gap year in israel

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Dear Parents,

Spring is almost here, things are beginning to bloom, and we are looking forward to the end of winter so that we can enjoy spring in Jerusalem and Israel. Here are last week’s highlights:

On Sunday afternoon, some of our students went on a tour of the IDC Herzliya – International School. Some of the students are thinking of continuing their education next year in Israel.

Tal Cohen said, “Before going to the IDC I thought I knew that I didn’t want to go there. I was set on either TAU or a different school. But, going to IDC changed my entire perspective. IDC is a great school. The campus is beautiful, they have so many academic opportunities. I can’t wait to apply!”

On Sunday evening, in our apartment meetings, the students and counsellors discussed how we make life decisions and the way in which every moment of life is a choice to be made. Each student was given a questionnaire about how they see their future and were given 1 minute to fill it out. They then discussed the choices they made. Afterwards, they were given the same questionnaire, but this time they were given as much time as they needed. From this, the students were then able to see the way in which their decisions changed when they were given more time to think.

On Monday evening, after a day of internships and classes, some of us went down to the ulam to attend a session with a woman named Ayelet who came and taught us how to work with clay and create Seder plates for Passover. Many of our students created beautiful plates and we are excited about showing them to you when they are ready!

Josh Cohen said, “It was the first time I did homemade pottery. While I’m not the most artistic person in the world, I’m really happy how my Seder plate turned out. I can’t wait to use it this year with my family in Ashdod!”

On Tuesday morning, the students hiked to the St. George Monastery in the middle of the desert. This amazing cliff-hanging monastery is one of the world’s oldest and definitely one of the most inspiring churches in the Holy Land. St. George’s Monastery was founded in the fourth century by a few monks who were looking to immerse themselves in the lifestyle and desert stories of John the Baptist and Jesus. The monks, and perhaps most notably the hermit John of Thebes, eventually settled on the spot around a cave where it is believed the prophet Elijah was fed by ravens. The monastery was destroyed by the Persians and then rebuilt by the Crusaders before falling derelict. It wasn’t until 1878 when a Greek monk, Kalinikos, came to live here that the monastery started to look like its former glorious and cliff-hugging self. Kalinikos finished his renovations in 1901. Today there are still a few Greek Orthodox monks who inhabit the monastery, and welcome visitors. They invited us in to hear about their monastery and what it is like to live there.

The students then traveled to the Ein Mebua spring located nearby. Travelling the road to Ein Mabua Spring is an adventure in its own right as you snake over, below, and around the desert mountains until you finally plunge towards the Ein Mabua parking lot. We were met by a concrete swimming pool, which is officially the Ein Mabua Spring. This pool fills and empties intermittently from underground rainwater seeping from the hills of Jerusalem. Some of the students took a beautiful short hike downstream through the large desert gorge.

We ended the afternoon by enjoying a relaxed BBQ at Debbie’s house with her family and we had a great time together.

“Today was a great experience. To start, we woke up at 8 in the morning and departed for the West Bank (yes mom, we are safe) we had a casual hike to a beautiful monastery that was built into the side of a valley and within the rocky tomb lies the “grave of Saint George.” For me I was a little sore while hiking back up (I guess my legs are still dead from my two-week trip to Nepal). After the monastery, Aardvark Jerusalem continued to explore a spring and small waterfall in the middle of the West Bank. To close the day we came back with Debbie Goldsmith (Director of Aardvark) to her amazing home to grill burgers, hotdogs, wings, hummus, and more Israeli foods as a community. It made my day to be sous chef to the Grill Master Charlee.” Aaron Davis said.

On Tuesday evening, we met in the ulam for a Community Talk given by me that summarized the events of the last month. From political speakers, to our trips to the Temple Mount and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Abu Gosh and Café Dilemma, and the Begin Museum. We spoke about the new things we learned and what we liked and didn’t like.

We had a little preview of the upcoming month, which will include Good Deeds Day, Art Night, a trip to Chevron, an Alternative Pesach Seder, the Pesach vacation, a sushi making workshop, and more! During the session, Natali reminded the students that with only two months left of our time here on Aardvark, we have to make the most of it and accomplish everything we still haven’t. We also discussed the approaching holiday of Pesach and encouraged the students to go to family and friends for the Seder and use the break to tour the country.

This week on Selah we delved deep into a highly challenging but important subject in our Love, Sex and Romance Seminar. We began the day by splitting the boys and girls into separate groups with different facilitators and spoke about dating, compatibility and the pursuit of love. Each group tried to appreciate the importance of looking for someone with shared values and learned about the Jewish preference for committed relationships and marriage. Later on, we met a third facilitator, a sex therapist and couples advisor Rabbi who provided us with a framework for our thinking about the messages we are exposed to regarding sexuality from a young age at home, in society and among friends. The group was incredibly mature and open and the conversation became personal but sensitive. We ended the day by learning some Jewish texts about pleasure and intimacy. It was a challenging but inspiring morning. At our weekly Learning Space, we concluded our study of the Megilla and began learning about Pesach, its inner meaning and its place in the Jewish calendar. This coming Shabbat we have a Shabbaton in Tel Aviv. Some of the students are going to host families for Friday night dinner and everyone is joining Rabbi Marc for a sumptuous Shabbat banquet and activity for lunch.

This week in Parsha and Pizza we talked about the Torah portion of Shemini. We finally see the Mishkan, our mobile mini-desert Temple, being put to service. Aaron is dressed, anointed and ready to offer the first sacrifice on behalf of the Jewish people. Rabbi Marc highlighted the power of his sacrifice being a young bull as a reminder or an atonement for his involvement with the golden calf. Tragedy then strikes and Aaron’s two eldest sons die while serving in the Temple. The portion continues by presenting a list of all the kosher and non-kosher animals, birds, fish and bugs and by which signs we can identify them. The group wanted a chance to review the different meanings behind the system of animal sacrifices and Rabbi Marc shared four different ideas that could perhaps help us make sense of a challenging area of ancient Jewish practice.

On Thursday morning, some of our students joined thousands of people and attended the funeral of lone soldier Alex Sasaki. Alex was from California and had moved to Israel to serve in the IDF. He tragically passed away this week, and our students went to Har Herzl to pay their respects along with many more. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of Alex’s family and friends.

On Thursday night we will be turning the clocks ahead one hour. On Saturday night, a group of our students will be heading off to Italy with me. I wish us a safe trip and I can’t wait to you all about our adventures!

This coming week, we will be spending Good Deeds Day volunteering at Gazelle Valley and visiting the Old City for a Music Festival!

Shabbat Shalom,


Gap year in israel - aardvarkisrael
Gap year in israel - aardvarkisrael