gap year in israel

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It really is so bittersweet being here with everyone for one last time before we all go our separate ways. Now that we’re at the end, I feel like it’s only fitting to start from the beginning. Before Aardvark, I had only ever been here to visit family, my mom dragged my brother and me everywhere to meet our distant relatives that remembered me when I was very little. Being here without them, and at a very interesting time too, really was eye-opening and gave me an opportunity to create my own personal connection with this beautiful country we’ve called home these past few months. For starters, I was able to really immerse myself in Israeli culture. Israelis are resilient. Yom Hazikaron is just one example, but you could literally feel the intense energy in the air that night and the following day. Nowhere else in the world will you have an entire country stop what they’re doing on a memorial day to commemorate the people who have fallen. They went from mourning to celebration within a few hours, which just goes to show how they bounce back no matter what. I’ve also never witnessed a protest. As annoying as they were sometimes, I never thought I would be able to witness such a thing as powerful as people coming together to protest something they are so passionate about. It really shows how strong Israelis are, how they speak their mind (which they really are not afraid to do), and how they won’t put up with anything from anyone, even their government.

I think the most beautiful thing about Israelis is that they are a family. Even though most of them have never met each other if you were stranded they would take you in with open arms, and if you need something they would help you without batting an eye. When we went rafting on our last overnight tiyul, a few Israeli kids on the side of the river waved to us and asked if they could come on the boat with us. Obviously, we said of course, and they jumped in the water and climbed onto our boat. Right away, they started chatting with my madrich, Noam, like they had known each other for years and were just catching up. After a few minutes they had to go back to class, so they said their “Lehitraot Ach Sheli”s and went on their way. They had never met, had one conversation, and were already calling each other brother when they parted ways. The thing is, they’re not only connected by being born in the same controversial country, they’re connected by their religion too. They celebrate the same holidays and feel the same pain on Yom Hazicaron, and the same pride on Yom Haatzmaut. Judaism connects every Jew from all over the world. If you think about it, we’re only here because we’re Jewish, and if it wasn’t for our Judaism we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world.

This program has taught me so much about myself and about others. I wasn’t expecting to feel so homesick. Even though I always considered Israel a second home, being here alone was ridiculously difficult at certain points. I learned not to take things for granted, especially my friends and family at home, and how to deal with the ups and downs on my own, which ultimately made me stronger. Being with people 24/7 is… difficult at times, that’s inevitable, but I wouldn’t have changed anything about my experience. I learned how to live with people that aren’t my family members, and more importantly, with that, I learned how to communicate better. I’ve learned what I like, what I won’t put up with in certain situations, and how to find real friends. Even though it was only a few months, I can confidently say that I’ve met some of my best friends here. I now have reasons to go to Australia, South Africa, London, and even Israel (but without my mom and brother). these past 132 days have had some crazy ups and downs and plot twists that I was honestly not expecting or prepared for, but I can easily say they have been some of the best of my life, and I’m so glad I got to spend them with you all.

My semester in israel - gabriella ben zvy