gap year in israel

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Day 1

The plane ride was fine and everyone slept as usual.

They are staying in the Hans Brinker hostel named for the famous novel Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates (full title: Hans Brinker; or, the Silver Skates: A Story of Life in Holland) by American author Mary Mapes Dodge, first published in 1865. The novel takes place in the Netherlands, and is a colorful fictional portrait of early nineteenth-century Dutch life, as well as a tale of youthful honor.

The title of the book refers to the beautiful silver skates to be awarded to winner of the ice-skating race Hans Brinker hopes to enter. The novel introduced the sport of Dutch speed skating to Americans, and in U.S. media Hans Brinker is still considered the prototypical speed skater

The hostel is nice, very simple but draws a large student crown making it very lively.

They ended up going to Italian restaurant for lunch; their first “Dutch” evperience is an Italian restaurant.

After lunch they visited the Anne Frank House – clearly a powerful and moving experience for everyone – particularly seeing the book case that hid the family and learning about the family’s story and that everyone died except the father, Otto. The attack hideaway is very dark since they had to keep the windows covered up, gave it a very eerie feeling.

After the Anne Frank House, they walked over to the Homo Monument, which was surrounded by flowers, commemorating May 5th which is Holland’s Liberation day. Matt seems to be getting a lot of attention because the Dutch love the Canadians for helping liberate them. Every time people hear he is from Canada, they love it. Keith says there are flowers everywhere.

Then they went on the bike tour. It’s sad that Clara and Nick don’t know how to ride a bike. All the Dutch laughed at them when they saw that they couldn’t ride. There are more bikes in Amsterdam than they are people and no one wears a helmet. Adam wasn’t paying attention and he crashed into a guy riding a bike.

On the bike tour they learned about the legalization of prostitution, which since originally Amsterdam was a port town with lots of sailors, when they docked they would go to the prostitutes and “have their long awaited needs filled.” In the past they had a 1 out of 3 chance of coming back from sea thereby creating lots of widows.

Holland was considered a tolerant country, having being Protestant, but in the 1970’s it reached an all-time low, people on heavy drugs, and prostitution was at an all-time high so that’s when they decided to slowly increase regulation. Today, there is a prostitution union, which means there are no pimps, the women are protected by police, there are elaborate system to enter their rooms, they make minimum wage (but they usually make an average of 50 Euros for 20 mins) and of course they must use protection. Now they don’t get hurt, it is clean and mostly it has become a tourist attraction. Same processes was done to address the drug problem, they decided to differentiate between hard and soft drugs, thereby eliminating the process of meeting with heavy duty drug dealers who posed threats and tried to get people to buy heavier drugs. As a result, Amsterdam has the lowest rate for drug addiction.

After the bike tour they went to dinner at a Portuguese restaurant. Portugal has a big influence on Amsterdam, since it too was a port country.

After dinner they traveled out to the suburbs to visit Joktan and Vieveki Cohen, friends of Keith from the Army. He has known them for over 20 years. She is the daughter of the people whose house they visited in Norway. They have a gorgeous house in the Jewish Suburbs. The group learned about what life is like for Jewish people growing up in Holland. Joktan’s children go to the same Jewish school he went to as a child. When Keith visited him 21 years ago, he was shocked to find Joktan has never visited the Anne Frank House. The reason for that is that apparently, her story is not all that unique, lots of Jews hid in Amsterdam at that time. Out of the 100,000 Jews living in Amsterdam before the war, 75,000 were killed. Joktan is a city planner and engineer and Vieveke just opened her own bakery from home, so she treated the group to homemade cakes particularly, rhubarb cake.

Yotkan showed everyone a photo album from the time he and Keith served together in the IDF and even shared stories about his time serving in Lebanon. The group really enjoyed this meeting, being in an authentic Dutch home, learning about the anti-Semitism in Holland, and even the sad fact that being anti-Jewish and anti-Israel is deemed the same. The Jewish community is not particularly growing. Today there are only 27,000 Jews in Holland, with an estimation of 10,000 being Israelis. Years ago there was a big wave of homosexual Israelis who came to live in the tolerant Amsterdam, now it doesn’t matter since Israel is completely gay friendly.

