gap year in israel

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My name is Josie Broomberg and I’m from London, although my Hebrew skills thanks to Ulpan definitely qualify me as a local now.

As my time on Aardvark Israel draws to a close I, like most of the year students, cannot believe that it’s been a full 9 months since I left home. The phrase “time flies when you’re having fun” springs to mind, but this experience runs so much deeper than that cliche. From Jerusalem to Tel Aviv I have built a life for myself here, made a new family out of my peers and changed inexplicably. I distinctly remember crying to my friend the night before I came- the split second corona induced decision I made to come to Israel (definitely not based on the fact Shalvata was open in the height of London lockdown) suddenly seemed incredibly daunting.

Our first Shabbat in Jerusalem was a culture shock to say the least. But it’s incredible how quickly you adapt; the reality of being constantly surrounded by Jewish people made Israel quickly feel more like home than London ever did. Living in a city that’s rich history dominates and infiltrates every aspect of daily life definitely strengthened my connection to Judaism as-well as to Israel as a whole. Thanks to the pandemic, there were no tourists around when visiting the Old City. Without the crowds of people there simply to take a picture, I felt like my eyes were opened to a much more authentic version of the place. Seeing it so quiet, filled only with people who were there for prayer is a rare sight I feel privileged to have experienced.

I grew to love the peaceful, somewhat slow pace of life I grew accustomed to in Jerusalem- so I felt slightly out of place in January when our first semester drew to a close. Moving from my apartment of 8 girls, who had grown to be my support system, to one of just four felt unnerving. However, when I moved to Tel Aviv I felt like a kid in a candy shop with the multitude of opportunities around each corner, particularly given the lifting of covid restrictions. I’ll never forget my experience of Purim in Tel Aviv. After a year of isolation, it was incredible to see the streets packed with people coming together to celebrate this Jewish holiday. To me, this sums up the spirit of togetherness the city seems to harness and indeed why it is such a uniquely special place.

I was lucky enough to experience three incredible internships during my time on the programme. I worked at a Jewellery design studio in Jerusalem and a health restaurant in Tel Aviv, both of which allowed my creative side to flourish. Considering I literally didn’t know how to fry an egg before I came here, some of the skills I acquired are ones I will genuinely carry with me throughout my life. I was also lucky enough to work at a school for refugees. Through getting to know the students my eyes were opened to the reality of what life is like for someone here who is perceived as an outsider. Some of the people I worked with there genuinely humbled me: their charisma and charm despite the difficult situations many found themselves in were qualities I will aspire to replicate.To my fellow year students- we really lived through it here. Lockdown upon lockdown, quarantine upon quarantine, rocket upon rocket, we persevered. Even though at the time these things felt overwhelming, the challenges we faced here helped us grow as individuals as well as strengthening our bond as a community. I wouldn’t change anything about this year or give it up for the world. Even though our time here has come to an end, our connection to Israel and each other is something no-one will ever be able to take away from us or even fully understand. I am eternally grateful for my time here and will forever cherish it.