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.

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.

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.
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.
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.
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.

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.
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 part of Beni Akiva as an active participant, and later as a counselor. She did her gap year at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and her BA in Communication and Sociology at Bar Ilan University. She gained her master’s from the University of the Arts In Television in London. She loves meeting new people from all over the world, going out with her friends, spending time at the beach, 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.
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.
Meron guttel

Meron Guttel

Jerusalem Community Manager

Meron was born in Strasbourg, France, and grew up in Jerusalem. After graduating from 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 in the Recon Battalion. 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. Meron was involved in a variety of educational programs over the years, including in the fields of Jewish peoplehood and coexistence.
Rabbi paul arberman

Rabbi Paul Arberman

Jewish Life Coordinator

Paul was born in Brooklyn and now lives in Modiin, Israel. He has a BA in Gov’t from Wesleyan University, (CT). After a stint in D.C. working on Capitol Hill, he began Rabbinical School at the Theological Seminary in New York. He received his MA in Judaic Studies in 1998 and transferred to the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem when he made Aliyah. Rabbi Arberman has worked as a rabbi in Israel, London, and most recently in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida before returning to Israel this past Summer.


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.


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.
Dan katsman

Dan Katsman

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

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.
Telem ouziel

Telem Ouziel

Telem grew up in Pardes Hanna-Karkur. In IDF He served as a Dog Trainer in the ‘Oketz’ unit. After he finished his military service, he did a mission on behalf of the Jewish Agency as a camp counselor in the United States. he has a great passion for Israel & the Jewish people around the globe, enjoys biking, watching history documentaries, cooking, trying out new food and loves animals.
Adi betzalel

Adi Betzalel

Adi was born in Israel and moved to Washington D.C. with her family for Shlichut. After coming back from the Shlichut, she and her family moved to a town named Shoham. Through High School, she was a counselor at ‘Diller Teen Fellows’ program, and in the Israeli Scouts youth movement. Before her military service, she participated in ‘Hevruta’ gap year and was a Shlicha at “Ramah Nyack” Summer Camp. In the IDF, she served in the special intelligence unit. Adi’s passionate about reading and writing. She loves spending time with her family and friends.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

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.

Ready to make Israel yours?