gap year in israel

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Shalom Dear Parents,

Here in Israel it has been a packed week including both Memorial Day and Independence Day. Marking these days, the students felt the unification of the country during this special time. Here are the highlights from this week (which was almost every day this week).

Ready? Here we go:

On Sunday evening at our apartment meetings, the Madrichim helped the students prepare for the emotional week ahead. We discussed what was going to be happening all over Israel and how as Israelis, we turn the sadness into happiness. How we, each and every one of us, can make a difference no matter how small and what it means to truly be a part of the Israeli family we have become over the past few months.

On Monday evening, after a long day of internships and classes, we found ourselves in the Sultan’s Pool, participating in a big Jerusalem Municipality ceremony celebrating 70 years of the State of Israel. The first part of the ceremony consisted of official dignitaries along with a concert from Israeli singers. We concluded the event by taking part in a march into the Old City and to the Kotel. While there, we prayed as one big nation, danced and sung, with many other Masa participants and local Israeli citizens.

On Tuesday Morning we went to Mount Herzl, the site of Israel’s national cemetery and other memorial and educational facilities, found on the west side of Jerusalem. Some of the students were asked to write a few words about different soldiers or prominent figures who are buried there.

Naomi Pearl wrote: “I grew up spending every summer at a Jewish sleep away camp, Camp Ramah. Here, my love for Judaism was sparked and it carried meaning and purpose into my everyday life. When I came to Israel two years ago, I heard about Michael Levin. We were here in Har Herzl just as we are now, two years ago. When I look around, compared to two years ago it seems like not much has changed. I see the same flowers, the same Israeli flags, and even feel the same similar feeling in the air. But so much has changed. The amount of soldiers that died defending our country, Eretz Yisrael continues to multiply. Michael Levin was one of them. He was killed a little over ten years ago while in action in the second Lebanon war. Just like us, Michael loved Israel. He was inspired by his experience at Camp Ramah and came to Israel from growing up in Pennsylvania to defend our country. Michael has inspired so many individuals and truly has shown us what this day means. It means giving up your life in order to defend the state of Israel, our land as a Jewish people. To Mikey, as his friends called him, it wasn’t a question: this was something he was prepared to do. Today we remember Michael Levin who sacrificed his life for our country. We remember that he had a family, two parents who loved him and sisters who adored him. He had friends and most importantly he had a life and he truly lived. We remember the son who fell. We remember the daughter who gave her life. We remember that persons best friend. Today we remember each individual person who gave his or her life protecting this country so that we could be here doing what we are doing today.

On Tuesday evening we went to Latrun for a special Yom HaZikaron ceremony organized by Masa and attended by several thousand people on different programs. The ceremony was very moving. Natan Sharansky, human rights activist, author, Israeli politician, and refugee from the Soviet Union during the 1970s and 1980s, who spent nine years in Soviet prisons, shared a few words. Naftali Bennet, the Minister of Education and Diaspora, was a representative for the government. We then heard stories about seven different fallen soldiers and victims of terror including Ezra Schwartz, and Michael Levin. Both were participating in MASA programs. All of Israel was mourning and came together as one to remember the lives taken. You can click here to watch the ceremony via Facebook.

On Wednesday, we woke up early to return to Har Herzl, Israel’s national cemetery, where the grounds stretch for miles with graves of fallen soldiers. Thousands of people were there to remember those they had lost, but for the most part, it was silent. We started by volunteering and handing out water and memorial stickers to all the people who were there to mourn, and then we stood for a moment of silence with all the nation. We walked around noting that the ages of those who had died were not far from our own, we began to think of the individuality behind the graves. We were lucky enough to talk to family and friends of those who had passed, and hear stories about their beloved. These were people who had fought for a country they love. These were heroes. “One of the meaningful moments for me that day was seeing my boss from my internship sitting at the grave of his brother who died fighting in the war of Independence. I realized how small Israel is and how we really don’t know everyone we come in contact with on a day to day basis. It was an opportunity for me to know better my boss and hear his personal story.”Dani Garnel said.

