gap year in israel

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Hey Aardvark, it’s Noah Hirsch for the student of the week. I was born in the greatest city in America, Indianapolis, Indiana. I am the youngest of seven children, five boys and two girls, and my siblings are my best friends. Ever since I visited in seventh grade and saw how beautiful Israel was for the first time, I knew that I would be coming back after high school. It was the beginning of my junior year when I found Aardvark on Masa’s gap year search (which wasn’t very hard thanks to the creative name starting with a double A), I presented the program to my parents but they wouldn’t make any commitments until I was accepted to a college. Finally, after being accepted to Indiana University Bloomington almost a year later, I signed up for Aardvark.

This semester I am living in the holy city of Jerusalem with an amazing group of students. I came into the program not knowing anyone, like many others, but as the weeks passed, I have made many new friends. Coming into the program, I knew that this year would not be an experience I could really prepare myself for, as there really is no place like home. Although I love my new friends, I wouldn’t necessarily say I feel at home, which isn’t a bad thing. Since I have been away from home for roughly just two months now, I feel that I have already grown to be more independent and mindful of other people’s feelings. It has definitely been humbling as well and I’ve started to truly understand how privileged I am. I learned these things through a number of experiences here in Jerusalem. Every week we have a speaker or some sort of workshop related to Israel and many of the stories I have heard have really opened my mind. Recently we had a speaker named Orly Wahba who came to tell us her story. She was outstanding. Everything from the story of her life to what she is doing now because of it. Orly started a nonprofit organization called Life Vest Inside with one goal in mind, to spread kindness in any way possible. After hearing Orly speak, I knew I had to help with the organization and within a few days, I went from interning at a law firm to interning at Life Vest Inside. We work from an office space at the brand new WeWork space in Jerusalem.

I have a variety of things to look forward to each week and it really just depends on the week. I am one of the few students on the program who actually has family in Israel and even more conveniently in Jerusalem. Most weekends I will visit one of the three uncles I have in Jerusalem. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I can visit two in the same weekend. It’s been really interesting bonding with family I have so little contact with while in the U.S and actually get to see what they do with their everyday lives. Apart from visiting family, I really love going to my classes during the week. The classes are unique compared to classes back at home because they are very specific to Israel. Pizza and Parsha with Rabbi Marc will always be a fun time. Rabbi Marc is a really spiritual person who is also very open minded. Although he may personally disagree with someone’s ideas or beliefs, he never fails to make everyone feel comfortable about them. I love the way he describes the parshas as well, it takes me back to my elementary Hebrew school. Last but not least, the madrichim plus Natali and Charlee. My favorite thing to do between my classes when I get time, is to hang out with them in the office. Gilad, my assigned madrich (counselor), will make me coffee. Natali will always have some sort of compliment or sweet greeting. Maya and I will probably end up arguing over something not very serious usually ending in a hug. Shalhevet will have the nice israeli music playing, and Charlee will ask me how my internship was.

This week we visited the Kibbutz Ketura in the Negev. The desert was so calm and beautiful with giant orange mountains surrounding us. The mountains furthest from us almost looked fake, like a painting or something. I loved the environment. The kibbutz itself was pretty interesting too, they had a lot to tell us about the way their kibbutz was started, how it has changed and what their goals are for the future. They have a program called ‘The Arava Institute’, where Palestinians, Israelis, Americans and Jordanians coexist in the hope that it will strengthen the bond between the cultures rather than feed into the violence that the media always portrays. I woke up bright and early for a beautiful hike in the mountains just behind the Kibbutz. Debbie was so protective when we got to the top; it was hilarious because she didn’t want people to go closer than ten feet away from the edge. It makes me laugh thinking back on it because it showed how much she cares about the safety of everyone on the program. After the hike, we had another activity with members of the kibbutz. The group made cookies using vacuum pipes powered by the sun. After lunch, we went to the sand dunes of Israel and frolicked. It was a three-day trip with so many activities packed into our days.

Taking a gap year before college was the best decision I’ve ever made. Only two months and I already feel so much more independent. I could not be happier to be on Aardvark, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has in store!

Thank you Keith Berman (z”l), Debbie Goldsmith, and Simon Cohen for starting Aardvark for my fellow students and me!

Noah hirsch