Hi my name is Asher Grynberg, and I’ve left Sydney, Australia to spend a semester (or two now) in Tel Aviv. In Sydney, there is a large Jewish community; going to a Jewish school while growing up, I had many friends who were going on a gap year and I had always planned to travel in Israel after school. However, as I reached my final year of school, I slowly moved away from the idea of a gap year. I was excited to go to the University of Sydney and study engineering, while living near all of my friends.
One day in October, my parents sat me down to discuss my gap year. They reminded me that it had always been my plan, and they prompted me to consider it one more time. We read through a booklet that my school had given me, which listed many different gap year programs, including Aardvark Israel.
This helped me realise that I really needed a break from studying; I needed a year off to find myself, and grow as a person.
A few months later, I was getting ready to leave Australia, and I was very worried about Aardvark. I was worried that I would miss my family and friends too much, and because I arrived for the Spring Semester in January, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to make friends and fit in. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case. When I arrived, everyone was super friendly, and it took me no time to fit in. I had a great room, a fantastic internship working at a data analytics firm called Intlock, and I was having a lot of fun. However, when the coronavirus pandemic arrived, many things changed.
When the coronavirus started to become a problem in Israel, the government acted early and strictly in order to save lives. They shut down shops and schools, made people work from home, there was no more going out. I (along with many others) was distraught. All four of my roommates left in the space of a week, and I was contemplating whether I wanted to stay on Aardvark if I was in an apartment alone, not able to leave. I made a very difficult decision to stay, and it has definitely paid off.
Aardvark soon moved some rooms around so that no one was alone, and I was put in a room with Zac from Australia (who I was friendly with from home), Rodrigo from Brazil, Uriel from Argentina, and Louis from London. After going through quarantine with these four, they are no longer just my friends – they are my family.
When the spring semester came to an end, Aardvark offered us a summer semester, where we could stay here for an extra 2 months. This wasn’t a hard choice for me. I had just had the time of my life during the spring semester, and even if I had wanted to go home, there were no flights back to Sydney. So of course, I stayed.
Lots of things have changed already this semester. I’ve had to say goodbye to some of my closest friends who couldn’t stay, but at the same time, I’ve been growing closer to other friends. I’ve got a new apartment – the rooftop apartment in my building, where we’ve got heaps of space and an amazing view. I’ve also got new roommates – I’m with Zac (again), Jono from Philadelphia, and Gabriel from Barcelona. On top of this, I have a new internship working at the Botanical Gardens in Tel Aviv University. I now get to spend every day working outdoors with my friends and co-workers, chilling on our roof with friends and having barbies (BBQ’s), going out to the gym, and going on the awesome tiyulim and activities that Aardvark plans for us.
Now that everything is opening up again in Israel, we can all go out again – going to the beach or tiyulim, going to work, the gym or even just going for a walk, and quarantine has helped me feel truly grateful for small things like this, which I had always taken for granted. Looking back, I know that quarantine has helped me grow, teaching me new skills and helping me forge new lifelong friendships.
Many people go on a gap year unsure of what to do with their lives, and find out through the course of the year. However, for me, it has been the opposite. Before I came here, I was set on going to university as soon as I returned home. I had (and still have) a spot at the University of Sydney, and I was looking forward to studying engineering. However, now I’ve realised that I want to do more with my life than studying how to make money – I want to give to something greater than myself. Some people have religion, in which God is the most important thing in their lives. Some people have children, and consider the well-being of their children more important than their own well-being. Some people have charity work, where helping others is more important than helping themselves. However, in my life, there is nothing more important than myself. In order to change this, I am considering joining the IDF next year, and enrolling intoההנדסה הקרבית (the combat engineers) and following in the footsteps of my grandfather who served as a combat engineer in the Yom Kippur War. In the meantime, I still have to decide whether to enrol into the army, or go to university next year.
To anyone who is considering joining Aardvark, Israel, or taking a gap year, don’t worry about what you’ll miss out on at home. You can never know exactly what will happen on your gap year, or what will be happening at home. I could’ve never predicted the coronavirus, that I would be in Israel throughout the summer, or that I would be considering the IDF at the end of this year, but I am thankful for the unexpected and all the life long memories I have created here.
I will forever remember my time in Israel with Aardvark and I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the world.