gap year in israel

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When I think of Aardvark, I don’t think of how Faces of Israel shaped our perception and understanding of the country, or how Fun Nights built our communities, or how Tuesday Tiyuls let us experience the entire length of Israel. When I think of Aardvark, I think of people. I think of roommates, madrichim, communities, strangers at bus stops, and those I’ve met through my internships. In my preparations for Aardvark, it was daunting to know I would have to share a home with strangers, as it is known that a household of teenage girls will almost always be, well, a household of teenage girls. Expecting drama and superficial relationships, I am grateful to have been given the opposite. Slowly over tea, meals, and conversation, these girls became essential pieces of my life.

The same goes for the rest of the friends I made here. Aardvark has given me the opportunity to meet many new people, to meet a variety of Jews all with varying religious backgrounds and beliefs, who come from different countries, environments, and cultures. Throughout this year, back when we were Levontin in Tel Aviv, and now as Agripas in Jerusalem, despite all our differences, I’ve watched us seamlessly come together as friends. Here, I have felt the support and warmth of a genuine community. The environment Aardvark created let us bond quickly and deeply. I got to learn their likes and dislikes, and what makes them laugh, cry or scream. They have shaped me as a person and as a friend, and a good one at that, I’ve come to learn, is one of the best things I can be.

On Aardvark, food became an incredibly precious commodity, though surprisingly, almost everyone seemed to demonstrate their generosity in sharing the little they had. Living in a Kosher, mostly shomer Shabbat apartment, Shabbat dinners were weekly. Some weeks, just roommates, but more often than not, we would test the capacity of our table, inviting as many as willing to make challah or pasta. The process proved stressful; waking up early on Friday to go to Rami Levi, chopping obscene amounts of potatoes, attempting to squeeze in a few extra guests at the last minute, and perpetual cleaning of the kitchen. But once we all sat down, said Kiddush and started eating, once we were all talking and laughing, I felt these were the moments I’d remember fondly. And all the pre-Shabbat stress was worth it.

Alon, our Madrich last semester shared a poem, “Temporary People” by Noam Horev, about the significance of people who enter our lives, even if just for a limited time, it’s for a specific reason. Many of us won’t see each other again but that does not diminish the influence we had on one other. In it, he writes, “These temporary people are people who will not go hand in hand with us until the end; however, they come to teach us a lesson. Teach us something about ourselves… To be a springboard to the next step.”

In a few days, we’ll all be going our separate ways, to college, jobs, or further travels. But I’ll be wishing we could come back to Israel once again. Having late-night talks in apartments, discussing everything and nothing, learning each inch about one another, caring when the stories are interesting and when they are not. The exhilarating, invigorating experience of a good reality show. Lighting the Menorah on Hanukkah late at night because we forgot to do it earlier and dancing with our flags on Yom Haatzmaut. Though it will never be like it is right now.

The barriers we’ve crossed as friends and as people will inevitably build back up over time. I’ll forget how you like your tea or your brother’s middle name. So I take you all in as you are now, lucky to be here with temporary people.

We’d like to thank our community managers, Eeris and Shabtai, and our bold and gracious leaders for their careful organization of each event throughout the year. Thank you to the madrichim, our guidance, and our friends, for accompanying us to the hospital when needed. You have truly proved selfless in taking care of children who are just two years younger than you. Thank you, Avital, Orly, and Bar, for every Sunday Peula, and every Madrich meeting, for letting us get to know you better with each activity you planned for us and making sure we enjoyed it.

I am quite sure that as I mourn the loss of the home we have built, I will survive, but I am not quite positive I will ever live as I once did with you all. My friends, my family, I will miss you often, think of you fondly, and love you thoroughly. With this, I am grateful to have spent a year on a program named after an incredibly bizarre-looking animal.