Gap year in israel - aardvarkisrael


Meet our team

We’re passionate about Israel and are committed to delivering custom, world-class programs and experiences.
Letter from the executive director​

Dear Prospective Participants and Parents,

If you had an entire year to do anything you wanted, what would you do?

Perhaps you’d travel. Maybe you’d learn a new skill. You’d probably welcome the chance to meet interesting people, to experience things you’ve never tried before, to reduce the stress and pressures of today’s world.

This is exactly what awaits you on Aardvark Israel.

No one ever regrets having taken a gap year, but plenty of people regret not having taken one. The world is your classroom and spending a year abroad opens the door to personal growth, developing independence, defining your values, and figuring out who you are as an adult. With Israel as the unique landscape for this adventure, you will explore how you fit into the larger Jewish Community and connect with Israeli society as well.

Within Aardvark Israel, we pride ourselves on providing students with individualized attention, opportunities, and guidance. Each student will discover a year filled with challenges, fun, fascination, learning, volunteering, self-discovery, maturity, and joy. Parents will find a partner in their child’s development and our staff will take care of your children as if they were our own. At the end of the program, students will return home more mature, better prepared to cope with the challenges of university life, and more dedicated to the future of the Jewish People and the State of Israel.

We look forward to working together with each of you on this incredible journey.


Gap year in israel - aardvarkisrael

Debbie Goldsmith

Executive Director and Co-Founder


Debbie goldsmith

Debbie Goldsmith

Executive Director

Debbie has worked in the field of Jewish and Zionist education for more than 20 years. In honor of International Women’s Day 2021, she was recognized as one of Masa’s Inspiring 12 Jewish Women Working to Make a Difference. Debbie grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and after spending her gap year in Israel on USY’s Nativ program, she completed her BA at Columbia University in Religion and at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Talmud. She also earned an MA in Jewish Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary. Prior to co-founding Aardvark Israel, she was the Assistant Director of Young Judaea/FZY Year Course in Israel. Debbie lives in Yishuv Alon and has three children, one of whom is taking a gap year this year before enlisting in the army.

Simon cohen

Simon Cohen

Director of Innovation and Admissions

Simon grew up in England as an active participant in the Federation of Zionist Youth (FZY) and served as FZY’s National Director of Education prior to moving to Israel in 2000. In addition to participating in Young Judaea/FZY’s Year Course in 1994-95, he dedicated a decade to working for the program as a senior staff member. Simon is also an experienced guide for Jewish educational tours to Poland. He holds a BA in Economics and Economic History from Manchester University and an MA in Jewish Education from the Hebrew University. Simon lives in Tzur Hadassah with his wife and their three children.

Kineret arad-shapiro

Kineret Arad-Shapiro

Program Director

Kineret was born and raised in Jerusalem, and currently lives in Modi’in with her husband and their three children. She graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with a BA in history, specializing in Israeli history, geography, and Christianity, and a Master’s in Jewish education, specializing in Israel-Diaspora relations. Kineret is a certified tour guide and has led many educational programs for B’nei Akiva, and for the past five years, she has worked at Karev Program, helping children form a deeper connection with their Jewish identity. During her educational career, she was part of the Academic staff of Young Judea, Birthright Israel, and IGT-Hillel.
Moshe levi

Moshe Levi

Director of Education

Moshe, born and raised in Jerusalem, began his career in Jewish education straight after completing his military service in the IDF, where he served for three years as an infantry medic. He holds an MA in Comparative Religion from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and has extensive experience in Jewish and Israel education. Moshe has worked with different Jewish Summer Camps and as a community Shaliach across North America and served as The Jewish Agency’s coordinator of Youth Movement Fellows. He looks forward to bringing his passion and knowledge of Israel and Jewish education to the Aardvark participants.


