gap year in israel

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Dear Parents,

Chanukah is a wonderful time to be in Israel and the students have had the chance to take full advantage of the true festival of lights. It has been a great week and we are looking forward to a few more nights of light…

Here are the highlights:

On Sunday night, we met for festive candle lighting in the building, lit the first Chanukah candle as a family, sang the Chanukah songs we know and danced. We then continued the party inside where we passed around a giant dreidel and whenever the music stopped, the student holding the dreidel had to either answer a question about the Chanukah story, or do a Chanukah related dare. Liad Zafrani had to eat a ketchup filled Sufganiya! It was a crazy fun night and a nice way to start our Chanukah experience in Jerusalem. We ended the evening with more dancing and Sufganiyot (jelly filled doughnuts).

Monday afternoon, the students participated in “Together: Marching with World Jewry,” which was the initiative of the Diaspora Affairs Ministry and was designed to celebrate Hanukkah and demonstrate unity between Israelis and Diaspora Jewry. Fashioned after the Celebrate Israel Parade and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – both annual and storied traditions in Manhattan. So how did that magic translate to the streets of Jerusalem? A golden dragon floated past, as did an enormous smurf, a muppet named Animal (the drummer from Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem, of course) and a Nutcracker-esque toy soldier. The balloons were held on to by groups of high schoolers, IDF soldiers and other marchers. The festivities ended with a concert by Nechi Nech, then Matisyahu, speeches from politicians and a Hanukkiah lighting ceremony. It was an amazing Second Night of Hanukkah!

Tuesday morning, we traveled to Alon, a small yeshuv in the Judean Desert where Debbie Wolf Goldsmith, our director, lives with her family. We started the day with a hike down to St. George’s Monastery located in Wadi Qelt. The monastery complex dates back to the 4th century when a small group of Syrian monks sought solitude in the wilderness as the Biblical prophets did. They settled here because of the various religious associations with the location and specifically the cave of Elijah. In 480AD an Egyptian called John of Thebes established a chapel which became the monastery and by the 6th century it was a well known spiritual center. The monastery is named after Saint George of Choziba a Cyprian monk who lived in the monastery during the 6th century. The monastery was a meeting point for hermits who lived in nearby caves. They would gather at the monastery for weekly mass and religious events. In 614 the monastery was destroyed by the Persians the monks were massacred. During the Crusader era (1179) there were attempts to restore the structure but it again fell into disuse until 1878 when a Greek monk, Kallinikos began restoring the monastery. He completed the task in 1901. In 1952 the bell tower was added with its distinct aquamarine dome and in 2010 access to the monastery was improved by the laying of a new road. The monastery is still inhabited by a small group of dedicated monks who live according to ancient traditions. We then, continued on to Debbie’s house for a relaxing afternoon with a BBQ and heard the story of the Yeshuv (Community) of Alon why Debbie made Aliyah and chose to live in Alon.

Noah Hirsch said, “The coffee that the monks served us at the monastery was so good, that I had 4 cups! And, Thank you Debbie for hosting us at your house!”

Tuesday evening, we met up with the Tel Aviv students in the center of Jerusalem and had a festive candle lighting ceremony filled with song and dance and sufganiyot!

For Parsha and Pizza this week had a Chanuka theme. We lit the candles together and sang Maoz Tzur before Rabbi Marc shared some thoughts on the significance of the holiday. We compared the 7 branched Menorah from the times of the Temple with the 9 branched Chanukia that we use today and we learned that the Menorah was lit during the day whereas for Chanuka we light at night. The light is always felt strongest when it contrasts with the dark. Chanuka represents the power of God’s spirit that emerges from the dark spaces to bring hope to the world. Another idea was the contrast between the olive oil used for the Menorah in the Temple with its laws of purity as opposed to the Chanuka lights that may be lit with any types of candle or oil – parrafin, bees wax, liquid wax, etc. In the Temple the light of the Menorah was exclusively lit by the Priests. The lights of Chanuka are lit by everyone with any type of light. Chanuka makes the candle lighting accessible to all of us – no matter how old we are, how clever we may be or how religious we are. Perhaps one of the reasons Chanuka is such a beloved holiday is because it allows everyone of us to connect to our tradition.

This week in Selah we began our week with a day focused on Jewish approaches to the elderly. After an introduction session with Rabbi Marc we went to visit the Yad LaKashish center that allows older people to work and make a living in arts and crafts. We toured to metalworks, book-binding and knitting sections while interacting with the workers. We ended the tour with a visit to their gift store with some truly beautiful goods for sale. From there we headed to Hod Yerushalayim – a residential home for the elderly in the Kiryat Yovel neighborhood. We took donuts to the residents and sang Chanuka songs. We were asked by the carers there to do some occupational therapy with the old people there and were given musical instruments, games and balloons to entertain, stimulate and exercise the residents. Thursday saw us have our penultimate Learning Space with our beloved teachers, Avigail, Ovadia, Nili and Keith.

This week we are going on a trip to the Galilee to enjoy Druze hospitality and to learn about the history of the city of Akko.

I wish everyone a happy Chanukah,

Gap year in israel - aardvarkisrael