Hello my name is Nicole Schutkin, I’m from Milwaukee Wisconsin. When I was in attending Hillel Academy in Milwaukee Wisconsin, I went on my 8th grade school trip to Israel. I fell in love with this country immediately. Ever since that trip it has been my desire to do a gap program in Israel before I would start my college education. At first it was a struggle to figure out exactly how my family and I could make coming on the gap year work with our finances. Initially, I was in contact with Aardvark and I was informed that they offered a scholarship called the Keith Berman Scholarship. I immediately began to look into the scholarship and was able to learn about how amazing Keith Berman was. Keith Berman’s life was dedicated to bringing young adults to Israel and having them learn about how amazing Israel is and encouraging them to eventually make Aliya. I am honored to say that after filling out my application and anxiously waiting for weeks, I was one of two recipients of the scholarship. I am beyond grateful for this scholarship and am beyond honored to get this scholarship because without it I would have never been able to come to Israel and experience a gap year.
My first semester would end up being in the city I visited first on that 8th grade trip, Jerusalem. On my trip I fell in love with the country and culture and I knew that I wanted to live there. Living in Jerusalem is like nothing else. It’s amazing to think about how I am living in a place where my ancestors have been for hundreds of years. I am walking on the same soil as some of our fore fathers. This is an incredible feeling. I am part of the Selah Track. Selah is an enrichment program that teaches students the different ways of Judaism through enriching classes and trips. One of the many incredible features of Selah is that I am able to go to spiritual sites that I have never been to or would ever go to. On one of trips we went to this museum for biblical animals in Bet Shemesh. We were able to interact with some of the animals; for example, I held a python reticulatus. I’ve always had a fear of snakes and that trip not only taught me a lot about different species role in the Bible but also helped me overcome a fear I’ve always had.
A typical day in aardvark consists of waking up to our madrich yelling at us for not being up on time J and then coming to our internship or Selah. Once I get to Selah I begin to learn with amazing teachers who give me much insight on Jewish traditions. After Selah, I run home trying to have enough time for a quick nap before classes. I typically eat for ten minutes and nap for about twenty five minutes. I then set an alarm for five minutes before my first class begins.
My first class on Monday’s and Thursday’s are Ulpan and on Wednesday is Israeli and Arab conflict media. I am starting to learn a lot in Ulpan (Hebrew classes) for example, I’ve learned how to say וכרוב מלפפון .In my Israeli conflict class I’ve learned a whole new perspective of the Middle Eastern conflict because it is important for my teacher to teach us the Palestinian perspective too. My final class is Jewish Medical Ethics, this is by far my favorite class. I’ve learned about the Jewish perspective on topics like abortion and organ donation. This class is extremely interesting and I leave the class everyday knowing more. For example, I have always thought that being an organ donor is against Judaism; however, after learning about it I now know that it is allowed in Judaism and is encouraged by many rabbis.
My goals for the year is to gain a greater appreciation for the land of Israel and be able to find what kind of Jew I am. I also want to become more independent and learn how to live without relying on my parents for everything. One of my most memorable experiences was going to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Chevron. I was able to pray to Sara and Abrahams tomb, that was an unbelievable experience. I got the chills as I said tehilim above their tombs.
I think current seniors should consider the idea of a gap year. I am confident that because of me taking a year off and coming to Israel, the transition to college will be much easier and I will be way more mature than I would have been if I didn’t come to Israel. I think that taking a gap year has not only made me worldlier but has also allowed me to emerge myself into different cultures. I am beyond grateful for the opportunities that I have and I truly believe that anyone who can, should definitely take a year off before college and go to a new country and fully embrace themselves into a new culture.