Other than that, the weather is great with sporadic rain but warm and quiet and the people are friendly and very tall!

See you tomorrow!!

Day 2

The group woke up early and went on a bus tour to the Northern Amsterdam country side town of Volendam . The drive was particularly unique since the roads are below sea level having been reclaimed from the sea; they are full of grass fields and animals like cows, rabbits, goats, sheep, and ducks. Volendam is a fisherman town with beautiful landscapes. There, the group visited a cheese factory and learned how cheese is made.

For the Americans here, are you familiar with the nursery poem “Little Miss Muffet”? In the poem she eats her curds and whey, which now we know is part of the process of making cheese. The group got to taste different kinds of cheese and a bunch of them bought some. Many people buy cheese in Holland and bring it back with them.

After the cheese factory, they took a boat ride to the Island of Marken. On the boat a bunch of them drank hot chocolate with whipped cream and cinnamon, very Dutch! They got to the Island of Marken, which is also fishing community. Even though it is no longer a real island, rather a peninsula, it is still called the Island of Marken. It is picturesque and unique with cute houses with cobble stone roads and canals under bridges, seriously something out of a fairy tale There, they went to a clog making factory (wooden shoes), and had a demonstration on how they are made.

Why did the Dutch wear wooden shoes? 1. They were poor and wood was easier to get and lasts longer than leather. 2. They were farmers so if an animal, like a cow, stepped on their feet accidentally, the clog prevented against damage and pain. They all tried the clogs on but no one bought any, they are not very comfortable. From the clogs factory they continued to a tour of the Sanzuan windmills.

Today, there are only 800 old fashioned windmills left, some of which still operate. Holland is known for its windmills, which were used to ‘reclaim’ land from the sea by draining the water. Near the windmills there was a play area with classic children’s games that the Dutch people played in the old days. One game is wooden stilts, so Keith and Adam tried to walk with them but failed. These two old ladies came by and showed them the techniques of how to step onto the stilts and they were clearly helpful as Keith and Adam were able to walk on the stilts.

Despite horrible traffic, causing a delay in their schedule, they made it back to Amsterdam. Apparently, the roads in Amsterdam are not made for big buses. They continued to the House of Bols where they learned that Bols are famous cocktails and mixes and have been around since the 1800s. They had lots of interactive things to do, for instance a scent station where you press a button and guess the scent of the ingredient. Adam got to re-enact Tom Cruise in Cocktail and pretend to be a bar tender. As part of the tour you got two liquors to taste and one cocktail, which you choose from a computerized menu. You create your own cocktail based on your preferences and then the bar tender makes it for you. Keith and Katie chose a sex and the city type drink like watermelon cosmopolitan.

When they were done they had to make a decision on whether to go to the Van Gogh Museum or the Heineken experience. Clearly the American predisposition to drink alcohol and party, won. At the Heineken experience they had a guided tour of the on the history of beer making. The factory has lots of fun interactive things to do. Case in point:

They had a taste testing and learned that the foam on the top is a method for preserving flavor and ensure that the beer doesn’t oxidize. Aside from a taste test, you get two free beers at the end of the tour. Some, who shall remain nameless, had more than two. Keith personally hates beer, but there is not a cocktail he would turn down.

After that they met Dana, a Dutch girl who wants to come on Aardvark next year. She is from a small town an hour outside Amsterdam close to the German border, where there are barely any Jews. Her grandparents survived Auschwitz by hiding like other Dutch people. She too found that fact that Clara and Nick can’t ride a bike to be hilarious.

They all went to dinner at a Surinamese restaurant. Suriname is now a free country after being colonized by Holland. In 1667 it was captured by the Dutch, who then governed Suriname as Dutch Guiana until 1954, when it became one of the constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Suriname left the Kingdom of the Netherlands to become independent on 25 November 1975. The restaurant was extremely authentic with no English menus but luckily they had Dana with them who helped translate. The food was incredible.

After dinner they went to the comedy show “Boom Chicago,” where students can choose either 4 beers or wine and of course the beer was Heineken. Keith said the wine was horrible and that Israeli wine is definitely better. The show was in English and hilarious. It is partly improvisation and part regular comedy skits. The performers are clever and must think on their feet. When the show was over, they told the audience that they are currently working on a new show, and asked if anyone wanted to stay and give feedback; of course everyone went home except Keith and Adam who said they had a great time.

