gap year in israel

Dear parents,

As you have probably gathered from your children and the schedule, we are transitioning to a weekly routine following an intensive orientation period. The students are starting to understand the framework we created for them, when to fit in activities like the gym, how to organize themselves so as to arrive at class on time having eaten, when they should sleep and when it is ok to stay up later. The students have been dealing with these kinds of issues this week, along with questions regarding their volunteering, new classes, and new friends.

Here are the week’s highlights

We started Sunday morning with our internships followed by a session with our Academic Director, Daniel Rose, about academic lessons and the different classes we have to offer here at Aardvark. The students then had free time to clean their apartments and cook food for dinner before the apartment meetings with their madrich or madricha.

On Sunday evening, like every Sunday evening from now until the end of the program, the students met with their madrich in their apartment. The madrichim led a cleaning session showing the students the standard of cleanliness expected for the apartments and how achieve it. Some of the students were a little bit shocked when they realized they will actually need to clean their apartment at least twice a week and someone will check it.

On Monday we had our first Ulpan (Hebrew) seminar and everyone came out speaking more Hebrew words than they did before! The first week of every semester starts with an intensive Hebrew course. The students met their new teachers and started to study on the level that is right for them. The Ulpan we are working with is called Ulpan Milah. They are one of the best Ulpanim in Israel. They believe that languages can be taught through interactive approaches. In each class there is some kind of a learning game for the students and if you walk into one of their classes you’ll see that the teachers are preparing the students for their next meeting with an Israeli salesman, the cashier at the supermarket or the young Israeli man/lady they will meet soon. Abby Hockstein said, “I wish every week could be ulpan week.”

On Tuesday morning, everyone woke up bright and early and we went to the Old City of Jerusalem for a SEGWAY TOUR!!!!! For many of us this was our first time on a Segway and it was a little scary, but we got the hang of it and it was a new way to see the Old City. We learned about the different quarters, the Jewish quarter, the Muslim quarter, the Christian quarter and the Armenian quarter. From there we ‘segwayed’ to King David’s grave and gave tribute to one of the Jewish Kings. We also saw the Churva Synagogue that has been rebuilt 4 times over the years. Sarah Pomerantz said, “This was more fun than a walking tour and a bike tour. I don’t know why we don’t just Segway everywhere.”

We then had some free time to walk around Mamilla Mall and go to town before Ulpan. Our teachers have been making ulpan fun for us by bringing us a snack each day with a Hebrew quote attached. After ulpan, and after we cooked dinner, our madrichim called us to the ulam and split us into groups. We were given a clue and had to go find the second part somewhere in our neighborhood. Once we found the envelope with the clue, we had to race back to the building and put the clue inside the envelope together with the rest of the teams. All together, we created a map of our neighborhood and along the way learned a lot about our neighborhood and its layout. It was a fun way to get to know the neighborhood which will be our home for the next 5 months!! Makenna Madick said, “It really helped me learn my surroundings and I can’t wait to live like a vida local. Get it?”

Internship in the Spotlight: by Ben Lefkowitz
Today was my first day at my internship, NGO Monitor. After a first semester of walking dogs at a shelter and army training, this is my first time at a settled down office job. Yet working at an NGO is so much more than working at another office. If someone doesn’t know what NGO Monitor is… look it up. While I work at the NGO not only do I feel as though I am wanted and helpful, I also feel like I have the power to change the world for the Jewish state. At the NGO not only am I doing extensive research into heavily biased and political organizations, but I also have the opportunity to put my photography skill to work as a photographer for their events ( – it’s the best website on the World Wide Web). Aardvark has given me the priceless opportunity to be able to explore my passions through this internship. If after just the first day I feel that I have made a difference, it is impossible to tell how much I will be able to accomplish during the rest of the semester.

This week we held our first Parsha and Pizza. Each week Rabbi Marc comes to hang out with our students, eat a little pizza and learn about the weekly Torah portion. This is an optional evening program that regularly attracts good numbers of students who come highly motivated to talk about Jewish themes (and fill their stomachs too!). This week we heard about the Torah portion of Bo that includes the last 3 of the 10 plagues – locust, darkness and the death of the firstborn. Rabbi Marc brought our attention to the night of the Exodus itself and showed how the Torah highlights that the Jewish people ate their festive meal (the first ever Seder night) while dressed and ready to leave in a hurry. We looked at how some commentators see the hurry as showing the Jews being scared of the Egyptians and rushing to get away while other commentaries point out the eagerness of the Jews to make their way to the holy land to meet God. We had a great conversation about push and pull factors in life. Just as some of the Jews were running from something and others were racing towards it, so we all have things in our lives that drive us away or draw us near. Rabbi Marc asked us to reflect on how we packed and prepared to come on Aardvark and what positive and negative motivations we came to Israel with. We ended by listening to Manfred Mann’s 1977 cover of a Bruce Springsteen classic and Rabbi Marc brought a Hassidic teaching which shows Moses bringing down a heavenly light over Egypt (as opposed to darkness). This light was so powerful that the Egyptians were blinded by its brilliance and experienced a different form of darkness.

Next week we are going to learn about the first historic neighborhood outside the walls of Jerusalem, mishkenot sha’ananim. We are also going to start are new courses such as Midrash, Politics and Zionism.
All the best and Shabbat Shalom,

Natali Basel

Jerusalem Coordinator, Aardvark Israel