My name is Ben Newman and I am from Philadelphia in the United States.
When I began my gap year, I was planning to spend only a semester in Israel and then I would choose a different program somewhere else for my second semester. Pretty soon though, I fell in love with Israel and I chose to stay for a second semester in Tel Aviv, recognizing that I needed to live in both cities to experience the diversity of life in Israel. I took a year off from school because I was burnt out from high school and was yearning for an education outside of the classroom. Israel appealed to me because I want to be able to explain from facts and firsthand experience Israeli society and the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
I chose Aardvark because the middle of the day is focused on Internships and volunteering. Aardvark can connect students with awesome internships if they are dedicated and have well crafted resumes. In Jerusalem, I worked in the social media team of StandWithUS, an international non- profit that is supporting Israel and fighting anti-Semitism around the world. StandWithUs reaches 1.3 million people on social media each week. I assisted in content creation, English help, and I left a lasting impact by creating a searchable database of previously posted assets. I helped to tell Israel’s story when it sustained a barrage of 450 rockets from Gaza, and I helped to share the anti-Semitic shooting in Halle, Germany.
Now In Tel Aviv, I am working for Koolulam, a global mass singing initiative that brings together groups of people to stop everything for a few hours and just sing. As is the Israeli way, on my first day I was thrown into the deep end of the water and was part of the production crew for two 600-participant events. In the office, I helped to create social media content that was viewed over 2,000 times, I did a voiceover for an upcoming event, and now I am working closely with the founders to draft a long-term plan for expanding our reach. Now with the Corona situation, I helped the team dream up an event that brings people together from their living rooms and I am currently part of the virtual production team.
Aardvark connected me with two different organizations that seek to bring people together, dispel misunderstandings, and improve Israel and Israeli society. While I could intern in America, I have found that the Israeli work culture is unique and friendly to young interns. I have always been in awe at the extent to which I was made a part of the team, included in meetings, and entrusted with high-level tasks despite my status as Intern. If I had these same internships in America, I would have had less of a full experience.
Another really important part of this experience is the community. In Jerusalem, we lived together in one building, went to classes together, and spent Tuesdays going on trips. We became really close to each other, which helped me adjust to living away from home for the first time and navigating a different country, language, and culture. When we got to Tel Aviv, we gained many people from places such as Australia, South Africa, South America and Britain, which enriched our community with people from all around the world. Now with Coronavirus I have taken to Zoom calling friends from other buildings outside of 100 meters!
While the trips have been awesome and educational, I have toured here twice before. I think where Aardvark shines is giving students a unique opportunity to just live here. It’s getting to know your neighbors on the other balcony, ordering food in Hebrew and not being responded to in English, understanding the angst of a fourth election, and hearing from Israeli right and left wingers. It’s lunchtimes at work and casual conversations with your boss that reveal the true nature of what lies below the surface of this complicated society. The day to day freedom I have had, enriched with classes, trips, and lifelong connections is what has made this experience so deep and unforgettable.
And in my free time, I have been able to keep up my passions for writing and music. I have released an album from Israel https://bit.ly/FromEverySide – I recorded the first song with an Israeli musician in his studio and the cover picture was taken in southern Israel! And, I write a (sometimes weekly) blog about my experiences from the first and second semester here musicbyben.com/updates.