Meron guttel

Meron Guttel

Jerusalem Community Manager

Meron was born in Strasbourg, France, and grew up in Jerusalem. After high school, he volunteered for a year of service with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel as a tour guide. Meron enlisted in the Golani Brigade and served as a combat soldier. Meron holds a bachelor’s degree in Comparative Religions and Jewish Literature from the Hebrew University and an M.A in Jewish-American studies from Haifa University.
Yifat nadler

Yifat Nadler

Tel Aviv Community Manager

Yifat was born in Canada, made Aliyah when she was 15 years old and currently resides in Tel Aviv. Yifat earned a BA in Political Science and Anthropology from Tel Aviv University and an MA in Nonprofit Management from Hebrew University. She has been passionate about education ever since her army service in the Educational Corps and has worked for various Jewish organizations including The Jewish Agency, Masa, JDC Lauder Camp Szarvas in Hungry, and Diller Teen Fellows. In her free time, Yifat loves to read books and enjoy nature.

Lee naftali

Lee Naftali

Tel Aviv Community Manager

Lee grew up in Kfar Saba and currently lives in Tel Aviv after spending a few years living in Jerusalem. In the army, Lee was a Sar-El madricha and worked with international volunteers (and Aardvark Israel students as well!). She holds a BA in Education and International Relations from The Hebrew University. She is passionate about Israel and Jewish Education and took part in different educational organizations including the Jewish agency, OSRUI summer camp, Masa, HSI, Onward Israel, and the reform movement in Israel.
Shabtai pessin

Shabtai Pessin

Tel Aviv Community Manager

Shabtai was born and raised in Efrat Israel and currently resides in Lod. He studied in Yeshivat HaKotel for 6 years while serving in the Golani brigade in the IDF. After Yeshiva, he was a Jewish Agency Fellow in Cape Town, South Africa. He has a B.Ed. in Israel and Jewish studies and is currently pursuing his MA in International Relations. Last year, he taught 8th graders and decided to follow his passion and move to working with overseas Jewry.
Oz sade

Oz Sade

Internships Manager

Oz was born in Jerusalem and grew up in the Golan Heights. In high school, he was a counselor in Bnei Akiva Youth Movement and volunteered in Magen David Adom as an EMT. In the IDF, he served as a Tank Gunner in the Armored Corps. Oz worked as a Madrich at Alexander Muss High School In Israel for two years. These days, Oz is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Business and Education at the Open University.
Yonatan cohen

Yonatan Cohen

Internships Coordinator

Yonatan was born and raised in Jerusalem. In high school, he was a counselor in a Youth Movement called Krembo Wings, for children with special needs. In the IDF he served in the Kfir Brigade as a combat soldier. Yonatan holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Education and has experience working and volunteering in educational roles. Yonatan likes to traveling and drawing.
Roni gal

Roni Gal

Internships Coordinator

Roni was born and raised in Ra’anana and now lives in Herzliya. She was a counselor at Hamachanot Ha’Olim youth movement.
In her military service, she served as a Military Social Worker in Judea and Samaria and was in charge of the welfare of soldiers. She studied radio and ran a small business selling handmade jewelry. She has a great passion for music, arts, food, and traveling.

Fentanesh yanihudege

Fentanesh Yanihudege

Internships Coordinator

Fentanesh was born in Ethiopia and moved to Israel with her family when she was 2 years old. She was always passionate about experiential education and has worked in different organizations and programs in this field for more than 10 years. She graduated from Hebrew University in Jerusalem with a BA in Political Science and Sociology Anthropology. She was a Jewish Agency Fellow at Michigan State University for 2 years.
Yan bihdriker

Yan Bihdriker

Internships Coordinator

Yan was born in Uzbekistan and made Aliyah when he was seven years old. In high school, he participated in the Diller Teen Fellows program and has been passionate about building bridges with the Jewish Diaspora youth ever since. Yan worked at the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration and the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs while also volunteering with unprivileged students. He holds a BA in Political Science and American Studies from Tel Aviv University and recently graduated from Reichman University with an MA in Government, Diplomacy, and Conflict Studies.
Dganit shahar

Dganit Shahar

Logistics Coordinator

Dganit grew up in Herzliya and now lives in Jerusalem. During her high-school years, she beacme very active with Bnei Akiva, first as a participant, and later as a counselor and Program Coordinator. She has a BA in Communications and Political Science and previously worked in operations with ‘Taglit’ (Birthright) and at the Museum of Tolerance and as an Event Producer. Dganit is passionate about music and is always looking for a great rock concert!
Sarah kurtz

