gap year in israel

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Day 1

Dear Parents,

We have all safely arrived in the wonderful city of Amsterdam!
We reached our hotel, which is very well located close to public transportation and cool sites, and it is extremely comfortable.

Once everyone was ready, we headed out to begin exploring. We went to the Rijksmuseum. The museum
first opened its doors in 1800 under the name ‘Nationale Kunstgalerij’. At the time it was housed in Huis Ten Bosch in The Hague. The collection is mainly comprised of paintings and historical objects. In 1808, the museum moved to the new capital city of Amsterdam and was located in the Royal Palace on Dam Square.

After King Willem I’s accession to the throne, the paintings and national print collection were moved to the Trippenhuis on Kloveniersburgwal, while the other objects were returned to The Hague. The current building went into use in 1885. The Netherlands Museum for History and Art based in The Hague moved into the same premises, forming what would later become the departments of Dutch History and Sculpture & Applied Art.

After sampling the local cuisine (pancakes!), we strolled to the starting point of our three-hour bike tour. We were very lucky and the sun decided to shine for us as we were getting on the bikes. Our guide gave us a lot of information about history and culture, as well as great tips, like where to find the best pizza in town. Everyone had a great time seeing the various neighborhoods of the city, as well as many notable sites. And, since bicycles are an extremely common mode of transportation for the Dutch, our students fitted right in (well, almost…). One of the weirder things that the tour guide pointed out was that many houses in Amsterdam tilt to the side. A fact that went unnoticed until it was mentioned. Apparently, the buildings tilt to the side because of the muddy terrain underneath the city; it was built in an area that used to be a swamp.

The students really enjoyed seeing the town, riding over the bridges and seeing the canals. The city is beautiful.

Next we went to the Anne Frank House, the building in which Anne Frank and her family lived hiding in the attic for nearly two years. The experience was inspiring. We especially appreciated seeing recorded interviews of people who personally knew Anne and the others in the house. Sarah said it was great that Anne Frank was not portrayed as a saint but rather as a regular person who had flaws and strengths. It was also interesting seeing things preserved on the walls of the building such as artwork and a height chart. Nearly a million visitors each year go to the Anne Frank House and have the chance to see the original diary and other notebooks of Anne’s which are on display. Visitors can also walk through the building, up the steep stairs, behind the hidden entrance to the attic.

Finally, in the evening we all boarded a boat for an evening dinner cruise through the canals. While enjoying the relaxing ride, the boat staff guided us through the city pointing out sites and landmarks. It was informative and fun and it emphasized the beauty and the charm of the city.

We just arrived back at our hotel after our excursions and we are ready to call it a day and go get some sleep! I certainly am…

Natali Basel


Netherlands – Day 2

Today we left Amsterdam and drove to Hague.

Unfortunately, the previous evening the embassy was forced to cancel our visit due to an emergency that the ambassador and his assistant were dealing with.

Instead, we decided to visit the museum of the famous artist M.C Escher. The museum is located at the Lange Voorhout Palace, a former royal residence that dates back to the eighteenth century. Queen Emma bought the stately house in 1896. She used it as a winter palace from March 1901 until her death in March 1934. Four later Dutch queens used the palace as their business offices until Queen Beatrix moved the office to the Paleis Noordeinde. Now the first and second floors house exhibitions on the royal period of the palace, highlighting Queen Emma’s residence.

The museum features a permanent display of a large number of woodcuts and lithographs by Escher, among them the world-famous prints, Air and Water (birds become fish), Waterfall (where water seems to flow upwards) and Drawing (two hands drawing each other). The Escher works in Het Paleis demonstrate the lovely early Italian landscapes, the many mirror prints and a choice from the tessellation drawings. It is also home to the three versions of Metamorphosis, from the first small one, to the third one that is 7 meters and displayed in a circle. It underlines the new vision of the museum on the work of M.C. Escher.

The third floor of the museum is dedicated to Optical Illusions where, besides the famous Escher Room in which grownups seem to be smaller than their children, there are numerous interactive displays that play tricks on the eyes.

The Hague itself is a nice balance of history and the modern world. There are many crucial political forums that take place there and it was a very nice day for the group.

Then we took the train to Keukenhof, also known as the Garden of Europe, one of the world’s largest flower gardens. According to the official website for the Keukenhof Park, approximately 7 million flower bulbs are planted annually in the park, which covers an area of 32 hectares. Keukenhof is located in South Holland in the small town of Lisse, south of Haarlem and southwest of Amsterdam.

Our next site was the Amsterdam Dungeon! Through the interactive adventure, the guides at the dungeon brought 500 years of dark Dutch history to life. We were threatened with mutilation for practicing witchcraft. One person was tried for his crimes against fashion and all of us were sold to work as a crew on a pirate ship. Needless to say, everyone had fun and even learned something along the way.


Netherlands – Day 3

This morning we woke up early to go to the Dutch’s favorite local hangout, the Efteling, an amusement park dedicated to their favorite storybook characters. For a few of us it was an opportunity to explore our wild side and enjoy an adrenaline rush from the rollercoasters. It was nice to see the sun come over the horizon just as we arrived at the park. Afterwards, we travelled back to the city of Amsterdam to visit a few important monuments.
We visited the Homomonument. The monument is triangular and represents the pink triangle gays were forced to wear during the Holocaust (similar to the yellow star Jews were forced to wear).
At the end of the day we went to The Munttoren (“Mint Tower”) or Munt. It stands on the busy Muntplein square, where the Amstel River and the Singel canal meet, near the flower market and the eastern end of the Kalverstraat shopping street.

