Weekly Updates – Jerusalem December 30, 2019
Shalom Aardvark Jerusalem Families,
I feel very emotional writing this last email of the Fall Semester. This was a very significant semester for us, which makes it that much more difficult to say goodbye, but at the same time we are taking a deep breath and look forward to the next semester. The students are preparing to move to Tel Aviv and they couldn’t be more excited.
And now, for the last time, I will tell you about the past week:
On Sunday evening, we held an Oscars night in which the students presented one another with awards for achievements over the semester. Everyone showed up in their best clothes and it was an amazing night planned by the Culture Committee. There is much to be applauded in completing a semester abroad and the students have come a long way in achieving independence in their personal lives and in developing their interpersonal connections. We are so proud of everything the students have achieved this semester. Yitzi Zolty gave an amazing opening speech, our amazing MC’s Eliana Cohen and Xander Morgenstern kept the laughter coming, and Raya Holz gave a roast like no other!
Monday, was the final day of internships and volunteering. The students said goodbye to their mentors, wrote thank you letters to the people they worked with, and received reference letters from their bosses. We received many calls from the different workplaces complimenting and praising our students for their work.
On Monday night, we were honoured and privileged to have a Nachlaot Candle Lighting Tour with one of our teachers, Ayo, and her husband, David. Ayo and David took the students through the magical streets of Nachlaot, where the community could be seen lighting candles, singing and dancing, eating donuts and latkes, and more! Our students felt the magic of the people and these streets and were welcomed into the homes of strangers to light Hanukkah candles with them. It was a memorable night that our students won’t forget for a long time.
On Tuesday’s Tiyul, we started the day at Tel Azekah. Sitting high above sea level, Tel Azekah played a central role in the ancient history of the region and was once the control point of a strategic junction of roads. These roads travelled in all directions and led from the Mediterranean coast to the west, through to the Judean Hills in the east, and connected Beth-Shemesh in the north through to Lachish in the south. For millennia, Azekah flourished and grew, as its community benefited from Azekah’s rich natural and strategic location. Azekah has a long history, stretching back some 3500 years to the Early Bronze Age when it was first settled. During the Middle Bronze Age (2000-1550 BCE), Azekah emerged as a strongly fortified, urban city which continued to flourish until its destruction at the end of the Late Bronze Age (1500-1000 BCE.). After a period of abandonment, Azekah was once again settled in the Iron II (1000-586 BCE.) and flourished as a Judean town. Azekah is also known as the arena for the battle between David and Goliath. Beyond its significance as a central Judean town, the site also gains archaeological and historical importance from its destruction by the Assyrian King Sennacherib in 701 BCE.
After walking around, learning the history of this significant place, we then drove to the Stalactite caves to see the wonderful rock formations that were created over millions of years and were discovered during works that were done in a quarry around 50 years ago. One student David Muchnick commented, “I really enjoyed seeing such a beautiful & natural wonder, along with being visually pleasing I also learned about the stalactites specific to this one cave.”
On Tuesday Evening, we had a closing activity with the madrichim and all of the students. The idea was to look back at different moments from the semester and we used a number of statements to facilitate this. They were:
- “Someone who made you laugh”
- “Someone who made you feel special”
- “A memory from the Sabbath”
- “Something that made you think in a positive way”
- “Someone that taught you something new”
We then asked the students to anonymously pick people in the room who fell under these categories, and then we all shared our memories and those special moments. It was a nice night to laugh, joke and remember the good times we had together over the past four months.
On Wednesday, we started the day early in the morning to drive to Haifa to meet up with the Tel Aviv group. As we drove to Haifa, the rain started coming down. We were so happy to see the rain, as we know Israel needs the rain and we weren’t going to let the rain get in the way of our trip!
After arriving in Haifa, we walked around and saw some beautiful Haifa sites and learned some of the history. We continued to the Druze village of Isfiya, where local Druze guides met us. They told us all about their culture and religion, and then we had a very tasty traditional Druze meal for lunch. All the students found the experience very powerful, being exposed to a new religion and culture, and many were amazed at how many similarities there were to Judaism.
Arriving at our Hostel in Akko, we all warmed up and settled into our rooms and got ready to go to our final dinner and ceremony for the Fall 2019 semester. We went to one of the most delicious restaurants in Akko and ate until we were stuffed. We then heard speeches from Jerusalem student Benji Pincus and Tel Aviv student Nate Swidler. Benji spoke about his experience on Aardvark and how much he has learned and grown from the program. Although the majority of us are continuing in Tel Aviv next semester, there are a few who will not be, and this was an emotional night where we had the opportunity to say goodbye to all the friends we made from both cities and to say thank you to the staff for all they have done for us.
On Thursday morning, we journeyed through the old city of Akko, where we visited the site of the prison from the time of the British Mandate, housed on the site of a crusader fort. There, we learnt about the history of the British Mandate in Palestine, and the Jewish struggle for Independence.
We gave the students some free time to wander around the Old City of Akko where they discovered the best Hummus place, and the prettiest alleyways, and more!
From there, we went to The Tunisian Synagogue in Akko. One of the world’s most breath-taking tourist sites, The Tunisian Synagogue in Acre – known as the “Jariva” is the only one of its kind in the world. It is literally covered in mosaics – both inside and out. Each of its 4 floors proudly displays spectacular mosaics (from Kibbutz Eilon) – the outcome of 54 years of work. The Synagogue boasts 7 Torah arks and houses hundreds of millions of natural stones from all over Israel.
The mosaics and stained-glass windows depicting the history of the Jewish people and of the Land of Israel through Bible stories, flora and fauna, IDF corps and more.
Our students were in awe and couldn’t believe something so beautiful exists, and to see how much hard work and dedication went into something so breath-taking, left them speechless. It was an incredible two days full of laughter, tears, bonding and was the perfect trip to end the semester.
After a last Shabbat in Jerusalem, we all came back rested on Sunday and ready for our last two days!
On Sunday, the students began the day with cleaning, dusting, and packing. The apartments have to be returned in tiptop condition for next semester’s students. In the evening, we met at an amazing Hummus place for dinner and shared memories and stories from the semester.
On Monday morning, the students said goodbye to their apartments and to us. We then sent each student off to his/her destination – Tel Aviv, America, Europe, Australia, and more.
I would like to say that it’s been an amazing ride here with your children, seeing them grow and take part in the daily activities, succeeding in their internships and volunteering, learning Hebrew and attending classes for university credit, touring around Israel and learning so much about our beautiful country from the trips and the lectures. The best thing was, seeing them having such a good time together while dealing with all kinds of challenges in the program, forming lasting bonds and becoming an amazing group that ultimately became a family. An Aardvark Family.
Thank you all for your care and involvement in your child’s gap year; it has been a pleasure to be a part of their educational staff.