gap year in israel

Check out our social media to see what our students have been up to this past week!

Jonathan Nulman:
Hello everyone! I’m Jonathan Nulman from Morristown, New Jersey. I am also the twin with the better beard (that should be enough information to help you figure out which one I am in the picture). I have loved Israel for as long as I can remember; Aardvark makes it my third and longest time here. I live in Tel Aviv and have enjoyed every second of it. I have made incredible friends both from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and I am truly thankful for each and every one of them.

Back in the States, I will be studying Biochemistry & Molecular Biology at UMass Amherst. While I couldn’t find an internship related to that field, it has been very interesting to work at a business startup in Givatayim, about a half hour’s bus ride away. My company, Duco, focuses on innovation. Specifically, they work in “Corporate Innovation”, which means that they help large companies, where it may be more challenging to find breakthrough innovations, to innovate like smaller companies where the innovation process tends to be easier. Their past clients include the Israeli Defense Forces and the El-Al airline. I have been lucky to work with Duco Costa Rica, a new branch of the company that seeks to explore the up and coming Latin American Startup Environment. Most of my work for Duco involves me using my Spanish (my family comes from Mexico) to find and contact potential partners for Duco. It has been very interesting and satisfying to work in a field so different from what I will be studying in school, and where I can see the results of my work.

I recently returned from a week-long trip to Beijing, China with a group of Aardvark Tel Aviv and Jerusalem students. It is difficult to put into words how purely amazing that trip was. China felt like another world in just about every way I can think of. The food, language, and culture are in such stark contrast to anything I have ever experienced. My favorite parts of the trip were the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Silk Market. The Great Wall was just beautiful, unlike anything I had ever seen. It was high in the mountains, about 90 minutes away from Beijing. The cold was a nice taste of home in contrast to Tel Aviv’s 75-degree “winter”. It was amazing to see just how high up we were – the wall kept going and going! Every time we stopped to rest or turned a corner, we would see that the steps continued at a ridiculously steep angle. Let’s just say it was my cardio for the next 6 months. The Forbidden City was the Emperor’s personal residence; no men were allowed inside except him and his family and his eunuch servants, hence the name. The detail and the architecture were absolutely stunning. The colors of the buildings were incredibly bright, reds, greens, deep blues and gold. In the silk market, I channeled my inner Mexican and my inner Israeli and tried my hand at bartering – I surprised myself and did very well! It was a lot of fun to barter and I came out with a new backpack and a pare of (fake) Yeezys. It truly was the trip of a lifetime and I am so grateful for the opportunity to experience China with such an awesome group as my Tel Aviv and new Jerusalem friends are.

After Aardvark, Alex and I will be going to Marva, an 8 week basic training program with the IDF. While the nerves are there, I am so excited for that experience; I have been looking forward to it for a long time.

In the end, all I am and can be is thankful. Thankful to Aardvark for giving me such an incredible experience as it has. Thankful to my friends for making me laugh, being supportive in the low times and making the high times even higher. Most of all, I am thankful for my family for giving me the opportunity to go on such an amazing gap year, for everything they have done for me in the past, and for everything that we will do for each other in the future.

Alex Nulman:
What up Aardvark, it’s ya boi Alex Nulman. I grew up in Morristown, New Jersey, but both my parents were both in Mexico and raised Jewish. I am technically the oldest of three, although only by a minute. I am joined on this great expedition by my twin Jonathan, who will probably leave out the fact that he’s the younger twin. Coming from a hispanic household with little to no relatives living in the U.S, I am extremely close with both of my brothers as well as my parents. Having spent over 2 years of my life in Mexico has really allowed me to value my family and the importance of our bond.

I have always felt a strong connection to my Judaism, but growing up I think my ties to Mexico were stronger. The connection to the culture and more specifically the language is something I only had with Mexico. What I was missing from Mexico was the blood connection to the place and the people. Understandably, looking just as white as the next kid but speaking fluent Spanish is a strange combination for my peers to understand. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “…but you’re white”. I slowly began to feel more and more connected to Israel and Judaism from a cultural and peoplehood perspective, never a religious one. Through a program called Diller, I really began to explore what it meant to be Jewish. For the first time, I felt so connected to something that nobody could tell me I didn’t look the part. I’m not trying to sound like I was misunderstood and wasn’t accepted as a hispanic in school because I definitely was. This blood connection was just something I had never had before. I’m writing this on the way back home from my third time at the kotel, and still feels like it’s the first time I was there.

My decision to come to Aardvark wasn’t easy at first. Not necessarily because of this program specifically, but because I just wasn’t sure if a gap year was something I wanted to do. After experiencing Aardvark for over 3 months, I can say I’m very glad I made the decision I did. My favorite thing about Aardvark is definitely the tiyul’s on Tuesday. We’ve taken some amazing trips such as Caesaria and Haifa. I’d been to Caesaria with my family, but it was great to see it all again, especially the Roman water tunnels. Our weekends at the Kibbutzim have also been some of the best times I’ve had. The morning hike at Kibbutz Ketura was beautiful and the view at the top was well worth the trek. Regardless of the program itself, my experience in Israel has only gotten better with time. The friends I’ve made on this program since day one have made this semester a time that will stick with me for the rest of my life. I feel I’ve really taken advantage of the opportunities for learning and exploration through Aardvark and through Israel. One of these opportunities was going to China. I returned from China a few days ago and I could not have enjoyed it more. It was the pinnacle of my experience this semester. Driving around on a tour bus reminded me so much of my experience on Diller, and it was truly amazing to get to do it again. Although Judaism was not a big part of the trip, traveling is something I have always loved and there’s no better way to do it than with my best friends. The sights and places we went to were breathtaking, I think I speak for everyone when I say I wish the trip was longer.

With only three weeks left of Aardvark, I prepare for Marva in January. Marva is an 8 week training program for the IDF, based in Gadna. The thing I’m dreading most has to be the buzzcut.

There is no place I’d rather be than where I am right now. The way Aardvark fully immerses us into this society has made me feel at home here, even with my broken Hebrew. I am so thankful to my parents and to all of the Aardvark staff for making this amazing semester possible!