gap year in israel

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On January 9, at 7:00 pm this year, I was in the car driving with my family to Sydney International Airport, about to board flight EY455. There were laughs, there were tears and there were the final selfies with the ‘departures sign’. “We will miss you Mimi”, my family said. Then, as I stacked my very much overweight luggage one on top of the other, my dad, who I call ‘Aba’ tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Mimi, if Aardvark doesn’t work out, just call me and I’ll check you into a room at the Hilton and I can organise for you to be on the next flight back to Australia”. Well, I can confidently say that Aardvark very much did work out and there was no check in’s to the Hilton or early flights back home.

During my final year of Highschool last year, attending Moriah College in Sydney, Australia, I was elected as Jewish Life and Zionism captain. I had always felt a strong connection between myself, my Jewish identity, and Israel. But I have never felt this strong of a connection until now, having lived in Israel for over 4 months and having embraced my Jewish roots.

I started this semester being overwhelmed by the number of people, names, and accents. I came into Aardvark wanting to take a step out of the Sydney Jewish community bubble, where everyone knows everyone. I’ll never forget on the first day, someone said to me, “Mimi, my cousin lives in Sydney” and she told me his name – turns out I was on Facetime with him only an hour before. I guess that really showed me how connected we all are, and will be.

Having just finished the Aardvark semester program, and reflecting on my time in Israel, I realised how grateful I am to have shared this once-in-a-lifetime experience with you all, and I have had the most special year. I have learnt a lot about myself this year – I know that I have built resilience and understood more that everything does work out in the end. I have gained confidence and have spent less time worrying about what other people think of me – but, I’ll still never build up the confidence to text on the Aardvark WhatsApp group. I don’t know how Gabby Ben-Zvy, Jora, Lottie, or Gina Horse Emoji sent all those texts in the months leading up to Aardvark.

I have had so many memorable highlights during my time here – but the truth is, you all have made it so meaningful. I have really enjoyed touring and exploring Israel with my Levontin community. There is something special when I learn about Israel with Jewish people my age, who live in the diaspora like I do. On an educational level, I have really gained so much knowledge from my teachers and guest speakers who I have heard from – some who have been so inspiring and have sparked such interesting discussions among us. I have gained practical experience from working at my AI and music internship and engaging with my colleagues, which I know will help me in the future when I study film scoring at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music next year.

Then, there have been all the fun optional activities and other Aardvark program activities which I have really enjoyed – but I have really enjoyed them because I get to know you guys more. Other highlights of mine have been meeting our Mechina and going on the Shabbatons we have had.

Besides the program activities and schedules, I have so enjoyed the time outside of Aardvark hours – spending time with friends on the weekend at the beach, walking the streets of Florentine, or going from apartment to apartment. Even having Shabbas dinners where we all bring stuff and say Kiddish and light candles. I’ll never forget having my 18th birthday here in Israel – I was just so happy and really felt the love from people who I had just met only a few weeks earlier. It was the best birthday I have ever had.

I have realised that Israel isn’t the easiest place to live – and Israelis aren’t the easiest people to live with. Israelis are loud, direct, and straightforward. However, what I admire about them, is their appreciation of life – and how they realise that life moves on. I’ll never forget walking the streets of Rothchild Boulevard the morning after a Tel Aviv shooting attack a few weeks ago, not understanding why the streets were full like usual and why everyone was out and about with smiles on their faces. That moment showed me that even when bad things happen, Israelis don’t pause their lives – life just moves on, and is celebrated.

This year, I really felt I have grown as a Zionist and a Jew. At the MASA Yom Hazikaron ceremony, I felt so connected with Israel and other young Jewish adults who live in the diaspora. I realised what a key part Israel plays in our lives, and how fortunate we are to have Israel as our second home. Just recently, I experienced two International trips to Poland and Germany, and for me, it was the trip to Poland with the most amazing group of people and Madrichim which I will never forget, and which I know brought me closer to Israel and Judaism. Learning about such a dark time in our Jewish history, whilst wearing an Israeli flag around my back made me so proud to be a young Jewish adult. It was an emotional, meaningful, and special trip. Although there were sad times during the trip, there were times when we were able to celebrate Jewish life and continuity, through dancing, Jewish singing, and ruach all together in old synagogues. For me, it wasn’t walking around the camps or terrifying sights which were the most emotional, but it was rather when the group would stand swaying in a circle and sing Hatikvah together. The one part of the trip which I know I never will forget, is when the group walked out of Auschwitz and started singing “Am Yisrael Chai”.

I have had the most special year and am so excited to continue my Aardvark experience when I work at a Jewish Summer Camp in the USA for the next few months. Thank you to all the Aardvark Madrichim and staff for supporting me during my time living here. For the past few years in Sydney, I really have felt out of place and haven’t really found my people – but now, I really do feel like I have, and I feel like I belonged here. Thank you, guys, so much for making this the most memorable experience of my life so far. Please know, that whenever you all get over your fear of spiders … jellyfish, snakes, crocodiles, and vegemite, you all have a place to stay with me in Sydney. I will miss you so much.