Sarah Kurtz


Sarah, a third-generation New Zealander, grew up in a very Zionist family. She was very involved in Zionist youth movements during her childhood and after spending her gap year in Israel, she made Aliyah and completed her studies in Jerusalem. Sarah is an experienced bookkeeper with extensive knowledge & experience in both small organizations as well as corporate companies. Sarah lives in Givat Zeev with her husband and five children.
Carolyn reiffman

Carolyn Reiffman

Registrar and Admissions Assistant

Carolyn grew up in Kansas City and made Aliyah to Ma’ale Adumim in 2018, following a 13-year teaching career in a Jewish day school in Denver, Colorado. With a BA in Communications and an M.Ed in secondary education, her career path has included sports writing, dance instruction, cake decorating, social studies, English classes and more. When she isn’t busy supporting Aardvark students and staff, Carolyn enjoys spending time with her family, scuba diving, geocaching, and working on jigsaw puzzles.

Revital rahmani

Revital Rahmani

Admissions Coordinator

Revital was born in Milan, Italy. She made Aliyah when she finished high school and currently resides in Tel Aviv. Growing up, Revital was a participant and counselor in Bnei Akiva. She took a gap year at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, earned her BA in Communication and Sociology at Bar Ilan University and her master’s from the University of the Arts In Television in London. She loves meeting new people from all over the world and visiting her family abroad and in Israel. She speaks 5 languages fluently – Italian, French, Spanish, English and Hebrew.
Az troenkrasnow

Az Troenkrasnow

Admissions Coordinator

Az was born and raised in Massachusetts and currently lives in Tel Aviv. Growing up, he took every chance he could get to visit Israel, spending his Gap Year on Aardvark Israel after graduating high school. He then returned to the United States to attend Loyola University New Orleans, earning a degree in accounting and marketing, and currently completing his MBA. Not being able to stay away from his homeland any longer, he has now returned to Israel and plans on making Aliyah in the future.
Emma flanders

Emma Flanders

Admissions Coordinator

Emma was born and raised in New York City. Emma studied Theatre Management and Education at Northwestern University, where she produced the largest student-produced musical in the United States. She was also a Development Intern at Batsheva Dance Company in Tel Aviv and the LGBT Center of New York. Upon graduation she was a Masa Israel Teaching Fellow, teaching English in the Bedouin city of Rahat and in South Tel Aviv, where she now resides. Emma enjoys hiking the trails of Israel and cooking for her family and friends.
Hadar cohen

Hadar Cohen

Marketing and PR Manager

Hadar was born and raised in Ra’anana, and now lives in Tel Aviv. She has taken part in Youth Movements as a counselor and coordinator and was always passionate about Zionist education, taking part in Birthright, Birthright Excel, the Jewish Agency Summer Camps, and Masa. She has a BA in Communications and Public Diplomacy, and previously worked for an advertising firm in Israel. She is an avid Yogi and a foodie, who loves traveling and going to festivals.

Nick lees

Nick Lees

Communications Coordinator

Nick was born and raised in Akron Ohio, and made Aliyah in 2010. He is a veteran press officer in the IDF Spokesperson Unit and has worked for several years in private sector digital marketing. He joined as Communications Coordinator of Aardvark Israel in order to help other young Jews also have enriching educational experiences and deepen their relationship with Israel and Judaism. He currently lives in Petah Tikva with his wife and son.
Ignacio tomas fiszman

Ignacio Tomas Fiszman

Logistics Coordinator

Ignacio was born in Argentina and was raised in a town near Haifa. In high school, he was a member, counselor, and head of a group for the Israeli scouts. In the IDF, he served as a combat soldier in the Navy. After his military service, he started working with various American-Jewish communities and organizations such as Young Judaea Sprout Lake Camp, and Alexander Muss High School in Israel. He enjoys cooking, traveling, reading, and watching movies.
Rabbi liad braude

