My name is Betsy Weill and I’m from Deerfield, Illinois.
I took a gap semester with Aardvark Israel in Jerusalem during the Fall of 2019 and started college at New York University in January of 2020. The cliché of a life-changing gap year is a cliché for a reason. After my four months of living in Israel, I returned to the United States as a happier, more independent person.
During my time in Jerusalem, I worked in the YMCA’s Peace Preschool with Arab and Israeli teachers, interacting with children from all around the world. Considering all the conflict in the Middle East, I especially enjoyed seeing Palestinian and Israeli children playing and laughing together. The classroom served as a microcosm of Israeli society. A paradise, even. I still think about the carefree and happy environment, both in the classroom and the city.
Returning to America was an adjustment. Honestly, it feels like I’m still adjusting. I miss the sense of belonging I felt, just walking through the streets, knowing everyone I passed shared the same love for our country. I miss the fun Thursdays, the lazy Fridays, and the carefree Saturdays. I miss Tiyul Tuesdays during which we’d see the country in all its hardships and beauty. In America, I am faced with anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic tropes under the guise of pro-Palestinianism. Recently, so much misinformation about Israel has been spread over social media, so I have begun posting about my life in Israel and my opinions on the conflict. Though some meet me with hateful rhetoric, many are eager to learn. I have realized that I am obligated to post in defense of Zionism because most people don’t truly understand all aspects of the conflict, just the aspects presented to them. I see this action, as an American Jew, to be necessary.
I think that my gap year empowered me to do this. In Israel, my friends and I felt independence without the constraints of obligation. We chose our classes, internships and volunteer work according to our passions. I can honestly say that this ideology, this learning for my own sake, has guided me through life since last Fall. I go to school now, but I work on things I want to. I write and release music, I advocate for Israel, and I take courses that interest me. Learning is important and so is educating. I believe that the more I learn, about Israel or otherwise, the more I must share.
I am forever grateful to Aardvark Israel for allowing me to learn more about my homeland and giving me the tools to educate others. In just four months, I explored my passions, connected with strangers, and learned about my homeland. I know that these tools will help me throughout the rest of my life.