My name is Hannah Gottlieb, I am from London, United Kingdom, and I am spending my semester in Tel Aviv. My plans for next year are a bit up in the air, but I really hope to be studying theatre in Italy in September! My decision to come on Aardvark was very impromptu and last minute. After researching various programmes online when my original plans for my gap year fell through, I decided to choose Aardvark because it seemed like the program that allowed for the most freedom and independence. In addition, its apolitical nature appealed to me, as it suggested that I would be getting an all-rounded experience of Israeli society, as opposed to an extremely biased one. I have travelled to Israel often – even living here for a short period soon after I was born, and most of my family live here. Despite this, I wanted to spend a semester in Israel, specifically on Aardvark, in order to educate myself about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and to understand the deep political unrest in the Middle East region – something that I have not done on any of my previous trips, nor have I explored it in my 15 years of Jewish and Zionist education.
One of my favourite memories from the program was the very first trip to the Negev. This trip specifically holds a very special place in my heart as it included the entire program and it is where I made most of the friends that I am very close with today. Overall, ‘Tiyul Tuesdays’ have been a highlight for me, as travelling is a passion of mine and I adore exploring new places – there’s truly no other group of people that I would rather explore the country with. The tours of places such as Tzfat and Caesarea, activities such as the Salad Trail, and learning of other cultures present in Israeli society, such as Ethiopian Jews have been an absolute highlight for me.
The most surprising thing that I have found about Aardvark is how committed the staff is to what they do. Despite the chaos created by the coronavirus, the staff have worked tirelessly to ensure that the program can still run as best as possible, and whilst most other gap year programs have closed their doors, Aardvark continues to flourish. This makes me feel extremely privileged and secure in my decision to come on this program, as my gap year journey has not yet been cut short! I am also very surprised at how close I have become with the others on the program. Coming to Israel, I really didn’t expect to make such great friends from all over the globe, and I am eternally grateful to Aardvark for giving me friends that I know I will have for life. Despite the program being somewhat disrupted by the pandemic, I am optimistically waiting for the day that all the chaos finishes and tiyulim can be re-started. I am also excited at the prospect of working on a farm during this time – an option that has been offered to us during the coronavirus pandemic. However, I am most looking forward to becoming even closer with those around me, and further studying Israel’s response to such a crisis, as this is an opportunity to see Israeli society at a time of panic different to any other.
My internship was with the animal rights group ‘Animals Now’, working with their program ‘Challenge 22’, which challenges people across the globe to try a vegan diet for 22 days, in the hope that they will realise the simplicity of a vegan lifestyle and make the transition to a fully plant-based diet. This internship was really perfectly suited for me, as animal rights are something I am very passionate about, and this allowed me to become further educated on the topic and meet so many amazing, like-minded people. Living in Tel-Aviv, there is really no shortage of vegans, so working with Animals Now was a gateway into the vegan community here!
My advice to prospective students would be to come on the program with an open mind. Coming on the program without knowing anyone was daunting, as there was so much possibility for things to go completely wrong. Additionally, deciding to stay on the program despite COVID-19 and the uncertainty of when I will be able to return home was a decision that I strongly stand by. One never knows what may happen – the outbreak of a pandemic was certainly not on my agenda for my gap year! However, having an open mind really allowed me to make the most of every moment and helped to create the amazing experiences that I have had. The staff and people are phenomenal and I am eternally grateful for being surrounded by such an amazing group of people day in and day out. The support is incredible, the friendships are lifelong and you are guaranteed an incredible experience – Thank You Aardvark!