Weekly Updates – Jerusalem May 23, 2019
The Aardvark Spring Semester has officially come to an end. It is a bittersweet time for all of us. It has been a wonderful year, but it is sad to see the students leave. Luckily, we still have a few more weeks with our Plus Program students before they head off to work as counselors at American Jewish summer camps.
While a small number of our students are still strolling the streets of Jerusalem, most of our participants are already home and hopefully even recovered from their jetlag. Wherever your children may be at the moment, there is one thing for certain, they are not here… The office is quiet… All I can tell you is that it feels unnatural! The staff are waiting for someone to walk in and ask for a new light bulb, directions to somewhere, make a cup of coffee or simply crash on the couch and announce that they are hungry. We will need to get used to this new loud silence until August when we welcome a new group to Israel.
On Sunday afternoon, after a morning of internships and volunteering, the students met with their Madrichim for their last activity together.
Ori and his students went to a water spring nearby, cooled off in the water and had a lot fun splashing each other and just chilling on such a hot day. Afterwards, they went to an amazing Hummus restaurant in Nachlaot.
Shalhevet’s group went grocery shopping to pick up lots of fruits and vegetables and snacks and then went to the Rose Garden above Gan Sacher for a picnic. There they played Frisbee and other games and also went round and talked about the things they accomplished this semester.
It was a great way for all the students to enjoy some lasting moments with their incredible counsellors.
On Monday, we had our last ulpan class and final academic classes as well. We have learned mamash a lot this year and we were sad that it is over. Our ulpan teachers had so much patience for us and really helped us improve our reading and writing skills, but most importantly, our Hebrew speaking. We are so thankful for how much they helped us navigate our year here. We wouldn’t have been able to order shawarma or talk to random Israelis on the bus without them!
In the evening, we met for our closing activity in the Ulam – “The Aardvark Oscar Night!” A few days ago, the students had to fill in a Google form and pick their friends for different award categories, such as the best dressed, friendliest, the funniest, and so on… The event was hosted by the Culture Committee and led by Sam Leopold and Tal Cohen! It was an exciting, funny evening with a great atmosphere. We could tell by the students’ reactions to the different categories and all the different inside jokes that they know each other extremely well.
Tuesday, for our last Tiyul Tuesday, we went to Nahal Katlav for a hike. The name Nahal Katlav comes from the Hebrew and Arabic name for a tree that is common in this nahal and is popularly known as the “Eastern Strawberry tree” due to its red and succulent berries (which are not strawberries). The tree has single or multiple stems, and is readily recognizable from its smooth, reddish-brown bark that peels every year in picturesque scales.
According to local folklore, the name “katlav” comes from the words “katal”, meaning he killed, and “av”, meaning father. According to one version of the legend, a shepherd got into a conflict with his son. The quarrel spun out of control and the son grabbed a piece of wood, and using it as a club killed his father. The bloodstained stick turned red and grew into the katlav tree, with its reddish bark.
In ancient times, a road to Jerusalem passed through Nahal Sorek. Since the Ottoman period, the railroad to Jerusalem has followed this valley. This railway line was inaugurated in 1892, and it now connects Tel Aviv with the Jerusalem Malha station via Beit Shemesh on a 1 hour 40 minute scenic but winding ride. The new railway line connecting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem avoids Nahal Sorek and its curves; instead, it uses bridges and tunnels and is therefore considerably quicker!
It was a hot day, but the students were real troopers and made it through!
After lunch, we 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. Mattar Levy 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, for our final activity together as a group, we gathered in the Ulam and the students sat silently with their eyes closed with calm music playing in the background, in a room lit only by candles. Three at a time, the madrichim called for different students to stand up, walk around the room and touch their peer’s heads to show different types of appreciation. (Like touch someone who made you laugh/wish you knew better/you respect/helped you, etc.)
After that, we talked about the importance of giving and receiving appreciation from others at different moments in life.
For the second part of the activity, each student received a notebook. Then everyone passed their notebook around to their friends and staff. The result was pretty amazing and we all received a nice personal notebook filled with emotional letters from friends and staff. Everybody enjoyed the program and left with big smiles on their faces.
On Wednesday morning, we dedicated our morning to cleaning our apartments and packing our belongings. After a year/semester in Israel, the students have collected a lot of stuff. Therefore, most of the students filled donation boxes, which we will give to charity next week. We noticed that some of the students found the packing process to be very hard as it symbolized the end of the program.
On Wednesday evening, we gathered for Aardvark’s final ceremony. As you can imagine it was truly meaningful. Eli Picker chose to tell everyone about his experiences over the year/semester, Dana Bederson played the guitar and sang for us and Miquelle Taubman sang, and there was also a wonderful slideshow of the whole year.
To conclude, one student said,
“I have loved every minute of this program but it wasn’t easy at first. I definitely faced a few bumps in the road to get to this point. At the beginning of the program, I didn’t really enjoy it, truth be told. I found it hard to connect with people, feel comfortable and just to get used to Israel as a country. I think the culture difference came as a shock and the fact that I didn’t speak Hebrew made it very hard for me to fit in. I was very homesick and I got sick quite often. It wasn’t easy at first but with time I think I did a good job at overcoming these bumps. I knew I was a strong person before this program but I am definitely way stronger than I was before.
I now have a different respect for Israel. After having the privilege of travelling all over the country, I was able to see sights and towns that I never would’ve had the chance to see if I was just a tourist in the country.
I now know that I made the right decision coming on this program and I also now know why I am here. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of my Aardvark experience. You have all individually shaped me into the person I am standing in front of you all.”
I would like to say that it has been an amazing ride here with your children. Seeing them grow and take part in the daily activities, succeeding in their internships and volunteer places, 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. And the best thing was, seeing them having so much fun together while dealing with all kinds of challenges on the program, forming a great bond and becoming an amazing group which eventually became a family.
I want to thank all of you for being supportive of us throughout the semester. I know it is not easy to send your child away from home for such a long time and I want to thank you for taking this leap of faith with us. You all gave us feedback over the phone when you spoke to your child’s madrich and we are taking everything you said into consideration in the planning of 2018-19. I can tell you that we tried our best to make this year as significant as it can be for your kids and I believe that we succeeded in achieving this goal. Let me know if you see something different in their eyes when they get back.
Again, thank you! Please stop by to see us when you visit Israel!
Natali and the Staff of Aardvark Israel