gap year in israel

Check out our social media to see what our students have been up to this past week!

Day 1

Unbelievably we left Israel in rain (in May!) to arrive to Holland in rain. The plane ride and landing was a bit bumpy. Somehow Sivan survived. We were met at the airport by a very tall blond woman who was our driver to the hostel. After storing our luggage we did what every American does in every country in the world…eat at McDonalds. Well we were pressed for time because we had booked an appointment to see Anne Frank House so we could skip the long line.

It is one thing to read about Anne Frank and quite another experience to visit the secret annex. Each time we come closer to understanding what the Holocaust was really about, it makes it even more incomprehensible. This story is particularly touching since they lived so long in secret only to be discovered and almost everyone murdered. It was quite sobering for the students.

It was then off to an idyllic bike ride tour through the center of Amsterdam. Well it would have been idyllic if it was not for all the rain. Yes the tour company gave us huge rain ponchos to wear over the bikes…but not everyone mastered staying dry. Fine…no one mastered staying dry. And after a rough start (Sivan who wanted to quit) we all had an enjoyable tour that shed light on topics like: how Amsterdam was built using a series of canals and reclaiming land, how do the houses stand and why do they often lean, how to get furniture into the homes since the staircases are too narrow, so how does the business of prostitution actually work, and what about all those drugs? Your children should have all the answers to these burning questions now so ask them. And while no country is perfect it is clear that despite Holland’s liberalism and tolerance it is doing quite well and god hasn’t destroyed it with fire and brimstone.

Since we were very very wet, we went to the hostel to dry off and change and then eat dinner there. It was not a successful dinner (Lily is not happy). We won’t eat there again besides breakfast. You live and learn. But that didn’t matter so much because it was off to the suburbs to visit my very good friends Joktan (biblical name…one of Noah’s grandsons) and Viebeke (Norwegian name but Jewish). We got to go out to the suburbs (where else to Jews live?) and visit a typical European Jewish family. Viebeke is a baker and has a baking business. She had ready for us and assortment of cookies and cake (everything really delicious) served with tea/coffee and soft drinks. This couple spoke about their lives and their parent’s lives (all Holocaust survivors). A great discussion ensued about Jewish identity and Jewish continuity in Europe, North America, and Israel. As a Jewish educator I love these moments when students are challenged to confront their identities and explore how they want their lives to be in the future.

All in all a great first day. Amsterdam is beautiful even in the rain. We have done interesting things and it has been educational. To those parents who didn’t want to pay for their child to go on the Aardvark Amsterdam trip and will just let them run wild on their own in Europe I say bah humbug…this is a much more meaningful experience.

Day 2

First things first…not a lot of rain today. Yay! We took our first tram ride this morning and went to pick up our museum tickets then it was off to sadness and education. It has been a heavy day. We started off at the Jewish Historical Museum. It was amazing to see so many non Jewish school children brought there to learn about Jewish history and what happened to the Dutch Jews. This is not a Holocaust museum but a history of Dutch Jewry. But of course there was a focus on the Holocaust. Holland had one of the highest percentages of Jews killed in the Holocaust. It wasn’t just because of the Nazis…plenty of Dutch helped. And of the 107,000 Jews deported, only 5,000 survived. And of the 28,000 hidden, half were turned in to the Nazis by Dutch. It is a heavy history but one that propelled Dutch society to become one of the most open and tolerant places in the world in modern times.

We visited the Portuguese Synagogue. It is a gorgeous wooden structure and there we learned how the original Jews to Holland were Sephardim (that escaped the Inquisition from Spain to Portugal to Holland). Holland was Protestant so it was a safe haven from the Catholic Inquisition. The Jews thrived in Holland and there the Sephardim were rich and established while the Ashkenasim were the new and poor people.

We then has a ceremony by the Aushwitz monument since so many Dutch Jews perished there.

Lunch was great. Lily was happy.

Now back to sadness.

We went to Hollandsche Schowberg which was a Jewish theatre but was used by the Nazis to round up Jews, hold them there, and then ship them out of Amsterdam. We learned how people resisted, suffered, and died.

