gap year in israel

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Day 1

Dear Parents,

Shalom from New York City!!! After arriving at JFK airport, we began our day in the United States with a Breakfast of Champions at Dunkin Donuts. In Israel we think that we have the market cornered on sufganiyuot, but let me tell you, we may be wrong about that. In case you aren’t familiar with the shop, technically speaking, Dunkin’s has 22 classic donut flavors, not including limited edition or seasonal selections, of which there are dozens! The students thoroughly enjoyed having a taste of this American treat.

We then took a private minibus to our lovely hotel in midtown Manhattan. The location of the hotel is a few blocks from the United Nations Headquarters and the East River in one direction, a few blocks from the Empire State Building in another direction, and a few blocks from Grand Central Station in a third direction. After some much-needed rest and relaxation after the long flight, we headed out for a hearty meat lunch to keep our South African carnivores happy.

In the afternoon, we headed uptown to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (known locally as “The Met”) and enjoyed the chance to examine the art and antiquities and receive a huge cultural injection. I gave the students the option to wander at their own pace around the museum or to allow me to give them a guided tour and to my surprise (and delight) they opted to hear me speak… I have to admit that in addition to having a burning passion for Israel, I also have a great love for art so I warned the students to stop me if I got carried away. We visited many of the “must see” pieces in the museum as well as the few pieces that have a Jewish connection.

Our next stop was a beautiful walk through Central Park and then on to Times Square. If you have never visited NYC, you should know that the park rests in the middle of Manhattan and spans 843-acres! Over 40 million people a year visit the park and it includes attractions within it such as a zoo, a lake, a castle, and more. The weather was lovely and everyone enjoyed the stroll.

Finally, we made our way into “Little India” for a bit of exploration of the neighborhood and for an incredible dinner. Afterwards the students finally collapsed from jet lag!

We have an exciting and packed two days of sightseeing ahead of us so stay tuned for more updates!


Day 2

Dear Parents,

I can hardly believe how much we managed to pack into the day on Thursday. It felt like we did the whole of Manhattan!

We started our day at the Main Branch of the New York Public Library; a building designated as a National Historic Site. It’s an unbelievably impressive 4-story building which was opened in 1911. The Library’s famous Rose Main Reading Room is a majestic room – more than 2000 square meters with 16-meter high ceilings. It is lined with thousands of reference books on floor level and the balcony, and massive windows and grand chandeliers light the room. Wooden tables, comfortable chairs, and brass lamps complete the look of the room. In addition to marveling at the architecture, we also learned about the key role the library played during the Great Depression serving as an important tool to many members of the public to improve their lot in life through study.

Moving on, we visited the equally impressive Grand Central Station. Ricky took the opportunity while inside the beautiful Main Concourse to record a video message introducing himself to the Aardvark 17-18 students with whom he will spend next semester in Jerusalem. Grand Central opened in 1871 and has the most platforms of any train station in the world. The building – both inside and out – has an intricate design and is one of the world’s most visited tourist attractions.

As we headed downtown, we stopped again in Time Square to get a feel for the area during the day. Many of the students have found themselves experiencing sticker shock at the prices of pretty much everything in NY and throughout the day (especially while we were in Times Square) they were busy converting dollars to Rand, Pounds, Australian Dollars, and Shekels as they tried to contextualize the prices here.

As any good New Yorker will tell you, the best way to see a Broadway show is to first visit TKTS – a discount ticket broker. There is a branch in Times Square (where, as you can probably imagine, the lines are insane) and another branch at South Street Seaport, so we made our way down to the very southern tip of the island. Designated as a historic district, the first pier opened here in 1625. The port area is also home to some of the oldest architecture in downtown Manhattan and many restored commercial buildings from the early 19th century. Everyone enjoyed seeing the area, but they were even more excited buy our purchasing of tickets for a Broadway show that evening.

One of the themes that we explored throughout the day was the immigrant experience and as a center of industry, the southern part of Manhattan was home to many. Of course, one of the most important immigrant sites in NY is Ellis Island, which was our next stop. Taking the ferry across the bay, we thought about the 12 million immigrants to the United States who also arrived by boat to this site.

Ellis Island was the country’s busiest immigrant inspection station for over sixty years from 1892 to 1954. We talked a lot about the Jewish experience of arriving in America as well, particularly those fleeing before and during World War II and the hardships they faced upon arrival. Having just spent five months in Israel, the idea was clear to everyone that had there been a State of Israel, the story of America’s Jewish immigration would have been very different.

Our next stop was the Statue of Liberty. It was cool to see this famous site up close.

After taking the ferry back to Manhattan, we visited the 911 Memorial and Museum. It is difficult to describe how powerful this experience was for everyone. Liora was particularly moved by the use of art and design to capture memory and memorial. Everyone was proud to learn that an Israeli-American architect designed the Memorial.

Dinner was quite a treat for everyone. We ate at Mr. Broadway, a kosher deli, where Alon somehow managed to consume a whole cow. Sean was delighted with the meat as well. There are probably just as many kosher restaurants in NY as there are in Tel Aviv… Limor was a bit overwhelmed by the Jewish NY experience I think. Coming from a small town, she could not believe the tremendous presence of Judaism we experienced throughout the city. Moreover, on a personal note, Leah and I discovered that we are related… Her grandfather was married to my dad’s first cousin!

We topped off our day on Broadway with the show “Kinky Boots.” It was outstanding!

As I said at the start, we packed a lot into the day! We even hopped in NY’s famous yellow taxis at one point. Everyone is having a lot of fun, and we are looking forward to one more day of touring before a relaxing free weekend.


Day 3

Dear Parents,

Our third day in New York was Friday and despite the weather not fully cooperating with us, we still had a great day.

In the morning, we set out to Starbucks for breakfast. Most Israelis cannot understand why Americans are obsessed with Starbucks, and in Manhattan is feels like there is a Starbucks every five blocks. We enjoyed our fancy coffee drinks and the tasty muffins. Afterward, we strolled down to a street market and had a great time browsing. Some of the students made a few purchases as well, most notably: Alon bought a deep fried Oreo (yummmmmm) and Leah bought a very pretty necklace.

Walking around Midtown Manhattan, we were still marveling at the architecture, the incredible number of people in constant motion in the city, and the amazing public transportation system… As we took the subway uptown, we got super creative with the seating arrangements (see photo attached!)

While heading towards the Museum of Natural History, we walked through Central Park again – this time on the West Side. We recognized many sites from some of the 305 (wow!) films shot in Central Park.

Arriving at the Museum of Natural History, we headed straight for the Morgan Memorial Hall of Gems. The Hall of Gems exhibits an array of precious and ornamental stones – uncut, polished, and even a few set in elaborate pieces of jewelry. Our favorite was the re-created gem pocket – a crystal filled cavity – found in the mountains of San Diego County in California. This natural cavity in pegmatite rock holds seven types of large crystals, including tourmaline, beryl, spodumene, quartz, and albite. And it’s beautiful. The Dinosaurs Among Us exhibition was also very cool!

In the afternoon, we headed on our separate ways for Shabbat – to see family, friends, or other Aardvarkians for the weekend – and a chance to rest a bit before meeting up on Monday to go to camp. On his way, Sean had the famous Planet Smoothie at Penn Station (really a treat!)