gap year in israel

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Hey! My name’s Natalie Selvin, and I attended Aardvark Israel during Spring Semester of last year (2018) in Jerusalem!

So I’ve only been in the army for a month, but so far it’s definitely been an experience! My interest in the army all started a few years ago while in Israel on a month-long summer trip, where I had visited Har Herzl and learned about Michael Levine, a lone soldier that was killed in the Second Lebanon war, along what being a lone soldier was & meant. I had felt very inspired by his story, and had decided that I was going to serve as well. Anyway, over the next 2 years, I was on and off about the idea of joining the IDF, but it wasn’t until being on Aardvark and immersing myself in Israeli life and culture that I knew for sure that joining the army was something I 100% wanted to do. Living in Israel not only strengthened my love and connection to Israel, but also strengthened my feeling of this being my home, so serving in the IDF is something extremely meaningful to me.

Okay, so fast forward back to now, as much as it’s a dream of mine to move to Israel, I decided now is not the right time to make Aliyah. So, instead of starting the army process that way, I chose to do a service program called “Mahal”. It’s an 18 month service for people that would like to volunteer in the army, like me, without having to make Aaliyah. My experience so far with Mahal has been absolutely amazing – they really help you through the process of enlisting, and with everything to start. How it works before your service is that you’ve got to come to Israel about 2 months pre-enlistment, so that you can go through interviews, visas, Tzav Rishon(kudos to me, I got perfect scores on just about my entire army profile 🎉 !), and attend a Mechina. As far as mechina goes, I am definitely extremely thankful I got to go beforehand. I gained so much from my one-month experience. I made the best of friends with people that people I feel as though are my literal family. We stay connected all the time, and always find time to see each other. Even the madrichim and mefakdot we grew close with. We also all learned so so much from it. For me, what I think I came out the most with is my improved Hebrew. I went from only being able to say simple things like “where is the bathroom,” “I want ice cream,” and “how much does this cost,” to having the ability to speak full-length sentences in Hebrew, as well as understanding what people are saying to me. On top of this, mechina also helped prepare me physically and mentally, getting me in the habit of the strict timing and discipline of the army. Overall, I’m extremely happy I went and totally prepared me for the army.

Okay, so next comes actually drafting into the IDF ! Alright, as I mentioned before, I’ve only been in a little over a month, but even so, it has really been such an experience. I’ve learned how to take care of a neshek (gun!) – as in how to take it apart, how to handle it, sleep with it, carry it, etc.. (and next week we’ll actually be learning how to shoot them!). I’ve as well learned how to deal with being surrounded in an environment where absolutely nobody speaks a word of English, something that is a pretty new concept to me. In my Tsevet, or group of soldiers, I’m one of two Americans, out of 14 girls total. Over half of my group only speaks Russian, so we’re all forced to speak Hebrew the whole time, because it’s the only common language we know. It help’s a lot really, I think had I not have been immersed in total Hebrew, my Hebrew level would be absolutely nowhere near where it’s at right now.

Currently I’m serving on a base named “Michve Alon”, which is base that specializes in basic training and course Ivrit (army ulpan). We actually just finished our basic training portion a week and a half ago, so now we mainly focus on Hebrew, learning for usually 8 hours a day. It’s really not that bad though, I’m super motivated to learn, so class is pretty exciting. This week, I was chosen to be the “chantarit”, which is when the Mefakdot choose who they think is the top of the Tzevet that week. The role of being the chantarit comes with various responsibilities, such as taking note if there’s any problems the soldiers bringing up, making sure you know where people are, coming up with activities for your Tsevet to do, and so on.

Currently, I only have 2 more months here at Michve Alon, but after that I go straight into training for the “tafkid” (job) that I want. I’m hoping (and fingers crossed!) that I get Palchatz, which is the Search and Rescue unit. Getting this tafkid would be so special to me because it would mean that I would get to hands on make a difference and save people in need!

Gap year in israel - aardvarkisrael