Rabbi Liad Braude

Jewish Life Coordinator

Liad was born in Johannesburg, South Africa and spent many of his formative years in San Diego, California. Liad made aliyah in 2006 while working on Semicha as an ordained rabbi. Liad graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara with his B.A. in Political Science. For the next year, he made his way around Asia and South America, studying with spiritual leaders of various faiths in the region and working in local synagogues. He completed his semicha certification with Pirchei Shoshanim in 2018. In 2020, he graduated with his M.A. in Jewish Education from the Hebrew University. Liad has been working in yeshivot and gap programs in Israel for the past five years.
Dan katsman

Dan Katsman

Special Programs Coordinator

Dan was born and raised in Nof Ha’Galil. During high school, he was a part of The Israeli Scouts youth movement, and afterward, he did a ‘SHNAT Sherut (Year of Service) in Bat Yam. In the IDF, he served as a ‘Marva’ commander. After his army service, he worked as a counselor at Heller High School in Kibbutz Tzuba. Dan is passionate about arts and design.
Nitzan gat

Nitzan Gat

Logistics Coordinator

Nitzan was born and raised in Rosh Ha’ayin. As a kid, we played the piano and took part in ‘Ha’Noar Ha’Oved Ve’Halomed youth movement, where he was a counselor and kept taking piano lessons. During his military service, he was a combat solider and guided Bedouin youth in the north. After his military service, he was a Song Leader at Camp Barney Medintz.


Susie was born in Scottland, and recently made Aliyah and moved to Israel. She is only a few months old and currently lives in Tel Aviv with her father Shay-El, our Program Director. Susie belongs to the Israeli Guide Dog Center and in the future, she will become a guide dog and help a lot of people in need, as part of Tikun Olam, the famous concept in Judaism that strives to improve life of humankind. She enjoys long walks with Shay-El, eating snacks, fetching, and playing with our students, who help in her training.


Benji davis

Benji Davis

Benji grew up in Los Angeles, California and holds a BA in Middle East Studies & History from the George Washington University, an MA in Jewish Education from the Hebrew University and is a PhD student at the University of Haifa in the Faculty of Education, focusing his research on Israel education of young American Jews. In addition to teaching at Aardvark Israel, he manages a team of educators that provide Israel education courses for gap year students, gives geopolitical lectures to over 60 Birthright-Israel groups a year, and leads seminars, tours and Shabbatons for many visiting groups to Israel. He also specializes in online Israel education for learners before and after their Israel experience.

Avi engelhart

Avi Engelhart

Avi was born and raised in Chicago and made Aliyah to Israel in 2013. He earned an MA in Education from Loyola University and a certification from the Jewish Educational Leadership Institute of Chicago. He also received rabbinical ordination from the Chief Justice of the Rabbinical Court of Jerusalem. In addition to teaching, Avi is a marriage counselor with a private practice in Jerusalem and is currently working on his doctorate in clinical psychology. Avi has been involved in Jewish education working with post-high school young adults for more than a decade. His passion for education comes from cultivating personal growth and development. Avi lives in Givat Zeev with his wife and 5 kids.
Ori weisberg

Ori Weisberg

Ori has worked in Jewish education for three decades. He holds a PhD from the University of Michigan and has lectured at universities and colleges in the US and Israel. His teaching interests include Jewish history and literature, Middle Eastern and the politics of Israel and Palestine, and cultural and political theory. An experienced musician, he is the composer of ‘Hashoshanim’, a full setting of the Hebrew text of Song of Songs in an accessible world-beat song cycle. He recently completed his first novel, ‘Returning Captive’ and publishes opinion essays and cultural criticism in ‘Haaretz’, ‘The Forward’, and ‘Times of Israel’. An academic editor and translator, Ori lives in Jerusalem with his wife and family.
Matthew lipman

Matthew Lipman

Matthew has been working in Israel education for over 15 years. He has taught Judaic Studies at Jewish Day Schools in North America and led many innovative programs at those schools. He has written high-tech educational materials for U.S. public schools and the IDF and directed the multimedia development of an online Jewish day school. In addition to his teaching work at, he has trained Day School leaders in North America to create meaningful Israel education programs. Matthew has a BA in Politics and History from the University of Liverpool and holds a master’s degree in Jewish Education from the Hebrew University.

