gap year in israel

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Dear Parents:

Another busy week has come to an end here at Aardvark Tel-Aviv and over it our students have been slowly settling into our program’s daily routine.

Here are some of the highlights from the week:

On Sunday, our students began their internships and volunteer activities. In addition, a group of about 10 students went together with Daniel (our Madricha) to the Jaffa beach to volunteer for cleaning up the beaches.

In the evening our students had their apartment meetings with their Madrich/a, this time the activity involved a traditional Tu Bishvat Seder including a tasty chocolate fondue that was designed to help everyone open up more towards each other and improve the relationships between roommates.

On Monday  evening, we had an amazing optional activity called Master Chef. I’m pleased to tell you that that most of the students chose to attend this activity and it was great to see our Moadon packed with students cooking together trying to win the title of “Aardvark Israel Master Chef”. The students were divided into groups and each group had to prepare a special ethnic dish within a given budget. After the cooking was complete, we sat around the table for a delicious homemade meal!

To celebrate Tu B’Shvat, we met up with the Jerusalem group to do some farm work with HaShomer HaChadash. Established in 2007, HaShomer HaChadash is a grassroots organization helping farmers and ranchers in the Negev and the Galilee safeguard their land. HaShomer HaChadash works to ensure a stronger Jewish presence, inspire a sense of mutual responsibility among the Jewish people and create a stronger and more just society. We began the day by splitting into groups and learning about Tu B’Shvat and then we began raking and cleaning the land around the trees. Afterwards, everyone met up to cook lunch. Together we made focaccia bread and salads, and many students even starting making pizzas and calzones, which were cooked on a round outdoor oven called a sambusak. To round off the day, the students had a Tu B’Shvat Seder and were able to pick their own oranges to take home. It was a great way to celebrate the New Year of the Trees, and give back to the Land of Israel!

Gina Lewis said, “Picking fruit and learning about Tu B’shvat was so much fun and a great way to learn about the festival. My flatmates and I now have a great collection of oranges!

This week in Parsha and Pizza, we learned all about the Torah portion of Yitro, which contains the famous Ten Commandments. We read through them together and thought about their significance. The students asked: Are they the most important of all the 613 commandments? Do they contain the basis for morality and ethics? Are they still relevant today? Rabbi Marc introduced some of the structure of the commands – half being spiritual and half being moral – and he brought an ancient teaching showing how the two sides of the tablets mirror each other. We also focused on Moshe’s father in law, Yitro, who gives his name to the Parsha. We noticed how he was a non-Jewish Midianite priest and that when Moshe told him the tales of all the miracles and wonders of the Exodus, Yitro used the phrase Baruch Hashem – ברוך השם – which means “Blessed is God”. Yitro also advised Moses to appoint judges to help him guide and lead the people. This devolving of power proved to be an effective way of responding to the whole community and being there to assist them. We looked at the qualities of those picked to be judges and had an interesting conversation about our leaders today, and whether they are considered to be “people of valour” and “haters of profit”?

On Wednesday, we had a crazy competition called “Herzel Says” in the streets of Tel Aviv. The students had to complete tasks such as riding a stranger’s bike, creating a street performance in the Neve Tzedek neighbourhood and more. The students had to dress up in crazy outfits to help them get in the mood and the energy level was amazing! It was great to see them working together as apartments and we had a lot of fun. At the end of the activity we came to the Moadon to watch a video summarizing the activity, it was hilarious.

Noah Weil said, “Last night, we were all called to the Aardvark office and told to dress like maniacs for a scavenger hunt that would take us all around the streets of Tel Aviv. It was an apartment vs apartment challenge, with the winner being determined by who could cross the most items off their list. The challenges included speaking in Arabic, juggling falafel, busking, and re-creating the Abbey Road album picture. After a wild night on the streets of Tel Aviv, we returned to our apartments to await the results of the contest. My room, Marcolet 2, were surprised to find out that we won, and although we have yet to find out what the prize is, the real prize is the memories we made in the pursuit of victory.

