We made a break for it outside (that place still has no a/c!). Spoke to all of my teachers again. I hadn't seen them since graduating in 1989. It was weird knowing that this was "it" for the American Program. Before this night, I could always count on a graduation invitation and knew I could see my teachers and school.

Stan told me that he was teaching at the Israeli school and also at a college in Haifa. "I did this because I loved it," he said. It was a fun gig for them while it changed our lives.

Besides two of us, the other alumni left pretty quickly. Too bad. I was in the mood to hangout and see who else was there. "Congrads from the class of '89," I said to a few of the graduates. I had a chance to speak with Rena and Reuven and they sounded great (and younger than many of my peers in their enthusiasm towards life and their future plans). Everyone got in their cars and left.

We got in the car and took a detour - to that area behind the school fence where in front of you are the American dorms and to your right, the school building. I could see the students having their last mingling. Two went over to the basketball court for a final 1-on-1.

Three students came closer - to that hill where you'd sneak off for cigarettes. We heard them talking; I wonder if they heard the two of us reminiscing. Watchin' their movie from backstage. It was past 1am - the bus taking them to the airport was leaving in less than 4 hours. My high school closing???

Especially because the school itself was so old, I always expected 'my high school' would always be there. There's a lot more in the one year I spent in the "intimate PH thing" than my two years in a huge US high school.

I had hoped that many former students were going to be there that night. It would've been cool to sit around and exchange stories as as the bus taking the last group to the airport passed through the front gates of the Pardess Chana Agricultural School.

Kenny Sahr
Class of '89

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