Alex Kaufman 16-17
My Year in Israel – Alex Kaufman – 2016-2017
270 days, 6,456 hours, 387,360 minutes, that is the total amount of time I have spent on my gap year in Israel. As I sat on my couch with my family 9 months ago for the last time preparing to leave home for the program I was both excited and scared. I was excited to have a fresh start and to begin my life as an independent person. At the same time I was scared to leave everything and everyone I had ever known to travel to a country on the other side of the world where they spoke a language I didn’t know.
I remember the first week when I arrived in Tel Aviv for the first semester of the program… scared and upset. I remember how every night for the first week I would call my parents crying… begging them to buy me a plane ticket home and thinking that I would never be able to make it through to the end of the program. I am very fortunate and thankful that despite my pleas to come home my parents didn’t listen to me and that I stayed in Israel.
Over the past 9 months I have grown up so much, realized who I am as a person and what I want to do, and had many unforgettable experiences and friendships that have formed during my time here. This process was not easy. Slowly but surely I began to realize I was wasting this once in a lifetime experience. I remember realizing this around Hannukah when I saw all the sufagniyot and the menorahs and realized that I will never again have an opportunity to be in a country where I can express my Judaism so openly.
As I began to get more comfortable with myself and with the other participants on the program, I also began to create deeper friendships with people and to truly realize and take advantage of the opportunity I had during this year. I have learned through my friends and staff to use my goofiness and sense of humor to connect to people and form meaningful friendships. My friends and roommates really helped me to get over the hump of being unhappy at the beginning. I’m not sure how I would have done it without people like Ethan Ratnowsky who invited me places when I was at my lowest points and made sure that I always had someone to hang out with.
Over the past 9 months I have also learned with my roommates, how to go grocery shopping, maintain a clean apartment, cook for myself, and many other skills that will help me next year when I go to college.
While on Aardvark, I had the opportunity to intern at several great companies in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. In Tel Aviv I worked at an advertising company called City Media. While interning there I learned so much about how advertising and media companies work and even got to sit in on a phone call between the company and one of their clients UFC fighter Connor McGregor. While sitting in on this phone call I learned how important it is to make networking connections and that it really is about who you know. Through my internship opportunities I have also realized that that I want to go into sports broadcasting as a career.
The opportunity to go on weekly trips to various places all over the country was also a highlight of my year in Israel. It was an amazing experience to visit so many historical places that are mentioned in the bible and that I have heard about for so many years. Many of these trips also included hikes which although they challenged me physically, they showed me some of the most beautiful views that I will ever see in my life.
The trip that stands out the most in my mind is our trip to the Golan Heights. This trip really affected me because I remember looking out and seeing the borders with all the neighboring Arab countries. I was thinking how amazing it is that our one small county for Jews has been able to survive in the middle of these Arab nations.
One of the experiences that I will remember for the rest of my life was on another trip. As I sat in the sand dunes in the middle of the Negev Desert, I reflected on my time spent in Israel and just enjoyed the beauty of the ever changing sand, and then 45 seconds later I was tackled by my friends.
Another memorable experience was on another one of the hikes on tiyul. I wanted to do the easier hike but following encouragement from my friends and the madrichim I did the harder hike. I’m not going to lie – it was very challenging for me and there were times I thought about giving up. But I did finish the hike and when I got to the top of the ridge I felt as though I had truly accomplished something. This hike is in some way a metaphor of my Israeli experience: it was not always easy but looking back on the year I feel reborn, a new man with positivity and determination. To capture exactly what I’m trying to tell you, I would like to read the wise words once softly spoken by Miley Cyrus, “Always gonna be an uphill battle, Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose, Ain’t about how fast I get there, Ain’t about what’s waitin’ on the other side, It’s the climb.”