Shira Rozentvaig said, “So, on Wednesday night we had an activity and at the beginning we had no idea what was going on. We were just told to dress crazy, but there wasn’t a theme so most people just ended up cross-dressing. Ella and I drew moustaches on our faces and made fringes from our hair. We walked in and we’re all dressed up and we’re really curious as to what was about to happen. Then we were handed pieces of paper that had ‘dares’ that we had to do and each dare was worth a different amount of points. We had an hour and a half to get everything done and we spent that time doing the weirdest things such as, walking to the Independence Hall and making our own declaration, getting an entire restaurant to sing a song with us, and doing a titanic scene on the beach. Then we returned to the office and we saw a short video of other peoples’ experiences and it was actually really fun and adventurous, and it was really cool to have no idea what was going to happen.

On Thursday, the students had their regular routine of Selah, internships and academic classes. We’ve just finished the day and the students went back to their apartments to prepare for the weekend and rest a bit.  Tomorrow we have an optional “Oneg Shabbat” at the local Chabad Synagogue.

Selah began this week – Aardvark’s unique Jewish Identity track. Selah offers extra Jewish programming for students who are interested. The group meets twice a week for innovative experiential activities. We began the week with our first Tanach Tiyul – once a month we head off to a site connected with a biblical character or story. Living in Israel offers us the opportunity to really connect with our history in a direct way, linking ourselves physically to the land and history of our people in ancient times. We toured around Tel Be’er Sheva, an archaeological site with remains from three thousand years ago. We focused on the patriarch Abraham and through a combination of touring, discussing, learning and some great guiding by Rabbi Marc and Tali the counsellor, we connected with the first Jew and what he represents to us. We even stopped to make a wish by an ancient well that some people claim dates back to the period of our matriarchs and patriarchs. Thursday saw us head to the Museum of the Jewish People where we had a workshop on Jewish Identity with the museum’s Director of Education. We shared our genealogical roots and talked about the spread of the Jews around the globe. We then toured a number of the exhibits – including the Synagogue and Prayer room, the Jewish heroes activity centre and the new hall dedicated to Jewish and Israeli humour.

On Friday the group headed north to the idyllic community of Hoshaya for our first monthly Shabbat experience together as a group. Before Shabbat began we had a shepherding workshop. The group was challenged to guide a flock of 30 sheep and goats from their pen to a field and back. To get into the biblical spirit the group even dressed up in ancient style clothing! Shabbat evening, we all ate at host families and had the opportunity to learn about life in the community. We then gathered for a fun-filled Oneg Shabbat activity of games and stories. The group slept overnight at Kfar Kedem surrounded by farm animals, beautiful countryside and a Bedouin tent. Shabbat morning we had an activity with Rabbi Marc before eating a catered lunch together. In the afternoon we visited the home of Dr Ruti Feuchtwanger and heard about her involvement in Kolech – Israel’s leading religious women’s organization. We also had a wonderful workshop with a young community member about the power of religion and meaning in this world. It was an amazing first Shabbat and really helped the group bond.

This week on Selah we headed off to the Tel Aviv port where we gathered for Soul Music – a private concert in one of the old hangars with Danny Weissfeld – a fascinating musician who went from playing guitar with international celebrities such as Kelly Clarkson and Pharell Williams to making Aliya and discovering Kabbalistic music. Danny shared his story with us and played us six songs from his recent album. We also began our weekly Learning Space – we were able to meet and greet our new teachers for the semester and have a taster session of what we will be learning for the rest of the year.

Internship Under the Spotlight – Ella Szemkus, “My internship at Tel Aviv Art Studio has been such an amazing experience! I spend my time interacting with such a diverse group of people. Working and talking with people from all over the world and of all different ages. Each day I work directing and encouraging people in their artistic abilities, improving and advising them on a range of different art projects while also promoting and growing there business.

Next week we will go to one of the most beautiful cities in Israel, Caesarea. In addition, we will meet for our very first community talk, where students can sign up for our various committees that will start operating very soon. The Madrich on call this weekend is Idan.

Aardvark has representatives visiting London, San Francisco, Vancouver, Detroit, LA, Denver and the BBYO International Conference over the next 3 weeks so if you know anybody who might be interested in our program in those areas, please have them contact us to arrange a meeting.

Thank you,

Have a great weekend,




Gap year in israel - aardvarkisrael