Hi, my name is Leena Demers and I was born and raised in New York City! I’ve spent my spring and summer semesters in Florentine, Tel Aviv. In the fall, I will be in Montreal where I will be attending McGill University and majoring in Art History.
Funny story, this isn’t even really my gap year. I’m part of the class of 2020 but I graduated early (the day before coming to Aardvark), so I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to take a semester away before college. I decided to graduate early and go on a gap year program, like Aardvark Israel, because I wanted to experience life before going to school for four years.
Although Aardvark does have classes in their fall/spring semesters, I knew it would be completely different from going straight to college from high school. Aardvark has given me the tools to start the next stage of my life and adulthood.
Being an Aardvarkian not only means being a student, but balancing a work life as well. I’ve known for quite some time now that I want a career in fashion and Aardvark has given me the most amazing opportunity to work with Palta clothes. Palta is a clothing company that makes clothes for people with disabilities; their goal is to make the fashion world more inclusive. My schedule was always varied, before the COVID-19 outbreak I was working once a week at a school for kids with disabilities where I helped them complete their projects by either sewing bags for their wheelchairs or designing seats for their walkers. When I first came to Palta, their main focus was Paralympic casual apparel. I was able to work closely with my boss on the sewing process and meet important officials. I had been working with the head designer of the team who is deaf. We would go fabric shopping and looking for unique closure systems for our clothes. During the COVID lockdown, I was mainly working on social media and reaching out to companies to see if they would be interested in collaborating with us to make clothing that is more inclusive. Once I was able to go back to the office, I was working a lot with other companies’ clothes for the collaborations that we had been planning during the lockdown. My first project was with Dorin Frankfurt. They had given us several items from their store and I had to alter them to present to Dorin Frankfurt herself! I added new zippers, different buttons, put elastics in the waist bands, and many other little details that go a long way towards helping those with lesser motor skills. I also worked with a company called Tamnoon and added similar ideas to their clothes. One of the highlights was presenting to Dorin Frankfurt; she loved all the designs my team and I had come up with! It was the first time that I felt like a real designer! My boss also took me to many events including Tikun Olam Makers, where I made a see through mask for those with hearing impairments, Makers for Hero’s, where teams come together to fix an individual’s problems related to their disabilities, and going to colleges in the area to see students’ final projects that were made for people with disabilities. Through this internship, I was able to gain an amazing sense of the future I see for myself. I gained so much hands-on experience and I could not have asked for a better internship!
When coming to Israel, I only assumed that I would have a good time in a place I’d never been before. What I didn’t realize is that I would be leaving with an international family. The connections I have made through Aardvark are lifelong, especially as we all survived quarantine together in Florentine! I’ve never been part of a community like the one I was in here. I’m very thankful for the opportunities I was able to gain through Aardvark and the people I spent the last 7 months with. It breaks my heart that I have to say goodbye but in my heart, I know I’ll see everyone later.
While being in Israel during not only a pandemic but also a worldwide black lives matter movement, I realized the unique category my fellow peers fall into by supporting Israel. Many of these movements exclude Jews who support Israel because of their pro-Palestinian viewpoints. It was very difficult for me to grasp where I stood in all of this but my community helped me figure it all out. I was able to speak out on human rights matters while still defending my beliefs about Israel. Aardvark has given me the tools needed to combat my peers at home that speak out against Israel with false information and/or anti-Semitic comments. My advice to incoming Aardvarkians is to use the resources available and to listen during tiyulim that show us the history of this land!
For incoming Aardvarkians, I would like to tell you to use your time wisely because before you know it, your time in this land will be over. Take those weekend trips with friends and go to those places that you’ve never heard of! Of course, make sure that you can go to the places you want to visit, but you have a once in a lifetime experience of living in Israel so go explore!! Your gap year is for fun and learning so learn about yourself and the land you’re in.
Also, I know it’s very corny, but make a one second a day video or just take lots of pictures as you will want to remember every second! Israel is what you make of it, so use the resources around you and the sky is your limit.