Pioneer Israel Gap Year Program
Want to be a modern-day pioneer in the Land of Israel?
The Aardvark Israel – HaShomer HaChadash “Pioneer Israel” Gap Year Program brings together high school graduates from around the world and their Israeli peers for a fully integrated experience focusing on Jewish values and Zionist identity through strengthening our connections to the land of Israel. As an immersive year of service, participants will forge deep connections to the land and people of Israel while enjoying all the country has to offer. Living in shared apartments, volunteering side by side, and learning together, the Israeli and worldwide participants will become a tight community finding common ground as well celebrating their diversity as they explore the roles and experiences of Jews within and outside of Israel.
While living in fully furnished apartments in downtown Jerusalem, the core focus of the participants’ experience will be the establishment and maintenance of a community garden in the beautiful setting of Gai Ben Hinon, right below the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. Learning about environmentalism, agriculture and the geography of Israel, participants will in turn become specialists in these topics and use their skills to teach Israeli school children and tourists who visit the garden through experiential, educational activities. Complimenting their experience will also be a Hebrew Ulpan course and other interesting classes about Israel and Judaism with the option to earn up to 24 college credits, field trips, cultural activities, Shabbatonim, and seminars.
Among the special aspects of this program is the “communa” which will be developed by the participants. This Israeli style of group living is similar to a very small-scale kibbutz and together the members share responsibilities for their home, meals, and experience. With half the participants coming from around the world and the other half being Israeli, a truly unique bond will be formed between the participants as they live and work together.
The Pioneer Israel participants will form a special, close-knit community within the two much larger communities of Aardvark Israel and Hashomer Hachadash. Participating in activities with over 150 Israelis dedicating a year to volunteering before the army in towns and villages throughout Israel with Hashomer Hachadash, and with over 150 young adults from all over the world engaged in internships, volunteering, and learning through Aardvark Israel’s gap year and semester programs, the 16 program participants in this exciting venture will have the best of both worlds.
The Pioneer Israel Gap Year Program is a joint initiative of Aardvark Israel Immersion Programs, a trusted Israel program provider, and HaShomer HaChadash, a pioneering organization dedicated to the safeguarding of Israel’s lands through education and social action.
Mission and Goals of the Program:
Through the Pioneer Israel Gap Year Program participants will strive to achieve the following goals:
- Strengthen their Jewish Identity and Connection to Israel
- Enhance their understanding of Jewish Peoplehood and our collective history
- Deeply explore the concept of responsibility – for each other, for our land, and for our nation
- Contribute to Israeli society
- Expand their knowledge of nature, agriculture, and leadership while also acquiring skills in these areas
Daily Work – Agriculture and Education
In the Hinnom Valley which links the Old City with the modern neighborhoods of Jerusalem, participants will develop and build a sustainable, city-based farm complete with vegetable and spice gardens, composting stations, terraces, and more. Participants will gain experience in informal education through working with local children and receive professional training in various agricultural fields such as permaculture, carpentry, sustainable building, farming and more. As leaders in establishing the local chapter of HaShomer HaChadash’s Youth Organization, participants will strive to inspire younger generations with the value of being an active Zionist through working the land.
Learning – Ulpan, Environmental Studies, Jewish Studies
Through a variety of educational experiences, both inside and outside of the classroom, participants will engage in intellectual exploration and gain knowledge and skills through the varied opportunities for learning on the program. Hebrew Ulpan classes, combined with living together with Israelis of the same age, will enable participants to expand their conversational language skills to better integrate into Israeli society. Participants will also have classes about Jewish and Israeli history, culture, and thought. Workshops and training will also be offered in permaculture, carpentry, sustainable farming, soil and crops.
Through Aardvark Israel’s partnership with the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, the Pioneer Israel Gap Year participants may earn up to 24 college credits for some of their studies on the program. A minimum final high school GPA of 2.0 is required for credit eligibility. Those students who successfully complete the course requirements will be able to request to transfer their credit to their desired university following their year in Israel. Transcripts for courses taken as part of the program are issued by the American Jewish University which is fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), the same agency that accredits UCLA, Stanford, and all other recognized colleges and universities in the Western United States. For more information about the American Jewish University, please visit their website at https://www.aju.edu/.
Siyurim and Tiyulim
Participants will take part in a wide variety of field trips and excursions to connect to Israel in a deep and meaningful way. These trips will also be a great way for participants to expand their social network as they experience Israel with others spending a year or semester in Israel from abroad as well as with Israelis engaged in a year of service before the army. Trips will include visiting historical sites, museums, nature reserves, and more!
Evenings and Weekends
Throughout the week, evening activities will provide participants with both social and educational opportunities to further enhance their experience. Activities will include sports, social and cultural events and activities, guest speakers, and group dynamics and leadership development.
