Meet our team
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.
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 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, 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.
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 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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.