gap year in israel

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Hey everyone, my name is Hannah Michaela Dannheisser. I am 19 years old and from Johannesburg, South Africa. Yes, I am from Africa and no, we do not ride elephants to work. Now that that has been cleared up, I can tell you a little bit about my Aardvark experience thus far. I am currently living in the free spirited and energetic town of Florentine, Tel Aviv, along with all the other Aardvarkians on the spring semester of Aardvark Israel. If I had to choose three words to describe my Aardvark journey up to this point, they would be, exciting, rewarding and inspiring.

I grew up in a not so Jewish community in Kyalami Johannesburg with my sister Rachel who is now 16 years old. Both my parents, Debbie and Jeremy, are Jewish and they raised me to be a traditional orthodox little girl. Just like most people on this program, I had no idea what I wanted to do after school and therefore decided that a gap year would be the best next step. The reason I chose Aardvark over all the other programs is because of the freedom and independence that it allows its students. During the short 4 months that I have been here, I have been able to discover so much about myself as well as learn life skills that will prove to be useful as I continue to grow and learn new things.

A normal day for me includes starting work at 9am at Mushlin Simon Architects, where I help with buildings plans as well as design content for their website. This internship presents me with many challenges that I have to face and overcome but it has also definitely helped me to finally decide that I want to study architecture in Israel – a decision that I never would have been able to make without this internship opportunity. After lunch with my roommates, we all head off to the office for classes. I laugh my way through Ulpan (that’s the only way we get through because we are all so bad at Hebrew) and then delve into the history of Israel’s conflict in my Middle Eastern Politics class. My evenings are filled with entertaining activities run by our Madrichim or we hit the streets of Florentine. The vibe in Florentine is so reliably dynamic that nothing in our lives is ever boring.

My favourite part of Aardvark so far has been our international trip to Ethiopia. This once in a lifetime experience is one I will surely never forget as it touched my Neshama (soul) in so many ways. From the joy of the people, despite their hard way of life, to the ancient yet uplifting architecture, everything was so eye opening and inspiring that I returned to Israel with a new perspective on my own life. The trip truly taught me to appreciate what is around me and the fact that I am living in Israel – something that many Ethiopian Jews will never experience.

One thing that I have truly loved about Israel is that I have been given the opportunity to figure out what Judaism means to me. I have been given the freedom to discover my own Jewish identity and this was something that was very important to me coming to Israel. I would like to thank my parents for giving me this opportunity to explore and find myself in terms of being Jewish, as I know how hard it must be to watch your child not strictly follow the traditions and rules that you worked so hard to instil in them.

I owe a lot of what I have experienced and learnt to the amazing Aardvark staff. My madrich Idan is the most amazing and hilarious person. He is always there when you need him to be whether it is for a hug or if the Wi-Fi has stopped working. All the other madrichim are all so caring and so are the office staff (shout out to Shiny-El). There is also Ella, my Ulpan teacher who deserves a big thank you as she has made the class that most people dread into something that we all look forward to in the afternoon. The people that I have met are also incredible and I can say that I have made some friends for life.

Aardvark has given me the chance to fall in love with Israel and for the time being, my future plans are to make Aliyah and live in this beautiful place that I currently call my home.

Hannah dannheisser