Every three weeks, participants will have a “Shabbat B’Yachad” (shabbat together) during which they will celebrate Shabbat as a group to further enhance their shared communal life and to engage in learning and exploration. Shabbatot will be spent in Jerusalem as well as visiting other HaShomer HaChadash communot in rural communities and towns throughout the country.
In order to accommodate all participants regardless of their religious affiliation, Shabbat will be observed in public spaces and Kashrut will be kept in all programs and housing. During free time and outside of the program facilities, each participant is free to observe in his/her own way.
Every few weeks students will be on “guard duty” at the communal farm, to make sure nothing happens in the evening. Their very presence acts as a deterrent against anyone entering the farm uninvited. Participants will be doing this in small groups and have phones to call emergency services should they notice something suspicious.
Housing and Accommodations
Living in the center of Jerusalem, participants will be able to take full advantage of the cultural enrichment, night life, and convenience of the one of the most popular cities in Israel for today’s young adults. Participants will be immersed into Israeli society, meeting their Israeli neighbors, shopping for groceries in the local shops, and navigating on public transportation giving them the chance to truly “live like a local.”
Participants will receive a monthly local bus pass enabling them to get to and from the community garden and farm, plus attend classes field trips, and explore the city.
Apartments are shared only by participants in the program. All the apartments are fully furnished and equipped with kitchen appliances and utensils. Every apartment has WiFi. Kashrut will be kept in the apartments in order to accommodate all participants. With the guidance of a qualified counselor, participants will learn to cook, clean, budget, do laundry, and live together with roommates. Participants will receive a stipend from the program for their weekly groceries and apartment needs.
Understanding that this will be the first time most are living on their own, staff will work with the participants in each apartment to ensure a positive group dynamic and the health and welfare of the participants. Throughout the year, the counselors hold weekly apartment meetings to facilitate and solve any issues which may arise, and also pay friendly visits to the apartments. As the year progresses, the participants will be encouraged to be more independent in their problem-solving in order to foster growth and maturity.
International Travel Add-Ons
An exciting add-on to the program is the option to sign up for educational trips abroad designed to enhance your gap year and deepen your understanding of the greater world around you. During these five /six day trips, participants will also gain a fuller appreciation for the reaches of the Jewish community worldwide and Israel’s place in the global community. The trips are designed so that the students have a great time, but at the foundation of each itinerary is a strong educational curriculum designed to enrich the participants.
On each of these trips, you will…
- Visit the main tourist sites of the country and experience the local culture
- Understand the Jewish narrative of the country
- Learn about the relationship between Israel and the country
International trips currently available include: Spain, Czech Republic, China, Ethiopia, Italy, Germany, and Poland. Pioneer Israel participants may only choose one trip per semester.
For more information about these international options, click here.
HaShomer HaChadash was established by Yoel Zilberman, from Moshav Tzippori in the Galilee, and On Rifman, from Kibbutz Revivim in the Negev, in 2007 in response to the pressing need for safeguarding agricultural lands. The two realized that the act of safeguarding is based on a foundation that embodies a deep educational idea – love of the land, or in its more recognizable form – Zionism.
Based on the values of mutual responsibility, civic courage, and love of the land, HaShomer HaChadash has connected tens of thousands of volunteers not only to the farmers and ranchers in need of assistance but also to each individual’s personal identity and to the land itself. This is accomplished through a variety of innovative work and education projects that deepen our shared roots, further cultivating love of the land.
- Mutual Responsibility – As a people, we believe that we are responsible for preserving agricultural and forestry work in Israel, the presence of which lies the root of our existence. Even when the State is not able to fulfill this mission, we will do so in its place through study, action and implementation of the Zionist idea wherever it is needed.
- Civic Courage – Volunteering is no simple task – leaving the comfort of one’s home and driving distances to safeguard agricultural land as if it were one’s own; safeguarding against criminal elements pressuring a farmer to abandon his land. It takes true courage and it demands a strong sense of social involvement and mutual responsibility, in their deepest and most practical senses.
- Love of the Land – Love of the land connects all who live on the land and provides us with a sense of belonging. This is what gives us our Jewish and Israeli identity. Our goal is to be a movement identified with keeping love of the land as a relevant and thriving value, as it was in the past and should continue to be.
Aardvark Israel’s mission is to bring together in Israel a diverse group of students from all over the world for meaningful, life-changing experiences that strengthen their Jewish identity, deepen their commitment to Israel, and foster their personal growth. Recognizing that every student has a different set of objectives for their Israel experience, Aardvark Israel offers a menu of opportunities allowing students to personalize their program in Israel. Since it’s establishment in 2010, Aardvark Israel has brought to Israel over one thousand participants on its programs.
