My name is Isabella Kindler, I’m from London and I’m 19 years old. I’m currently on Aardvark Israel, a program that allows you to grow more independence as well as embrace Israeli and Jewish culture, whilst also learning new skills at our chosen internships. It’s split into 2 semesters – 4 months each – but I’m only doing 1 semester and am currently 2 months in. I was looking at gap year programs online for a while trying to choose one that best fits me, eventually deciding to go with Aardvark. I chose this program because I felt it’s very inclusive of all different types of Judaism, whether that be Shabbat observers or people who don’t keep Shabbat at all – I felt comfortable coming on this program and embracing my Jewish identity as I felt it was and still is very accommodating to my levels of religion. As well as that, we live in our own apartments with 3-5 other people, buy our own food, and have our own free time with no curfew. This allows me to challenge my independence by learning how to budget, learning how to keep my own space clean and tidy and learning how to balance having fun in the evenings but also coming back at a semi-reasonable hour so that I am able to wake up early in the morning with enough energy for my classes/internship.

We have many different classes on Aardvark. I personally don’t take classes for credit so my classes discuss a variety of interesting topics when it comes to Judaism, such as Jewish ethics, the dangers of non-monitored NGOs and how it spreads false propaganda, the history of the Israeli land, and more. As well as these classes there is also a non-credit Ulpan once a week which helps us to improve our Hebrew – sometimes we are even taken onto the streets of Levinsky market and are told to go and buy something speaking only in Hebrew. Class times vary based on the classes we choose, so my schedule is different every day, which is nice as it means I don’t get sick of doing the same thing all the time. We also have weekly deep cleaning sessions as well as catch-ups with our madrichot (counselors) and our whole communities, where we discuss and reflect on the week and sometimes play fun games and activities to start the weekend well.

Every Tuesday we have a tiyul (a trip) to somewhere in Israel, whether that be a hike or a walk around a city, or visiting a famous landmark. These days are one of my favorite days as we get to explore Israel with our group and get to do things we wouldn’t have necessarily done without the program organising it. Every Wednesday there is an optional evening activity which can be anything ranging from chocolate making to laser tag (they are really fun). Overall, I’d recommend Aardvark to those who are looking to become more independent, immerse themselves in a new culture and possibly challenging environment, and those who just need a break from their homes and to enjoy the company of others.

I feel like I’ve gained a lot from Aardvark. I’ve gained a significant amount of confidence in regard to being on my own and dealing with my problems by myself, rather than always asking my parents what I should do. I’m also surrounded by people of different sexualities, different economic upbringings, and diverse home cultures, therefore I feel like I’ve become much more knowledgeable about the different people that there are around the world and generally more open-minded about ways of living that are unfamiliar to me. I also feel as if I’ve become much more spiritually aware. I’ve always been a spiritual person but I really feel like I’ve found a lot more inner bliss and consciousness than I had before coming to Israel. A moment I really cherish that helped me discover this was when Aardvark took us on a 3-day trip to Ketura Kibbutz in Southern Israel. We went to some sand dunes and were told to find a place to sit by ourselves and reflect on our experience here so far. It was a really strange feeling sitting in the middle of the desert alone, with no noise and no distraction, looking at mountains of sand – we really were in the middle of nowhere. I cherish this moment because rather than freaking out about being in a foreign place, without the comfort of my own home and family, I was able to realise that being alone was the most peaceful I have ever felt before. This realisation has helped me significantly throughout my time in Israel.

I strongly recommend Aardvark for someone who wants a challenging yet exciting new experience.