Ayo oppenheimer abitbol

Ayo Oppenheimer Abitbol

Ayo is a born teacher, who firmly believes that everyone can benefit from yoga, acroyoga and hoop dance regardless of level or perceived ability. Ayo has an uplifting positivity to her and is the type of teacher who will take her time with you and break down complicated moves with ease. She has multiple certifications in yoga and acroyoga, and more than 10 years of teaching experience. She is a trained facilitator of compassionate communication. Ayo leads wellness retreats and workshops around the world in addition to her 10 weekly StudioAYO yoga and acroyoga classes in Jerusalem.
Elliot vaisrub glassenberg

Elliot Vaisrub Glassenberg

Elliot was born and raised in Chicago and now lives in Jaffa. He holds a BA from McGill University, and an MA in Jewish Education and Jewish Literature. He is an American-Canadian-Israeli Queer Jewish educator-activist. He teaches and advocates on many topics relating to Jewish pluralism, human rights, LGBTQ rights and more. His educator-activist approach focuses on the application of Jewish culture for social change. He is also a senior educator at BINA: The Jewish Movement for Social Change and a leading activist for refugee rights in Israel. Elliot is co-chair of Right Now: Advocates for Asylum Seekers in Israel, and a blogger for the ‘Times of Israel’, The Jerusalem Post, and more.

Yotam gotal

Yotam Gotal

Yotam was born in Tel Aviv, Israel. Due to his father’s job in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Yotam spent many years in Europe and Asia. Currently, he is the Dramaturg and Literary Advisor of the Khan Theatre in Jerusalem. Yotam is an alumnus of the MFA in theatre directing program at Tel Aviv University, and the Tel Aviv University Excellency in Acting Program. Yotam was a commander-teacher at the Israeli Military Intelligence Academy in the IDF and was named honorary graduate of the Academy’s preparatory course. Yotam has recently directed Jean-Paul Sartre’s La Putain respectueuse and Marguerite Duras’ L’amante anglaise at the Tel Aviv University Theatre. He is currently working on a production by Brecht, and a performance piece about the life of Israeli poet Tirza Atar. He has also worked as a counselor in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Summer School Program for Israeli students traveling abroad.
Tal aronas

Tal Aronas

Tal was born and raised in Misgav Regional Council and now lives in Tel Aviv. Tal has been practicing yoga for more than 20 years and has been teaching yoga for more than a decade. Tal is a direct student of the master Sri Dharma Mittra from New York City, whom she adores. She fell in love with the Dharma Mittra system and specializes in Vinyasa Yoga. In addition to the complex position she learned in New York, she also studied anatomy and rehabilitation yoga, which focuses on how to work with your body in case of injuries and pain. Through her work and personal research, she developed tools for teaching different types of yoga, such as yoga that focuses on the woman’s body. She has enriched, and keeps enriching her knowledge and just recently got her certification in Yin Yoga, which allows her to integrates them in the intensive yoga retreats and workshops she is holding all around the world.


Hallel ben menachem

Hallel Ben Menachem

Hallel was born in Jerusalem and raised in Alon Shvut. As a teenager, she was a counselor in Bnei Akiva. In tha IDF, she helped soldiers who did not get their high school diploma, study for their matriculations. In her free time, she likes to play the piano, read books and spend time with her family and friends, enjoys Israeli theater, and literature, traveling in Israel, and exploring new places and different cultures Hallel feels very connected to Judaism and the Land of Israel.
Noa croitoro

Noa Croitoro

Noa was born and raised in Be’er Sheva and now lives in Jerusalem. In high school she was a part of the Israeli Scouts Youth Movement in her city. Afterward, she went on a year of service in Los Angeles, and volunteer in the Scouts and in a Hebrew school. In the IDF, she served as a sergeant of observers over the border fence with Egypt, and she had a great time! Noa is passionate about traveling and art.
Lidar ben shoshan

Lidar Ben Shoshan

Lidar was born and raised in Israel in a small Kibbutz named Sa’ar. In the past year, she worked in a Summer Camp in Maryland and later continued traveling through North and South America. She served in the military as a Combat Soldier keeping Israel’s borders in a unit named Karakal. Before her military service, Lidar took part in a Year of Service, volunteering with children.
Romy zelcer

