Gap year in israel - aardvarkisrael


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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.

Shay-el tamir

Shay-El Tamir

Program Director

Shay-El, born and raised in Ramt-Gan, Israel, earned his BA in ‘Leadership and Management of Educational Systems’ and Political Science from Bar Ilan University and an MA in Israel Studies, with a specialization in American Jewish Studies, from Haifa University. As a teenager, he volunteered in his local community center where he gained the ability to connect with people of all ages and acquired leadership skills, and later served as a tank commander in the Armored Corps of the IDF. His passion for Zionism and Jewish culture led him to work at Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps. Before joining Aardvark Israel, Shay-El served as a part of the leadership team of the Summer Fellows Program in the Jewish Agency for Israel for 6 years.

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.


Rotem bar

Rotem Bar

Tel-Aviv Community Manager

Rotem was born in Israel and lived in four different countries during her childhood. She began her career with Aardvark Israel as a counselor in 2013 and was thrilled to rejoin the team. Rotem earned a BA in Political Science and International Relations and is currently completing an MA in Cyber, Politics and Government from Tel Aviv University. She has vast experience with international audiences and Israel education including having worked for EL AL Airlines, the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, and most recently as a Community Shlicha for the Jewish Agency for Israel in the Lehigh Valley, PA. She currently lives in Tel-Aviv.

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.

Alona lipetz

Alona Lipetz

Jerusalem Community Manager

Alona was born and raised in Beer-Sheva and currently lives in Jerusalem. She earned a BA from Ben Gurion University in Education and Arts, and is certified as an animal-assisted therapist. She is currently completing her MA in Judaic Studies. Alona spent two years in the United States serving as the Jewish Agency Israel Fellow at Penn State Hillel. Prior to that, she devoted her career to working with people with special needs. She is certified as an EMT and spent five years volunteering with Magen David Adom. A devoted vegan, Alona is also an animal activist.

Gabe pransky

Gabe Pransky

Jewish Life Coordinator

Gabe grew up outside Philadelphia. After spending Israel gap years in both University and Yeshiva, he studied Philosophy and Cognitive Science at Rutgers University. Since receiving rabbinic ordination in 2006 Gabe has shared his passion for Jewish life and education in various organizations and programs in the USA and Israel. Prior to joining Aardvark Israel, he was the founder and director of The Shira Pransky Project, helping English-speaking Israelis navigate the healthcare system. He relates every experience in his life to his own Jewish journey and personal growth, a sensitivity that he strives to share with his students.
Meytal yahon

Meytal Yahon

Internships Manager

Meytal was born and raised in Israel. Her parents made Aliyah from Ethiopia. She was part of the Bnei Akiva Youth Movement as a child. In her military service she served as a social worker in the Armoured Corps and was in charge of the welfare of soldiers. She has a B.Ed. with a Teaching Certificate in Biblical Studies and Israeli Culture. She enjoys everything related to movement: dance, yoga, mindfulness and has a passion for writing. She wishes to visit Africa one day and would have loved to chat with Nelson Mandela, if he was alive.
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 grew up in a small town in the north. 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 lived in the United States for two years while serving as the Jewish Agency Israel fellow at Michigan State University.

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.

Ilay braverman

Ilay Braverman

Logistics Coordinator

Ilay was born in Jerusalem and grew up in Mevaseret Zion. During his high school years, he was a member, coordinator, and counselor in the Israeli youth movement “Zofim” and also a student in “Noar Telem” IMPJ’s youth movement. After his military service, he went to work in URJ’s Camp Coleman in Georgia. Ilay started his career at Aardvark Israel as a counselor in 2018 and currently lives in Tel Aviv and enjoys films and music.
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.
Natasha packter

Natasha Packter

Admissions Coordinator

Natasha was born in London, England. She made Aliyah in July 2020, and attended Ulpan in Jerusalem. Natasha went to JFS school and then studied geography at Brighton University. After university, Natasha went on the Masa Israel Teaching Fellows Programme in Bat Yam. Prior to moving to Israel, Natasha worked as the U.K. Masa Events and Recruitment Coordinator for 2 years. She now lives in Tel Aviv.
Noam zuckerman

Noam Zuckerman

Admissions Coordinator

Noam was born and raised in Chicago and currently lives in Jerusalem. He spent his Gap Year in Israel in 2008, and made Aliyah in 2011. After serving in the army and living and working on a Kibbutz for his first 5 years in Israel, Noam has been living in Jerusalem since 2015. Before joining Aardvark Israel, Noam spent a year working on the Hevruta Gap Year program and over 2 years working at the Jewish Federations of North America Israel office.
Georgie levine

Georgie Levine

Admissions Coordinator

Georgie grew up in north London and studied History of Art at the University of Leeds. She worked previously in London for the Noam Masorti Youth Movement, where she was active as a child and as a counselor for 7 years. She has also worked for the Union of Jewish Students as the Education and Programs Manager, creating the projects for the Jewish societies in the U.K and Northern Ireland. She recently made Aliyah to Tel-Aviv and is a passionate lover of art and music.
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

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.


