Waking up to a spectacular sunrise in Jerusalem isn’t something that everybody is fortunate enough to enjoy and the view from my hotel window was breathtaking.

The day centred around our visit to Yad Vashem, the renowned Holocaust Memorial Centre and after our obligatory group photograph, I noticed that, our group was much quieter than normal (we have been a fairly noisy group!). There was lots to contemplate and we knew that much of today’s learning and experience would not be easy.. The purpose of Yad Vashem, (the words themselves mean a memorial and a name) is not merely to tell the history of the Holocaust, but to honour and give the victims back their names.

Before entering the Centre itself, we heard from an educator about some of the important things to bear in mind when teaching students about the Shoah (Holocaust), including ensuring resources are age-appropriate and using survivors’ personal testimonies to ensure the message of “never forget” hits home. Although we had arrived relatively early in the morning, Yad Vashem was absolutely packed and it was quite a challenge to stick with the group. Even having heard about and having read many stories of the Holocaust (my mum is German, so we were brought up from a very young age knowing about it) the experience was made it far harder to contemplate when surrounded by Jewish colleagues. I had also felt this during our evening Yom HaShoah event at Carmel. It was a deeply moving morning, with many upsetting stories shared within the group. It also involved one of those lightbulb moments when, finally, I stared at a sign with the Hebrew letters I’d been learning and read ‘Yad Vashem’ - a triumphant moment.

Boys Town school was on the schedule after lunch – a school that takes in and boards boys from poor backgrounds who otherwise wouldn’t receive a decent education. Although it was a school holiday, a delightful group of boys had nobly come in to talk about the robots with which they had won first place in the First Lego League. A Year 11 student had voluntarily mentored the Year 7 and 8 students to improve their programming and mechanical skills. He was on the team for three years himself and told us “I know the excitement, knowledge and friendship that a Robotics team can give. I want to help younger kids have the best experience possible”. It was another example of a student willingly giving up his own time and skills to help others – we have been impressed by similar incidents reflecting the intrinsic motivation and generosity of many of the senior students here.

Our evening highlight focused on the iconic Western Wall (Kotel) and a fascinating archaeological walking tour underneath it, including dinner in a tunnel at the Jewish quarter. I was fascinated by the different groups of Orthodox Jews and particularly by the men’s hats, the significance of which was explained by a colleague. My favourites were the enormous fur shtreimels worn by some Hasidic Ashkenazi Jews. An amazing virtual reality experience saw us taken through the Temple in ancient times and I arrived back at the hotel tired, but pleased to have made so many new friends and colleagues with whom I could debrief and share thoughts of the day