Hi everyone! My name is Leah Matthys and I’m from Arroyo Grande, California, a small town on California’s beautiful central coast. I’m currently in my second semester of Aardvark and living in Tel Aviv. Next year I will be going to a small school named Minerva, where I will spend 4 years in 7 different countries.
I grew up in a reform, mixed-faith, and Zionist home. I always connected deeply with Judaism and with Israel, a country I had never been to. I knew I wasn’t ready to go straight to college, so taking a gap year in Israel seemed like the best decision.
My mom found Aardvark for me, after stumbling across it online. I had known I wanted to take a gap year and Aardvark seemed to have everything I was looking for. Exploration of my Judaism, being with other kids my age, and living in Israel to top it all off.
My first semester in Jerusalem was amazing. I really connected with the city. I learned so much about Judaism with the help of Aardvark’s Selah program and even starting keeping Shabbat, something I would never have even thought about in California. With every new experience on Aardvark, it’s helping my Jewish and Zionist identities develop into what they are meant to be. In Jerusalem, I was able to volunteer at Peace Preschool, a dual-language Hebrew/Arabic preschool. There, I felt that I was watching the peace-making process in action, seeing young children from different cultures able to communicate with each other was so exciting, and I picked up so much Hebrew and Arabic while I was there.
This semester, I am so excited to be in Tel Aviv. Being in the center of Israel’s pop culture and nightlife is such an exciting thing, and it’s such a sharp contrast to Jerusalem, which makes me even more excited to see what it has to offer.
My advice to students thinking of coming on Aardvark would be to remember that your gap year is only as good or as bad as you want it to be. What I love about Aardvark is the real ability to make Israel yours, and I feel I’ve done that.