Spotlight on Students
Student of the Week – Taya Kalman
My name is Taya Kalman and I am from Melbourne, Australia. I have just finished my semester in Tel Aviv and I am currently a camp counsellor at a NJY Camp, a summer camp in the USA that is part of Aardvark Israel’s Plus Program.
Two loving parents raised my older brother and me and we have two kittens named after the Russian KGB characters, Boris and Natasha. After completing my final year at a Modern Orthodox school, I knew I wanted to take some time to travel and develop as a person before I started university. After a lot of research and gap year fairs, I found Aardvark Israel.
I chose Aardvark over all of the other programs because of the independence and freedom it offers within a structured environment, and the amazing international side trips. During the five months that I lived in Israel I grew so much as a person by gaining life skills, travelling the world and making lifelong friends – all of this combined to form experiences that I will never forget.
A typical day on Aardvark started with my internship at 9am. I was at the Bauhaus Centre, an art gallery and museum dedicated to the Bauhaus Art Movement. My tasks included organizing audio guides, running to the post office and handling new shipments of stock. I also arranged gallery exhibits, including one that celebrated the 100 years since the Bauhaus School opened in Germany. On the first day of my internship, a very naive me was sent on an errand to the post office, this was a crazy experience much like being in a washing machine and tumble dryer at the same time, with everything and everyone conspiring to prevent me from carrying out my apparently simple errand. Determined to prove myself on my first day, I worked out the queuing system – push, shove and elbows, and I worked out how to make an enquiry – just shout anything and three people will yell the answer in Russian (or was it Yiddish??!). Upon my return to the gallery, I was informed that I was ready to make Aliyah because I HAD SURVIVED THE POST OFFICE!!! Since that day, I have not feared new tasks and challenges; the experience gave me the confidence to overcome any hurdles that present themselves. I’m sure this is a quality that I will carry with me through life.
In the afternoons, I would return home to my apartment, eat lunch and head to classes. Later, I would do some of the important jobs that come with independent living such as a grocery shopping, laundry, cleaning and meal prep. Evenings were filled with fun and interesting programs run by the Madrichim – our counsellors. Florentine, the neighbourhood where Aardvark Tel-Aviv is based, was a great location, filled with life and good food.
My favourite experiences with Aardvark were the International Trips. I was lucky enough to go to Ethiopia, Italy and Germany. All three international trips were incredibly different and I liked them all for different reasons.
In Ethiopia, the program provided us with amazing care. This was a once in a life time experience that I will never forget, it is a place so vastly different to the West, yet the Jewish community in Gondar shares many similarities with other Jewish communities. They have Hebrew Siddurs but instead of containing English translations, they contain Amharic translations. This meant that we shared the common language of Hebrew and could carry out basic communications. Just by visiting the community, we were showing them that they had not been forgotten and gave them hope that one day they too will make it to Israel. A few weeks later we were informed that a member of this community did make it to Israel!
Italy was beautiful. Everywhere I looked was the perfect Instagram moment, and my family was very pleased to receive many daily photos. We also visited the Sistine Chapel where I may have taken a sneaky photo or two.
When I heard that Germany was a trip option I was sceptical about what it had to offer due to the many negative associations I have with the country. I was surprised to find a revived Jewish community there and we were fortunate to spend a Shabbat in Berlin, joining in with the community’s Shul service, which was very special and full of meaning. We also visited Sachsenhausen, the location of the main training camp for Nazi officers and a Concentration Camp for Prisoners Of War, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jews. Even though it was the middle of spring, we needed to wear four layers of clothing and were still cold; I can’t imagine how prisoners were able to survive the bitter winters in their thin pyjamas.
After completing the Tel-Aviv portion of the program and prior to coming to the United States, we lived in the Jerusalem apartments for two weeks. This allowed me to use the independence I had gained in Tel Aviv and continue to practice it in a new environment.
The day came when we finally headed to the US, we were all super excited. We started the trip in DC where I met up with my roommate from my semester in Israel, who took us into Virginia for our first Target shopping experience, US style! And then we had a taste of the ever dynamic New York City, before a teary farewell to Eyal, who had been our Community Manager in Tel Aviv. It was the wrenching emotions of the goodbye that showed what an important part of our experience Eyal had been; he was a wonderful support, guide and mentor who steered us through our formative experiences over the previous months.
Finally, it was time to start our Camp America experience! This began with staff training week, where we played many games, met our co-counsellors and had activities such as how to unclog a toilet. A day here is never boring as 8 and 9-year-old girls keep you on your toes. It was fun to accompany them to dance and gymnastics competitions at other camps. One gave me parent trap vibes. Although camp has its challenging moments, it also has amazing ones too!
I can’t thank Aardvark enough for giving me the opportunities that I have had and helping me grow into the person I am. It provides a safe caring platform that really does allow you to make Israel yours!
Sending love from my bed in Milford, Pennsylvania to all the Aardvark staff, my many lifelong international (and domestic) friends and my amazing family.