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.


Raz calimi

Raz Calimi

Raz was born and raised in Kibbutz Dorot. Last year she finished her military service as a Combat Fitness Instructor in the ‘Search and Rescue’ unit. She was a Jewish agency fellow in Las Vegas before joining the IDF, and over the years was a counselor in camp JCA Shalom in Malibu, and in the JCC in San Diego. She has been dancing flamenco for 9 years, and in her free time she loves to travel, read books, work out and have fun with her friends and family.
Gila nadler

Gila Nadler

Gila was born in New Jersey and made Aliyah with her family when she was 8 years old to Ra’anana. She participated in different Jewish and Israeli programs and educational organizations throughout High School, such as Beni Akiva, Beit Prat, and Szarvas. Before her military service, she took a gap year to deepen her knowledge in Jewish Studies. Later on, she served in the ‘Egoz’ commando unit, where she managed a small team that developed special equipment for the unit.
Dror peretz

Dror Peretz

Dror was born and raised in Modi`in. Before his military service, he spent a year in ‘Rabin’ Pre-military College and then another 6 months in Jerusalem. He enlisted in the armored forces and served as a tank gunner in the 77th battalion. After he finished his military service he hiked the Israel National Trail, a 1000 km hike that crosses Israel from North to South. He loves literature, philosophy, traveling, and meeting new people with unique points of view on the world.
Yuval toledano

Yuval Toledano

Yuval was born and raised in Zichron Ya’akov. As a child, she spent most of her time hanging out with friends, traveling, cooking, and going to youth movements such as Ha’Maccabi Ha’Tzair. In the army, she served as a commander in ‘Nativ’ unit in the Education Corps, and also as a ‘Siba’ Instructor, focusing on unpreveliged soldiers. Some of her hobbies include playing the guitar, traveling, and hanging out with her friends.
Gaya unger

Gaya Unger

Gaya was born and raised in Hod Ha’Sharon. In high school, she combined her interests of dancing, writing, and being around children with special needs. She was a counselor in the youth movement “Krembo Wings” which brings together people with and without special needs. After high school, she spent a gap year in South Tel Aviv, where she volunteered with refugees’ children and studied inclusive Judaism. Later, she served as an interviewer for the army recruitment process.
Zehava amar

Zehava Amar

Zehava is originally from Rosh Pina, but has been living in Tel Aviv for the past year. Before enlisting in the IDF, she was part of a pre-military college in the Kibbutz of Hanaton and continued to another similar program called Ein-Prat in Kfar Adumim. She served as the head of an officer’s quarters in the Civil Administration, and since her discharge, she has been working in both educational and political roles. Some of her hobbies are reading and practicing yoga.
Noa schwartz

Noa Schwartz

Noa grew up in a town named Zichron Yaakov, and currently resides in Tel-Aviv. As a teenager, She took part in a youth movement called ‘Ha’Noar Ha’Oved’ and loved being a counselor. Before serving at the IDF, she took a gap year in Kibbutz Hanaton where she volunteered, traveled, and studied with the rest of the gap year’s participants. In the IDF, she served as a counselor of education at the Air force and as a content developer. She was also a counselor in Ramah Palmer. She loves art and spends a lot of time painting.
Ido doovdevani

Ido Doovdevani

Ido was born and raised in Mevasseret Zion. In the IDF, he served as a tank commander and before that, he did a gap year program in Kibbutz Beit-Guvrin, where he learned a lot about the Jewish culture and religion from his teachers, staff members, and friends. He is connected to Israel and sees his life as an Israeli citizen with a certain responsibility to make things better in Israel. Over his gap year and military service, he experienced the cultural diversity of Israel and believes that the more we interact with each other, we develop as individuals and as a society.
Ori berner

Ori Berner

Ori, originally from Eilat, experienced his first interaction with Diaspora Jews in 10th grade, when he and his robotics team won the national championship and flew to the U.S to compete in the world championship. He later joined the IDF and served in the intelligence unit. Right after, he traveled to the U.S again and was a Shaliach at JCC Shalom Austin Summer Camp. Following that he decided to move to Kibbutz Maoz-Haim and worked as a fisherman. His hobbies are connected to different types of sports – martial arts, calisthenics, and more.
Shahar malka

Shahar Malka

Shahar was born and raised in Ganei Tikva and recently moved to Jerusalem. She was a counselor in a youth movement for three years. After high school, Shahar did a gap year in Midrasha located in Yeruham. Her army service was as a Hebrew teacher for ‘Olim Hadashim’, soldiers who recently made Aliya and have joined the IDF. After her army service, Shahar was a fellow in Hong Kong right before COVID 19 started. Shahar loves art, baking, and traveling.

Avital belinsky

Avital Belinsky

Avital was born and raised in Modi’in. In high school, she participated in different youth organizations including a ten-year leadership program called “Kav Hazinuk”. After that, she was drafted to the IDF, where she served as a commander and English teacher for soldiers that come from different backgrounds. Recently, she came back from a Jewish Agency delegation in Ukraine, where she took part in planning and counseling a summer camp.

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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