They came back to the HOTEL exhausted and went right to sleep.

‘Till tomorrow.

Day 3

It started off really early (don’t wanna waste time sleeping here people) and they went to The Hague, the capital of Holland.

On the hour-long train ride they passed a Tulip farm. Through the rectangular window they saw so many flowers with so many colors; red, pink, yellow… it was just beautiful.

So, they met the Israeli Ambassador, Haim Divon and four other staff members. Keith was impressed with how many staff showed up and said they were treated like royalty. Haim spent over an hour with them and spoke about the relationship between Israeli and Holland. What they learnt was actually quite upsetting. There is a big Muslim community and left wing influence in Holland and recently there was a group who tried to introduce new legislation to the parliament to down grade the relationship between Holland and Israel. It didn’t pass…. however it’s disturbing because Holland is a liberal country and the Palestinians and Arabs are not, yet Israel is still getting bashed. Anyway, Matt asked some really great questions and the group enjoyed the talk.

After that they went to lunch in a Dutch cafe with local authentic food and obviously lots of Dutch people. Delicious dining experience.

But then the group had a disaster!

They went to Prison Gate Museum; it’s a medieval building, which has a unique collection of punishment and torture devices to show the history of criminal law in Holland. The group expected to hear exciting stories of political conspiracies, punishments of prisoners and life in the cells of the Prison Gate.

However the whole tour was in Dutch, not English! So they shoved the group with 40 other tourists into a small prison cell. It was dark and they were in there for ages! Keith asked to leave after 20 minutes and they guy wouldn’t let them leave for another 30 minutes. It was like they were really stuck in a prison… and they were! It was torture. (But sounds really funny)

Just a side note: when they were standing in the prison cell, Keith noticed that Dutch people are really tall…. so everything is bigger than usual. So when the boys went to the urinals, they couldn’t reach it. The urinals were hard to use… seriously!

Then they went to the Escher Museum: it features the works of the Dutch graphical artist M.C. Escher. You know the drawings!

He’s amazing how he creates illusions with his artwork. In the Museum there was an interactive area for all to engage with. The picture below of Matt here is fake… It’s actually a drawing on various different walls. It’s an trick. He’s not standing in the middle! (Probably explains why the picture is blurry)

Just a quick note, Katie has been very involved with all the issues happening with Women at the Western Wall. So every time they would get some wifi, she updated the group of what was happening there. It’s interesting stuff and I encourage you to keep updated as well!

After that the kids were so tired and exhausted that they wanted to miss the last activity and go back early. In fact, Clara was ringleader! So they took the train and passed out.

Out cold then they rested at the HOTEL and went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. They had margaritas and the food was amazing!

Now they have a free night to go out and have fun!

Day 4

Today was a jammed pack day! It all started at the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. For most people it was their first time and it was so much fun!

Some of the wax models were so life like and some just looked fake.

The one negative thing to say was, as you know they have international celebs, pop stars and even local Dutch icons. So there was a model of Anne frank and the group found it to be a bit insulting… it just didn’t seem to fit in. But otherwise… it was great fun.

Then they went to the Amsterdam Dungeon…It was also fun! A little bit morbid to see how people back then got tortured. (Dates back between 1400-1800). They had different scenes of torture, such as witches being burnt at the stake. They also had live shows with audience participation. Keith and Nick were picked to be in the play… they were both slaves! At the end of the museum there was a little roller-coaster… which turned out to be not scary. Katie really hates scary stuff and Keith had to stay with her the whole time… but she survived!

After that they went to the sex museum. Keith didn’t take pictures, as he said it was not child friendly. But really interesting stuff.

Then they had lunch and went to a hipster/ sustainable café where all the produce is picked locally and on that day. But half the things they wanted they didn’t even have! It was ok, they ate and left. (This is the apple pie they really wanted).

Then, to sweeten everything up they went to get a waffle. They had so many flavors… Nutella was the best. The waffles were made on the spot and everyone was super happy.