Romy Zelcer

Romy was born and raised in Kibbutz Kfar Giladi in northern Israel. In high school, she participated in different Jewish and Israeli programs such as HaNoar Ha’Oved VeHaLomed Youth Movement and Diller Teen fellows. Before she joined the IDF, she took part in a year of service at kibbutz Ein Gedi with unprivileged children. In the IDF she served as a commander in ‘Havat Hashomer’ base that intends to help and care for soldiers who are part of populations at risk.
Liri cohen

Liri Cohen

Liri was born and raised in a small village in northern Israel called Mitzpe Hilla. She has taken part in ‘Bnei Hamoshavim’ and ‘Krembo Wings’ Youth Movements as a counselor and coordinator. After graduating from high school, she did a year of service with the Jewish Agency in Los Angeles. In the IDF, she served as an Education Administrator, serving in Commando Training units. In her free time she loves hiking, watching movies and spending time with her friends and family.
Gali sa'ar

Gali Sa'ar

Gali grew up in Eilat and Herzliya. From her early teenage years, she was enthusiastic about Theatre, education, and learning about Israeli culture and history. She was a counselor in the Mashazim youth movement and an active member of her Model UN debate team, eventually becoming the chairwoman. Before her military service as a teacher-soldier at “Eshel Hanasi” boarding school, she volunteered with at-risk teenagers in Ashdod, teaching spoken word poetry, performance, and creative writing workshops.
Ofir ozer

Ofir Ozer

Ofir was born and raised in Safed. In the IDF, she served as a Hebrew teacher for ‘Olim Hadashim’. She worked as a counselor for the Jewish Agency Summer Camp 92Y ILANOT in New York City, and as a Madricha in Mechinat Mahal. She loves traveling and discovering new places, meeting new people from different cultures, and spending time with her family.

Harel guttel

Harel Guttel

Harel was born and raised in Zur Hadassah, near Jerusalem. He was a counselor in Bnei Akiva and Green Horizons. After graduating from high school, he took part in a year of service with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel as a tour guide. Harel enlisted in the Kfir Brigade and served as a combat Medic. He is very passionate about traveling in Israel, and debating topics like Judaism, the land of Israel and more.
Tal garazi

Tal Garazi

Tal was Born and raised in Kibbutz Palmahim. As a teenager, she was a counselor in educational programs in her Kibbutz. Tal also volunteered with children with special needs and worked in Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority. Later, she joined the IDF and served as a Field Observer next to the Lebanese border. She loves cooking, traveling, and meeting new people.
Hadas shahar

Hadas Shahar

Hadas grew up in Gedera and recently moved to Rehovot. As a teenager, she took part in the Israeli Scouts youth movement and continued her part in a gap year in Hadera. In the IDF, she served as an Air-Operation Room Controller in the Air Force. She spent the last summer as a counselor and specialist in “Urj Eisner Camp” and continued traveling and exploring different cultures in Central America. Hadas loves to travel, cook, and have fun with her friends and family.
Clil gamlieli

Clil Gamlieli

Clil was born and raised in Jerusalem and currently lives in Tel Aviv. In high school she was a counselor in the HaShomer HaTzair youth movement. Before her army service Clil volunteered in the Bina Movement For Social Judaism gap year in Be’er Sheva. In the IDF she served as a commander in the Nativ program for strengthening Jewish identity, teaching new immigrants (Olim) and non Jewish soliders and encouraging zionist identity and connection.

Keith Berman z”l

Founding Director

Aardvark Israel was co-founded and directed by Keith Berman z”l until his tragic death in November 2014. Keith was a key figure in the world of Jewish Zionist Education dedicating his career to bringing young adults to Israel for meaningful long-term experiences and encouraging aliya. Aardvark Israel is the actualization of Keith’s legacy of passion and commitment to Israel and his values are represented in the students, staff, and activities of Aardvark Israel. In recognition of his contribution to Israel and the Jewish People, a scholarship was established in Keith’s memory.

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