Spotlight on Students
Student of the Week – Nathan Swidler
Hi, my name is Nathan Swidler, but most people know me as Nate. I come from a land that is (gasp), not America, and my English accent is a bit of a greater language barrier with Americans than Israelis – and so I guess it’s a good thing I chose to spend my Gap Year here.
I principally decided to do Aardvark Israel to further my passion for the Holy Land, and to see first-hand what it would be like to live there, speaking a language native to the people around me and exploring a culture that I would consider one of the world’s most unique. Aardvark Israel has given me just that.
Living in Tel Aviv seems slightly like a “bubble” (as it is commonly known) because everything goes on as if nothing is happening at our borders. The discussions you have with strangers aren’t about the elections, past and present, or the conflict, past, present, or future, but who are you, where do you come from, and what is your story. You strike up a conversation with a native on Rothschild and you find that everyone speaks English and has a story to tell. “It’s a place where the questions are frequently better than the answers – which invariably take the shape of still more questions” is what my best friend’s father told me – and he couldn’t be more correct in saying so. Aardvark has provided a space in which I can strike up these conversations, hear these stories, ask these questions, and listen to these answers.
Here in Florentin, there’s no rest, no calm. Above the omnipresence of the car noises or the conflict, we hardly stop for a second and so we don’t have to think about it, the disruption or the threat of our very existence. There is always something to occupy my mind; Aardvark has filled our schedule to the brim giving us the chance to see Israel as we want to see it, from tours of Jaffa to the gardens of Zichron Ya’akov. Through commuting to my Hi-Tech Internship right by the Sarona market, and sinking my teeth into the stories of the leaders that brought Israel from a millennia-long dream to reality, I’m wasting no time in adapting to life as an Israeli. And that translates into my Ulpan classes as well, which don’t solely entail a perfect chance to develop my linguistic capabilities. By living in Israel, I am more than simply learning how to read, write and speak Hebrew. I’m immersing myself in the societal mores, discovering the people, literature, and history behind the language. I’m delving into the curiosities of various cultures while exploring the ever-evolving meanings of their idioms.
One aspect of our experience that is so often neglected in these reports is the gratitude we should show for our Madrichim. I could sing praises for my Madrich Daniel for weeks and weeks on end and it still would not come close to what he deserves to hear. He is kind, empathetic, and compassionate. He is always there to talk for hours or to gossip for a quick minute. He makes you feel like you are a peer, a friend, a brother to him. He calms you down when you worry, and he brings you up when you cry. And this has been my feeling towards him since that very first day we came together as a group.
Aardvark has brought a feeling of liberation into my life. I am finally free. I am surrounded by Jews, by Israelis; it may sound counter-intuitive, but that aspect of my identity is no longer at the forefront of my mind. I can be a person. And whether it is walking along a crowded beach on Shabbat, or cycling the empty streets on Yom Kippur, this is where I can truly feel like myself for the first time. I can truly be at home, away from hatred, judgment, and preconceptions.