Preschoolers foray to Israel — without leaving home

Ryan Young, 5, of San Carlos had his suitcase all ready for his trip to Israel.

"I'm glad to be done with packing," he said. "I put into the suitcase my sunglasses and my hat that I will need because it is so hot there. I also have my map so I will know where I am going."

Ryan is one of the 150 preschoolers at Belmont's Peninsula Jewish Community Center who took an imaginary trip to Israel last month in conjunction with Yom Ha'Atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day. Activities included making a paper hat, sunglasses and a suitcase for the two-week journey.

In Nancy Cohen's pre-kindergarten class, children were busy painting the two sides of a large paper airplane. Each child had drawn a picture of his or her face in a circle representing the plane window. Later the plane would be stuffed and hung in the classroom.

Following this activity, Ilana Gordon, 5, of San Carlos proceeded to the bookshelf to study the pictures of Israel. She said, "I love to look at them. My favorite one shows the haystack ride on the kibbutz."

Having her passport ready, Quinncy Griffin, 5, of San Ramon said, "I learned that I needed a picture of my face that I drew for my passport. I also marked the color of my eyes and hair. I'm all ready to go."

A group of children standing at the "Western Wall blocks" enjoyed inserting messages between the blocks there. Ilana's note said, "I wish the whole world was happy." Brandon Whiteley, 5, of Belmont wrote, "I wish everyone had everything they wanted." And Nick Schwartz, 5, of Foster City wrote, "I wish God was the smartest one around."

Every year students will add a new layer to the re-creation of Jerusalem's Western Wall. Each class has painted and decorated a Styrofoam block with different symbols.

Some of the 3-year-olds were busy lining up at an airport check-in booth. They were wearing hats and carrying their passports and tickets to check into their El Al flight. Rebecca Fradkin, 3, of San Carlos said: "I like to be on an airplane. This trip will be fun. I love to curl up with my blanket and watch videos on my Dad's computer."

Teacher Maddy Blumenthal, one of the originators of the project, said: "We wanted to bring the whole lifestyle and culture of Israel to the children, including food, games, music and dance. We spent a lot of time brainstorming with staff on these activities. Each age-level class has made hats and created Chagall windows."

Another teacher, Emily Fabbri said: "We have a large poster in my room showing Israel including the land, water and animals. The 3-year-olds created their own airplanes. "

Elizabeth Carson, who also teaches 3-year-olds, said: "The children love to sing the Israeli songs. I have taught them both in Hebrew and sign language."

Lisa Elliott, who teamed up with Blumenthal to develop the celebration, said: "The goal has been to create activities at each level that are age-appropriate. The curriculum was designed for multi-sensory activities. Recognizing the need for concrete images, we have shown the children many pictures of the old historical sites of Israel."

On the upper lawn area was a tent, Kibbutz Yeladim. During the second week, each class spent time there eating Israeli food provided by parents. Children munched on pita bread with falafel, hummus, dried fruits, olives and vegetables grown in Israel.

Other activities included a climb to Masada, where younger children went up the slides and older students climbed a nearby hill, taking water bottles with them. They also performed science experiments with salt and water, and finger-painted with mud.

During the second week, kids enjoyed an Israeli dance demonstration. All of the children also participated in a parade, wearing blue and white and carrying the flags they had made. Along with playing gaga, an Israeli handball game, kids enjoyed an "archaeological dig," looking for gold rocks in the playground.

Cathy Brown, the school's site director, said, "It's a wonderful way for the center to introduce children to the traditions of another culture and acquaint others with their heritage."