Independence Day began on Wednesday evening! The transition from Yom HaZikaron to Yom HaAtzmaut was such a cultural shock. The day changed from one of the saddest days of the year to one of the happiest. It felt almost immediate. In the morning we were crying at Mount Herzl, and in the evening we were folk dancing in Safra Square. It was incredible. We all went to Teddy Park and sang songs from Hallel and danced with over 5,000 people to welcome in Yom Haatzmaut! Donna Shashoua reflected on the day saying, “I’m feeling proud to be Israeli today. First, we all honored the soldiers that fell protecting this country, and now with the whole community celebrating the State of Israel. There’s a sense of unity and family. It’s a feeling I can’t even describe in words.”

On the day of Yom HaAtzmaut (Thursday), all of Israel goes out to parks to have BBQ with their friends and families. Luckily, so did we. Aardvark hosted a wonderful BBQ in Jerusalem, full of music, tons of food, and good company. Some of our students also spent the day volunteering at the Lone Soldier Center BBQ. “I felt it was important to volunteer with the Lone Soldier Center today. I was so moved by Yom Hazikaron and everything our soldiers do to keep us safe, that I knew I needed to give back to them today,” Sarah Pomerantz said.

The past week was very emotional and full of real authentic Israeli life. You could really see how the students understood the depth of the days and how special it is to be a part of this country.

This weekend, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, joined for a Shabbaton and celebrated the first weekend after Independence Day as one community. We started on Friday, hiking in Derech Burma, which is one of the main roads connecting Jerusalem and is historically one of the roads that helped Israel win the War of Independence. After hiking and eating lunch together, we arrived at our hostel and prepared for Shabbat.

Shabbat celebrations started with a musical Kabbalat Shabbat with dancing and singing. It was an incredible way for all of us to bring in the Shabbat as one program. From there, we separated into 4 optional prayer groups: Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and Secular. We are so lucky to bring Jews from all different walks of life together and to learn about their different perspectives on Judaism and their customs. We enjoyed a very festive dinner and had an interactive discussion about huge life questions in small groups. We ended the night with an Oneg Shabbat filled with snacks and games.
We woke up on Shabbat morning feeling refreshed. We split into alternative Tefillah prayer options: Limmud, art as prayer, finding God in nature, Jewish meditation and exercise, and letters to God. In our groups, we learned how Tefillah doesn’t necessarily need to come from a prayer book but can come from other places and inspirations as well. Following that, we had a panel called, “Everything you wanted to know about your staff but were too afraid to ask”. The students asked questions about Israel, the army, the program, and Zionism. After a hearty lunch, we had a few hours to hang out and chill.
As we finished Menucha time, ten students were asked to prepare 10-minute talks about different topics related to their time in Israel. The topics included food, army, religion, people, chutzpah, start-ups, politics, minorities, geography, and more. It was insightful to hear from the students and their perspective on these subjects and their time spent in Israel. The next session was an elective session lead by our senior staff, about Shabbat and its values. The students came away with a different understanding of the multiple perspectives of Shabbat.

We concluded our afternoon with Chugim (relaxing fun and games) and the students were able to choose between Krav Maga, soccer and basketball, board games, and so much more. Our Shabbat concluded with Seudah Shlishit and a musical Havdalah lead by our students.

“This was my first Aardvark Shabbaton with both cities, and it was meaningful to me because I got to spend Shabbat together with my friends who are now my family. During the musical Kabbalat Shabbat, at first, I was sitting on the side. But then I looked at everyone singing and dancing, and it encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and join in. I realized then, how much fun it can be to celebrate Shabbat and how much this year has made me grow. I really can’t fathom that this year is almost over, and soon I’ll be having to say goodbye to these people that I have grown to love.” – Keely Seigel

This concludes our busiest week so far and we can’t wait to tell you about our trip to Abu Gosh and other highlights next week!

Wishing you all a great week,

Aardvark Jerusalem Staff


Gap year in israel - aardvarkisrael