During the evening, the students had some free time around the Montower. Some of us took the time to visit the local Prison Gate Museum. Between 1428 and 1828, the gatehouse was a prison. While touring the site, the students heard exciting stories the prisoners’ punishments and saw what it was like in the cells. We learned about the history of criminal justice in the Netherlands. We enjoyed visiting the prison despite seeing the horrible cells and hearing about the punishments which included fines, pain, humiliation, corporal punishment and capital punishment

A Story of Unfortunate Events

It was 19:58 pm. I was enjoying some much-needed free time, exploring the streets of Amsterdam. I never thought that my life would take such a drastic turn of events. It all happened in an instant. A small tap on my neck. Thinking it was just an ordinary bug, I placed my hand on my neck, so as to shove it off. What I felt was horrifying. It was a sticky substance, pale in color and foul in smell. Looking above, I saw the terrible truth. Spreading its wings in a majestic gesture, as if showing off, was a seagull who had just finished doing its business. All of a sudden, a bystander interrupted his phone call in order to take a picture with me. I soon realized I was one of the very few marked by an act of fate. Thinking quickly, I rushed to the nearest bar and into their run down bathroom. While I could remove the physical stains, deep down at the emotional level, this mark has not abandoned me yet. They say that being pooped on by a bird is a sign of good luck, but all I ended up with is a stained shirt and an embarrassing moment.

Uri Zejer
Best regards
and Shavoa Tov


Netherlands – Day 4

Dear Parents-

We started the day by taking the train to the Zaanse Schans, a neighborhood of Zaandam, near Zaandijk in the Netherlands.

It has a collection of well-preserved historic windmills and houses. From 1961 to 1974 old buildings from all over the Zaanstreek were relocated to the area using lowboy trailers. The Zaanse Schans takes its name from an earthen sconce, a fortification from the Eighty Years’ War (the uprising against Spanish rule). In the Zaan district there were probably 13 of these types of sconce in the 16th century. In 1574, the Kalver-Schans was situated next to the current Zaanse Schans, just across the road. It was the largest one in the region and the only Zaanse Schans never conquered by the Spaniards! The Zaanse Schans is one of the more popular tourist attractions in the Netherlands and an anchor point of ERIH, the European Route of Industrial Heritage. The Zaans Museum located next to the Zaanse Schans. The Zaanse Schans is home to seven museums: The Weavers House, the Cooperage, the Jisper House, Zaan Time Museum, Albert Heijn Museumshop and the Bakery Museum.

From a distance, we could already see the sails of the windmills slowly turning, with extensive meadows in the background. It is a serene image, but there is hard work going on inside the mills. The creaking, toiling wood and all the moving parts in the belly of the building make up an imposing spectacle in which wood is sawn, or oil, flour, spices and pigments are milled. We enjoyed the beautiful panorama and seeing how the industry developed in the wider area.

After a quiet break, we returned to Amsterdam to the Heineken factory.

This tour begins with a number of historical displays before moving through the copper mixing and cooking area (with a tasting). Next on the tour are some of the parade horses before it arrives in the experiential area.

The tour teaches you the best way to drink a Heineken with an interactive film about the brewing process (we went to the middle of the room for the full experience). Furthermore, the tour of the factory offers so much more than regular tours. It covers the basics such as the founders of the brewery, its history and so on, just as on a typical tour, but it ends with an entire interactive experience! There is a dance clubroom, photo booths and entertainment. Even a bar where you cash in your tokens for beer and learn how to pour the perfect pint!

At the end of the day we went to the A’DAM LOOKOUT. A spectacular 360º view across Amsterdam and the historic city centre, the harbour area and the polders north of the city. You can even see Utrecht’s Domtoren on a clear day.

LOOKOUT also had an extra adrenaline rush in store for the daredevils among us: we found Europe’s highest swing on the rooftop! We were swinging ‘over the edge’ of the lookout tower whilst safely strapped into a secure harness, at a terrifying height of nearly 100 meters above the ground.

You will find LOOKOUT on the top floor of the iconic A’DAM Tower along the IJ, right next to the Eye Film Institute and opposite the Central Station. Local Amsterdam residents will undoubtedly remember the A’DAM Tower as the old Shell Tower.
Best regards


Netherlands Final Day

Dear Parents,

We arrived safely back in Israel after spending an amazing last day in the city of Amsterdam. We began our day with a visit to the Portuguese synagogue, which was founded by Portuguese immigrants that fled Spain in the 1600’s. Today, the synagogue is exactly the same as the day they finished building it. Unfortunately, the Jewish community is not the same as before the war; the population is less than half of what it was. The site of the shul is striking. The roof was built like a boat and constructed by actual shipbuilders.

After the synagogue, we went to the Jewish Museum and learned about the area’s community up to the Holocaust. What was different about this community in particular is that they bought their own tickets to the death camp without knowing their final destination. We also learned that during the first Shabbat following the city’s liberation in 1945, the Jews opened the shul to pray and they had not lost their faith. Today, the only thing that is left of this community is a small quarter of the city with a small number of families living there. In front of every house once owned by Jews there sits stones, the number of stones depends on how many people lived in the house and who they were. Their names, birthday, which camp they went to and how they died are inscribed on these stones.

The final activity of the trip was a cheese and wine tasting class. We tasted six different cheeses and three different wines. All in all, it was a great journey and were happy to be coming back to Israel.

Daniel Amoils said:
“It was very interesting and fascinating; it opened my eyes to European and Dutch culture.”

Micah Banschick said:
“Thankfully the city was organized systematically differently than any of the places that I’m used to, which made exploring it that much more fun!”

Alex Maybloom said:
“It was refreshing to be met with a beautiful sight everywhere you looked. I only wish I could stay longer to learn more about the city and the culture on a deeper level.”

Alexa Elias said:
“In the few days we had I felt like I saw the whole city. We had amazing food and I learned a lot and had so much fun.”

Noah Kessler said:
“היה ממש כיף”