Hello, my name is Eliana Franks, I’m from London, England, and I am currently an Aardvark Israel student living in Jerusalem.
After an exhausting final year at my all girls catholic school in the British countryside (it’s exactly like in the movies), I was left bored, disillusioned and uninspired by the cold climate around me and knew that I needed to take a year to fall back in love with the world. This was the goal I had in mind when walking to the arrival gate in Ben Gurion back in September. Almost five months later and Aardvark has turned my life upside down. I came here hungry for inspiration, education and joy and this past semester has given me that, and a whole lot more.
Living in the wild place that is Florentine for first semester provided everything I needed to revive my spirit. Whether it was taking Gaga movement classes from the world famous Ohad Naharin, dancing all night with my friends, chatting with the eclectic mix of locals over frozen yoghurt or dragging myself out of bed to watch the sunrise on the beach each morning, my time in Tel Aviv left me full of wonder.
Being in the heart of Jerusalem has given me the perfect opportunity to begin exploring my connection to Judaism and my relationship to Zionism. Whether this is in my Jewish history or Israeli conflict classes or walking the lengths of the Old City, it is such a privilege to have the opportunity and time to be able to explore any part of our history I want to and to pick the minds of such intelligent and interesting people. There truly is no better place to do this than in this melting pot of religion and culture, a city that oozes with stories and a spirituality that is almost tangible.
This semester I am volunteering at Shalva, a centre dedicated to providing transformative care for individuals with disabilities, empowering their families and promoting social inclusion. In the lobby at Shalva there is a sign that reads, “Colour my world with hope”, and that is exactly what Shalva has done for me. Looking after a class of eight 2-year-olds in the gan is my favourite part of the day. These wonderful, curious and hysterical kids never fail to make me smile, even, and especially, when they are throwing food in my hair at lunchtimes. The process of beginning to build meaningful relationships with them is so exciting and they really fill my heart with joy. There truly is a magic in the air at Shalva and I would urge everyone reading this to visit the centre to see the transformative and ground breaking work that they do, that touches the lives of people across all sectors of Israeli society.
When I am not living life to the fullest in Jerusalem, I am either travelling around Israel (trying to visit every distant family member I can) or on the international trips. Last December I was lucky enough to go to China for five jam-packed and incredible days. To see a completely alien culture (and toilet system :-/ ) to ours was eye opening and really changed my entire perspective on the Eastern world. My favourite memory of China was climbing the Great Wall. After spending an hour looking down in order not to slip, to finally reach the view point and look out upon the mesmerizing view of the Changping mountains with my best friends by my side had me feeling the most amazed and accomplished I had felt in a long time, and it is an experience I will never forget.
To anyone who is considering doing a gap year, I can happily say that coming to Israel has been the best, most formative decision I have ever made. Shimon Peres said it best when he said, “Israel is the most dramatic country in the world. Everybody’s engaged. Everybody argues. When I leave Israel, I get a little bored, you know?” If you let it, Israel is the place that can push your mind and inspire your soul, and it such a privilege to never ever be bored.