Aardvark Israel was co-founded by Keith Berman z”l, Debbie Goldsmith, and Simon Cohen, a talented cohort of American and British educators who each participated in an Israel gap year program in their youth prior to embarking on professional careers in Jewish and Zionist Education and making aliya as young adults. Keith, who had been a key figure in the world of Jewish Zionist Education, dedicated his career to bringing young adults to Israel for meaningful long-term experiences and encouraging aliya until his tragic and sudden death in November 2014. Aardvark Israel is the actualization of Keith’s legacy of passion and commitment to Israel and his values are represented in the students, staff and activities of Aardvark Israel.
The Goals of Aardvark Israel are for participants to:
- Love, advocate for, and contribute to Israel
- Love Judaism
- Strengthen their connection to the worldwide Jewish People
- Grow as a person and have fun in the process
Aardvark Israel operates in conjunction with Masa, which is a project of the Government of Israel and Jewish communities around the world, represented by the Jewish Agency for Israel and its partners, United Jewish Communities / the Federations of North America, and Keren Hayesod – UIA. Other partners include the American Jewish University and the NJY Camps.
$18,500 (participants are eligible for a MASA Grant of $800 and additional needs-based scholarships are also available.)
Tuition for the Aardvark Pioneer Gap Year Programs includes program tuition, housing, meal stipend, medical insurance, fees for all academic courses, field trips, seminars, local transportation, and more. Airfare to/from Israel and the cost of any entry visa, if required, is not included in the program tuition.
- Upon Registering – $100 Application Fee due
- May 1 – Deposit of $5000 due
- July 1 – Balance of Tuition due
The $100 application fee is non-refundable. All tuition payments are fully refundable prior to June 1. Between June 1 and July 1, a $1000 cancellation fee will apply. After July 1 and prior to the start of the program, a $2500 cancellation fee will apply. Additional cancellation fees will be assessed for participants enrolled in any International Travel add-ons for any airline tickets and other arrangements already confirmed at the time of cancellation. Tuition and fees are non-refundable once the program has begun.
Some grants and scholarships are available through a variety of sources:
- Masa – a project of the government of Israel and the Jewish Agency for Israel which provides financial assistance to participants on qualifying programs including HaShomer HaChadash. For more information, click here.
- Local Jewish Federations (North America) – Many local Jewish Federations have scholarship programs for trips to Israel. Contact your local federation and inquire about sources of funding from within the organization and ask the staff to also recommend
- Synagogues – some synagogues have scholarships to assist young members in participating in Israel programs. In addition, some Rabbis and Cantors have discretionary funds which they may award as they deem responsible. Call your family’s synagogue and inquire what assistance may be available to you. Ask your Rabbi if s/he knows of other sources of possible funding.
- Jewish / Hebrew Free Loan – Many communities have branches of the Jewish Free Loan Association (also known in some communities as Hebrew Free Loan). This organization offers interest free loans to qualified individuals. To find a branch near you, click here.
- Additional Scholarship Sources may be found by clicking here.
Dates: 17th August 2020 – 7th June 2021
Basic medical insurance is provided by the program. Coverage includes doctor’s visits, medications, and emergency care for most new illnesses and incidents which may arise during the program. Pre-existing conditions are excluded, as well as other limitations applying, therefore students are encouraged to maintain their own private health insurance from their country of origin. Specific information detailing the medical insurance policy is made available to participants’ families once registered for the program. Upon arrival to Israel, students will be briefed about how to use the health services and which local English-speaking doctors and pharmacies are recommended. Urgent psychological care is also provided by the program for students in crisis. All psychological treatment is kept strictly confidential between the student and the therapist.
Safety and Security
Aardvark Israel Programs operate as a part of the Masa program of the Jewish Agency for Israel. We receive security updates on an ongoing basis and adjust security guidelines for the students accordingly (this includes restricting their free time when necessary.) When going out on excursions and hikes we always obtain clearance and guidance from the relevant agencies in Israel. All students are required to have a cellular phone from a company called “Partner” which allows the program staff to utilize technology to locate all students in the event of an emergency. Furthermore, all the phones are united in one text messaging service so we can send immediate guidelines and warnings to students if the situation warrants.
In addition to the experienced senior staff of Aardvark Israel, a highly qualified counselor will be assigned to the communa for the duration of the year. The counselor is someone familiar with HaShomer, has completed the Israeli army and is fluent in English. While giving students the space to explore and learn to be more independent, the counselors are also a distinct presence in the day to day lives of participants serving as mentors and role models to the students.
Please see the FAQ section on the Aardvark Israel website (all questions/answers similarly apply except regarding meals)
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