gap year in israel

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Shalom Parents!

The Aardvark Spring Semester has officially come to an end. It is bittersweet for all of us. It has been a wonderful year, but it is sad to see the students leave. Luckily, we still have a few more weeks with our Plus Program students before they head off to work as counselors at American Jewish summer camps.

While a small number of our students are still strolling the streets of Jerusalem, most of our participants are already home and hopefully even recovered from their jetlag. Wherever your children may be at the moment, there is one thing for sure, they are not here… The office is quiet… All I can tell you is that it feels unnatural! The staff are waiting for someone to walk in and ask for a new light bulb, directions to get somewhere, make a cup of coffee or simply crash on the couch and announce that they are hungry. We will need to get used to this new loud silence until August when we welcome a new group to Israel.

Contrary to the silence today, the last week of the semester was anything but quiet. The students had the wonderful opportunity to experience Shavuot with friends or family throughout the country. Many students participated in late night learning as is traditional on this holiday and there were special meals held in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv for those who wanted to participate.

On Monday morning after Shavuot, the cleaning and packing frenzy began. And, as a beautiful gesture, to those in need, the students organized a collection of clothing, sheets and towels, toiletries, and food to donate to charity. Now, let me tell you a secret folks, your children are not children anymore, they actually know how to clean… so please make use of this information (but it did not come from us).

On Monday evening, we had the last apartment meetings with our Madrichim. We had fondue and each fruit symbolized a different trait: Leadership, Social Sensitivity, Caring, Kindness, and Tolerance. We were given the opportunity to give someone else in the circle a fruit, based on a trait they showed us and share an anecdote. It really gave us the opportunity to close out the semester and the year thanking our friends for all they have taught us and experienced with us. Our madrichim gave us final words of parting as a group and closure.

On Tuesday morning, we woke up early to go on a hike at Yad Kennedy. The site is located 7 miles (11 km) from downtown Jerusalem, in the same general direction as Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center, on top of the highest of the Jerusalem hills. The site overlooks the historic site of Betar, famous as the last stronghold of the Jewish revolt led by Shimon Bar Kochba against Roman forces in 132–135 CE. It also is the site of a memorial to John F. Kennedy. The 60-foot high memorial is shaped like the stump of a cut tree, symbolizing a life cut short. Inside is a bronze relief of Kennedy, with an eternal flame burning in the center and it is encircled by 51 concrete columns, one for each of the 50 US states plus one for Washington, D.C. The view is just breathtaking, a never-ending succession of mountains and valleys. We were able to see all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. We hiked down the mountain and ended up at a beautiful natural spring where we all went for a swim since it was such a hot day. Once we reached the bottom, we stopped for some well deserved ice cream. “There was a bittersweet feeling in the air as we hiked. I’ve made Jerusalem my home for the last 5 months and I can’t believe it’s ending. Walking in the hills of Jerusalem, I felt at peace with how the semester unfolded, the friendships I made and plan to keep, and the memories I know I will cherish forever.” Sophie Elfenbaum said.

On Tuesday evening, we all got together for the last time and headed off towards an amazing restaurant in Nachlaot called Hummus and Tehina and it was an incredible last meal all together as a Jerusalem family. We reminisced about our semester and year and laughed until we cried about the many memories we have made.

I want to thank all of you for being supportive of us throughout the semester. I know it is not easy to send your child away from home for such a long time and I want to thank you for taking this leap of faith with us. You all gave us feedback over the phone when you spoke to your child’s madrich and we are taking everything you said into consideration in the planning of 2018-19. I can tell you that we tried our best to make this year as significant as it can be for your kids and I believe that we succeeded in achieving this goal. Let me know if you see something different in their eyes when they get back.

Again, thank you! Please stop by to see us when you visit Israel!

Natali and the Staff of Aardvark Israel