And to top off all this stuff we went to the Dutch Resistance Museum where we learned about the good Dutch who resisted the Nazis and how they did it. It is actually a museum to get you to think about the choices you have back then and to decide what you would have done. It is easy to think that the moral thing was to resist but it was not so simple to decide that.

Then Ben needed to sleep. The rest of them needed retail therapy so I sent them off shopping.

Then to release tension we had a cruise on a canal. We ordered pizza which was delivered in route, then ordered ice cream which was delivered at another port. All while drinking lots of wine. We needed that!

Day 3

Today was our Day of Decadence. So for each activity i dedicated it to a particular student. I won’t explain why…but you know your children.

We started off a the museum of marijuana and hemp. The museum’s mission is to show how useful is the plant. I discouraged the students from buying seeds to plant since if caught at the airport they would be in big trouble. And the student this was dedicated to is….anonymous…we don’t want to get anyone into trouble.

Next we were off the the museum of erotica. There are several museums dealing with sex but we just chose one. And some of the exhibits were pretty shocking. This one is dedicated to Rachel.

The museum of bags and purses is apparently the largest collection of its kind. There were some stunning and expensive pieces. It was like going to an art museum but everything was bags. This is dedicated to Sivan.

Then on the never ending whining about having to take a picture at the I AM sterdam sign, we found it and took a picture. So this is also dedicated to her.

We had a great lunch and Lily said it was the best hamburger than she ever had in her life.

Then it was off the the House of Bols a famous European cocktail manufacturer. We go to take some quizzes, guess fragrances, and choose a cocktail at the bar along with two liqueur chasers. This one is for Anais.

This was followed by yet more drinking on the Heineken Brewery tour. The learned about how beer is made and got to taste it of course. This is a fun thing to do but it is just one long commercial for Heineken. This is dedicated to David.

Dinner was also good so I dedicated that to Ian since he ordered a drink of tea and then asked for tap water and they wouldn’t give it to him….so he just went to the bathroom.

Finally the group went to the comedy show Boom Chicago. Ben gets this one since he loves comedy and he laughs loudly during live shows…they should pay him.

I hope they don’t stay out too late tonight since we have to leave earlier for a tour tomorrow.

Day 4

Another great day in Holland…oh but the rain. Usually it does not rain in May…that is why it is the last international trip. But it just won’t stop. After a couple of days walking around with a wind-beat-up umbrella I bought a new one…that lasted 3 hours until it imploded. But despite the rain outside we are still maintaining our cheery dispositions.

In the morning we went out to the countryside. We first saw an old fashioned windmill field. This was followed by a trip highlight….cheese (well the students talked about cheese a lot). We had a demonstration of how cheese is made. And to test if your child was paying attention there is the nursery rhyme “Little miss muffet sat on her tuffet eating her curds and whey” They should all know now what is the curd and what is the whey. But they still might not know what is a tuffet. For the demonstration two volunteers were called from the audience who turned out to be Rachel and Ben. We then took a boat to an island and went to an old-fashioned wooden shoe making factory where we had a demonstration about how and why the shoes are made. And to test if your child was paying attention ask them to list the three main reasons why the Dutch wore wooden shoes. You can email me privately if you want the answer. The day was nice being out in the countryside and visiting little villages. It would have been nicer if we has some sunshine though. Our guide said that he couldn’t recall a Dutch painter who would paint their skies blue.

We went back to Amsterdam and visited the wax museum filled with famous people that we got to take pictures with. Some were international stars while others were Dutch stars that we didn’t know…except for Anne Frank. She is one of the first wax statues you see while happily sitting at her desk writing in her diary. I personally think it is completely offensive. She is not the kind of person who should be there and you can pose next to taking a picture. Also I don’t think the Dutch have a right to use her as a celebrity in that way…especially it was the Dutch who turned the family in causing her subsequent murder. If they want to show her then make an emaciated typhus skeleton of a girl starving to death in Bergen Belsen where she was murdered. She is not some star they can turn into wax for a photo-opp.