Then they went to the museum of Hash, Marijuana, and Hemp. As you know this is legal in Holland, however no one is allowed to smoke on the trip. At the end of the museum, they had samples. Kids did not allow them to buy any!

After that, they tried their luck for the second time at another torture museum. (Remember the other museum was all in Dutch and they didn’t understand anything). They saw a real gelatin that was used hundred of years ago. Interesting to know, a lot of the torture tools were used during the Spanish Inquisition. The Catholics tried to convert all the Jews to Christianity and if they didn’t they would use these torture tools on them. It was sad to know that these tools were used on our ancestors. (Not too sure why Adam is smiling here)

After they went to the museum of bags and purses. The boys didn’t want to go. But Keith convinced them it was art. (Which is it!) It’s was the history of bags… it was cool and interesting.

They went back to HOTEL to rest and then they went on a cruise on the canal. Before they got on the boat, they ordered dinner and desert and it was delivered at one of the docking stations. It was a great way to see Amsterdam! After the tour they had free time to explore the city.

Last day is tomorrow!

Day 5

First up, happy birthday Adam!!!!! What a great way to spend your birthday. You’re the best!

So, it was their last day in Amsterdam and Keith let everyone sleep in. It was well needed! They had to check out of the HOTEL at 10, but left at 10:30. They stored their bags there at the hotel. Off they went to the Foam Museum of Photography… it sucked! It was too weird and no one liked this type of modern art & photography.

From there, they went to the Jewish Historical Museum. It’s part of the Old Jewish Quarter and dedicated to Jewish history, culture and religion. They did a good job in renovating it. The building was modern and the experience was interactive. There are not that many Jews left in Holland so they turned the synagogue in to a museum. The Jews who are left don’t live in that area anymore. It’s actually very sad… The Nazis killed ¾ of the Dutch Jews. Keith thinks it’s the highest % in Western Europe. In fact, higher then Germany. That’s crazy.

Then they went to the Portuguese Synagogue, a 17th century Sephardic community. It’s gorgeous… huge and beautiful!

The Amsterdam Sephardic community was one of the largest and richest in Europe during the Dutch Golden Age , and the very large synagogue reflected this.

Israeli Prime-Minister Bibi described it as “one the most beautiful synagogues I have ever seen”. A couple of points to note:

  1. The congregation wore top hats (The ones with the coat tail) they were wealthy!
  2. The wooden floor is covered with a sprinkle of sand. It’s to represent when the Jews were exiled from Egypt and wondered the desert.
  3. There’s also no electricity…. Candles light lit everything and there are many candelabras.
    Then they went to lunch… it was a very nice lunch. Katie had a drinking problem! She missed her mouth and spilled water all over her.

Then they went to the Auschwitz Monument. It’s a Dutch memorial commemorating those who perished in the concentration camp Auschwitz.

The monument is made up of broken mirrors and has the inscription “Never again Auschwitz”. It’s very small. In the monument there are ashes from Auschwitz placed in the middle. The group did a yahrzeit prayer. They lit a candle, Clara said Kiddush, Katie and Nick read some prayers. It was very powerful and meaningful.

Then with the same candle…. they celebrated Adam’s birthday. It was quazi-tasteful, but it’s so Israeli! Sadness is always followed by happiness and celebration. Just like Memorial Day is followed by Independence Today.

Next to the theater which was called Hollandsche Schowberg, deportation site of Dutch Jewry. During the war, it had a double function as assembly point. It was both the place to register for immediate deportation and also a prison where Jews were kept for longer periods. It’s clear all the non-Jews knew what was going in. It was nasty.

Of all the Jews that were deported only 5,000 survived. 80,000 were sent to the concentration camp. Amongst all that about 30,000 went into hiding and half were caught and turned in Dutch people.

After that, they went to their last museum, The Dutch Resistance Museum, which dates between 14 May 1940 to 5 May 1945, this is when the Netherlands were occupied by Nazi Germany. Almost every Dutch person was affected by the consequences of the occupation. The museum focuses on the positive. It talks about all the good things the Dutch people did in WWII to save the Jews.

Then they went for high tea. They drank hot chocolate and apple pie. They then had some free time and went back to the HOTEL to grab their luggage.

That’s it guys! Aardvark International closes it’s doors for this semester. See you soon