My name is Avi Bendayan and I come from Pembroke Pines, Florida. Both of my parents were born in Israel, so while growing up I was always been exposed to Israeli culture. Over the years, have developed my love for the State of Israel and every time that we came to visit I found myself wanting to stay. I recently graduated from high school, but for a while I have been thinking of doing a gap year program in Israel. Last year, while still in school, I participated in Marva, an eight-week Israeli Defence Force basic training program. It was an unforgettable experience. Upon completing the eight weeks, I knew that a gap year in Israel was the right choice for me. As I was researching the different gap year programs, I stumbled upon Aardvark and was fortunate to meet with Simon during his visit to South Florida. After his presentation, I knew that Aardvark would be the right program for me. It had all the elements that I was looking for to make my gap year meaningful. As a result, I decided to pursue my goal and took the bold, life-altering decision to experience living in Israel on my own. A few weeks ago, when I got word that I would be staying in the Jerusalem, I could not wait to start. Everything felt surreal upon arrival. I was finally going to be living a whole year in “My Home”!
Once I was settled in my first very own apartment, I had the opportunity to meet all the wonderful students and madrichim in the Jerusalem group. The first week of the program was extremely fun and eventful. There were multiple group bonding activities and a few days later, we went to the Golan Heights. We had the chance to swim in Israel’s primary water source, the Sea of Galilee, or the Kineret. For our first Shabbat, we visited the Western Wall to welcome the Shabbat. This was one of the best, and most unique Shabbat experiences that I have ever had! After the first week of the program concluded, I knew that I made the right decision.
As the second week began, I was super excited about starting our internships, volunteering, and our college courses. We took part in multiple volunteering opportunities such as maintaining gardens at Gazelle Valley, picking up garbage at an abandoned village, and even assisted in running the campaign for a candidate running for office as Jerusalem’s new mayor. Getting started with school was also awesome! We met our professors and had interactive classes filled with interesting topics and discussions concerning the land of Israel. Before we left for Rosh Hashanah, we had a seder, which was really creative and energetic, and it allowed us to embrace the Aardvark culture. I am feeling fortunate to have the opportunity to partake in such a great opportunity and I cannot wait to see what else the program has in store.