First of all, for those not familiar with the phrase Klal Yisrael, it is a Yiddish expression which has been in use for centuries. Initially it was used as a way of referring to all the religious Jews in the world; however, after the re-emergence of the Zionist movement its meaning changed to refer to all Jews in the world regardless of their religious views and it is now used to promote a sense of community amongst world Jewry regardless of background.
Your gap year with Aardvark Israel presents you with a unique opportunity to experience a realisation of this concept. Regardless of where you have spent your life the chances are you have been exposed to and are familiar with a small cross-section of Jewish society, that which is prevalent where you grew up.
International ProgramThis is where the uniqueness of Israel makes itself felt. Israel is a melting pot of all types of Jews from right across the world. During your gap year in Israel you will meet Jews from Europe, the United States, Ethiopia, China, South Africa, Australia and so on. Better still, not only will you meet them, but as Aardvark attracts participants from across the globe you will be living with these people and experiencing this cultural mix first hand. Furthermore, those of you who choose to take part in our International Program will travel to meet Jewish communities in three different continents and experience their practices in their home environments.
You will find that even within these broad groupings of Jew from different countries there are subsections which are fairly unique. For instance from Europe come the Marranos Jews who early in the second millennium were forcibly converted to Christianity and in recent years have begun to reassert their Jewish identities. A recent change to Spanish law allows these Jews, who have historic links to Spain, to gain Spanish citizenship immediately rather than having to spend ten years as a resident in Spain. You will meet someone like this if you choose to take the International trip to Spain.
The Marranos is just one of many subsections of Jewish society that you will be able to meet on your gap year. Thanks to this it is possible to truly appreciate what the modern concept of Klal Yisrael means and how it is realised in Israeli society.
As a result of this diverse range of backgrounds, practises and beliefs there is no ‘standard’ Judaism to be found in Israel and the exploration of its many realisations is fascinating. It also raises the question of what it means to be a Jew in Israel.
Of course this is a hugely complicated question which has no clear answer. However, you will find that Israel offers Jewish culture in a way that it is impossible to achieve in other countries. For instance, all forms of Judaism recognise Shabbat as the day of rest and regardless of how people interpret this you will notice the streets empty out at sunset on Fridays as the vast majority of people enjoy a Shabbat dinner with family or friends. Similarly, just as in Christian countries the vast majority of people will celebrate Christmas, even if they have never set foot in a church, in Israel it is impossible to avoid the Jewish holidays as everyone marks them in their own way.
Thanks to the combination of Israel identifying as a Jewish country with the fact that its citizens are Jews from right across the world the idea of Klal Yisrael can be experienced like nowhere else and, regardless of your personal religious beliefs, after a year in Israel you are sure to appreciate the questions surrounding Jewish identity and community with a fresh perspective.