gap year in israel

Dear Parents,

Winter has arrived. Again. We began the week with nice warm weather, and then all of a sudden, winter retuned. Thunder, lightning, and a downpour of rain! However, despite the weather, we had a pretty incredible week. Here are some highlights:

In our apartment meetings on Sunday evening we spoke about what prayer means to each of us. Each student chose a sentence from a song that stood out for him/her and then connected it to prayer. We came away from the Shabbaton this past weekend with such good vibes and energy that we just had to keep the spirituality going.

On Monday evening, after internships and classes, some of us enjoyed a night at the movies! We went to see the movie ‘Jungle’ starring Daniel Radcliffe. The movie is based on true life events of the Israeli Yossi Ghinsberg. In the early 1980s, Yossi Ginsberg, who, after finishing his army service at the age of 21, decided to delve into an uncharted area in the Amazon jungle in Peru. While he began his trek with three friends, Ghinsberg was separated from them and forced to fight for his survival alone for weeks. We won’t give away any spoilers, but we recommend you go and see it. Before and after the film we spoke about how after army service, many Israelis travel and backpack through other countries. It was eye opening to see one of these stories on the big screen. Avi Cohen said, “It’s an incredible survival story, but also a story of faith and nature, and surrendering to the elements. I read that Yossi Ghinsberg said that ‘through the journey, you find the hero in yourself.’ I’d like to apply that philosophy to my life and whatever challenges come my way.”

On Tuesday morning, our field trip was to the City of David archaeological site just outside the walls of the Old City. The tour of the City of David began at a breathtaking observation point overlooking Biblical Jerusalem, which sent us 3,800 years back in time to the days of Abraham, when the first foundations of the city were laid. As we moved through the site, we came into contact with archaeological excavations and thrilling biblical finds that span thousands of years of history including both First and Second Temple Jerusalem. The tour continued underground to the Gihon Spring, the major water source of Jerusalem for over 1,000 years. We had an adventure trekking through knee deep water in King Hezekiah’s 2,700 year old water tunnel, a wonder of early engineering. Continuing to the Shiloah Pool, the major water drawing location in biblical times, we reached the Herodian Road, the ancient thoroughfare that led pilgrims north to the Temple. Kenny Burstein said, “It was amazing to think that this tunnel was built thousands of years ago and yet it has never collapsed – a true representation of Jerusalem.”

On Tuesday evening, we heard a fascinating lecture by Yiscah Smith, a transgender woman who previously lived an ultra-orthodox lifestyle and fathered six children while living in the Old City of Jerusalem. Now 66 years old, she is a teacher of Jewish spirituality and lives as any religious woman in Jerusalem might. Yiscah told us that her desire to be “honest with God” compelled her to give up her old life as a man, but her struggle to accept herself took five decades. In addition to sharing her story with us and answering questions, she also read key selections from her book “Forty Years in the Wilderness: My Journey to Authentic Living.” It was fascinating to hear the sensitive and thoughtful questions asked by our students at the end of the lecture. In particular, Nadiv Gold Edelstein really moved us all and Yiscah also commented on how his question really touched the heart of why she speaks to groups. He asked, “What do you think we should take from your life story and what advice do you have for us at this early stage in our own lives?” Her answer was that she “hopes that everyone will live a life of authenticity and will have the courage to live according to their own truth and passion.” If you would like to hear from Yiscah yourselves, check out her TEDx talk online by clicking here.

Internship in the Spotlight: Tamir Cohen

Working at the record label Hatav Hashmini this semester has been a great opportunity for me. Back at home, my major at Monmouth University is “Music Industry”; this is a step in the door for me to see what the music business is truly like. While at work, I have had to do many projects such as organize spreadsheets and make creative social media posts. These tasks at times seem trivial, but they are necessary to keep the business rolling and to advertise their services. When I return home and finish my degree, I hope to get a nice job in the music industry. Hopefully this will add padding to my resume and help me with that goal.

This week in Parsha and Pizza we learnt about the Torah portion Emor. Rabbi Marc gave a summary of the laws that arise in the portion including an overview of the Shabbat and holiday laws. Most of the portion is concerned with the Kohanim, the priests who were to serve the Jewish people by administering the Temple service. We are told that they need to be in peak physical condition with no visible defects or flaws. This led us to have a meaningful conversation about Judaism and disabilities, inclusion and integration. We also learnt about the prohibition on blasphemy, and after watching a funny clip from the movie Life of Brian we explored the power of God’s name and its totemic power. Taking God’s name in vain and cursing God is the ultimate form of lacking appreciation.

Blasphemy may also have such serious consequences as it revolves around a speech act. If speech is one of the things that makes us human and is seen as being a gift from God, then how can we use that very same gift to turn on the being who gave us the gift to begin with?

Quick reminder: the second parents webinar in our series, on “Israel at 70: Achievements to Celebrate and Challenges to Face” will be on May 6, 2018, run by our Director of Education, Dr. Daniel Rose.

The session will last for 45 minutes. A link to the session will be sent in the days preceding the webinar. To sign up please go to this link:

All the Best,

And Shabbat Shalom,

Natali Basel


Gap year in israel - aardvarkisrael