Finally we went to the Amsterdam Dungeon. It is part haunted house, part comedy skits with live actors, and part historical museum. You do learn the gruesome parts of Dutch history starting with the Inquisition. Some Aardvark students were a little afraid to do this. But by far the most afraid was Sivan. I literally had to drag her into the elevator to begin the tour. And probably the actors were paying attention to who could be a victim so in the first skit she was the very first person chosen to be brought on stage and locked in a prison cell. As you walk from room to room the scene and actors change. In a different room Sivan was accused of being a witch and put on trial. She was then removed from the room. And in another room Ian was chosen to lead us all to safety but he failed. At which point Sivan the witch was accused again and burnt at the stake. In the middle of all of this Lily had to go up and help a mad doctor’s assistant remove body parts from someone semi-dead and when we got to another room the assistant burst into the room suddenly yelling for Lily. I also had a starring role by the way with different torture tools that could be used on me to make a confession. I am just happy pictures were not allowed.

The students now have a free evening. I gave each of them money to buy dinner and they decided as a group to do some shopping together. And it mercifully stopped raining.

Day 5

Yes I wrote this and yes I thought I posted it.

No I can’t find it. No it was not sent. No I didn’t study enough computer science….I work with people.

So I will just re-write about our last day in Holland…

We woke up to go straight to the Central Station so we could have Starbucks (well not exactly on my original itinerary but the crowd was getting vicious). While there we waited for our train to take us to The Hague (really called Den Hache in Dutch with the “ch” being like the letter “chet” in Hebrew). The train was about an hour south of Amsterdam in South Holland; as opposed to Amsterdam which is in North Holland. Please refer to original video I sent you regarding the Netherlands. Note that the day we had our day excursion to the windmills/cheese/shoes we were in North Holland but also in Markemee.

The Hague is quaint. And our first stop was to see the parliament and one of the places that the King sits. Now I will be honest that even after three tours I have personally done there I still do not understand why the Hague is not the capital since the government sits there. Amsterdam is the capital. I guess on some level I do understand since we all know that New York should be the capital of the USA instead of that back-water town of DC. I guess at the time that it as important to have something in between the North and the South but the USA has expanded a lot since then so based on that logic they should move the capital to Chicago. But I digress.

It was interesting learning how the Netherlands is a liberal democracy but still has a King. Until recently they had a much beloved Queen but as she got older she decided to step down and let her son rule (as opposed to the other Queen in North Europe who just won’t give up her title…or die…). The monarchy doesn’t have much power in the Netherlands but it is nice for tourism.

Now since Aardvark is an amazing program constantly being innovative and cool, we arrived at the parliament exactly in time to see the Dalai Lama exit the building and we got to take pictures. It was fun seeing this “celebrity” but I did have to take a moment between the Free Tibet inclinations to make sure everyone understood that there was no guarantee that if Tibet were in fact free, that it would be a liberal democracy. In fact the Dalai Lama represents a male-dominated hierarchy that is also has problems with women in power, abortion, and gays. But to quote David Letterman it was still fun having a “brush with greatness”.

Then we were off to the real reason we came to The Hague…to visit the Israeli embassy. We met with the ambassador, Haim Divon. He is amazing and gave us great insights into the political situation with Israel. One of the best questions, though, came from David…and he thought his question was not good… He wanted to know how Mr. Divon. decided to become an ambassador. So like every good Jewish kid he thought he was going to be a lawyer….then life happened. I think it was a good lesson on how to grab opportunities, be flexible, creative, and adventurous. Good lessons for our students.

Afterwards we were supposed to go to the Escher museum but I messed up and they were closed on Monday. That was fine since we went back to Amsterdam early and for the first time since we arrived there was no rain! That meant some nice time walking around our hotel until the taxis came to take us to the airport.

It was a nice ending to our trip and to all the International trips for the season. We love doing these trips and know they are educationally sound. Please spread the word so we can get more students on our International track.