gap year in israel

Check out our social media to see what our students have been up to this past week!

Dear Parents,

Well, we have had another full week on Aardvark!

At Sunday evening’s apartment meetings, we spoke about the tragedy last week in Israel. Ten Israeli youths, nine girls and a boy from a pre-military academy, were killed after they were carried off by a surge in the Tzafit stream west of the southern part of the Dead Sea amid intense storms that hit the South of Israel on Thursday. We spoke about the boy Tzur Alfi. One by one, Tzur Alfi grabbed the hands of friends who were drifting away in the waves of the Tzafit River, allowing each to climb on top of him before hoisting themselves to safety. Tzur managed to grab a stone and could have lifted himself up (to safety) very easily, but he saw all his friends from the pre-military program coming towards him, so he grabbed everyone he could by the hand and let each one climb on top of him until the flood overpowered him.

We talked about how in Tzur’s last moments he saved his friends and became a hero. We all decided that in memory of these 10 students we were going to start a ‘pay it forward’ campaign here on Aardvark. Whether it is helping someone carry their bags, running an errand for someone or donating unwanted clothes and books, we want to spread some good in the world in memory of Tzur and the other students.

On Monday evening, for our optional activity, we went to Café Nocturno for ‘Café Ivrit’. We had to order only using Hebrew, speak only in Hebrew to one another, and even played a Hebrew word game. Ben Oken said, “Ani mamash ohev ochel v’ivrit. Haya keif lelamed od milim kacha. (I really love food and Hebrew. It was really fun to learn more words this way.)”

On Tuesday morning, we all left Jerusalem and headed to the Negev desert. Our two-day excursion to explore the dream of modern Jewish pioneers in the southern region of Israel began with a tour of the Israeli Air Force Museum. The Israeli Air Force Museum is located in the open expanse of desert at the Hatzerim Air Force Base, and the local warplanes and training planes occasionally flying above the museum during the day provided great entertainment for us. The museum’s exhibits are mostly outdoors, with a few buildings dedicated to housing Air Force archives and artifacts. There is a small building that dissects the history of the IAF and highlights various missions and operations that have made the IAF into a legend in and of itself. Operations such as Entebbe and the aerial raids on Tunisia and Iraq’s fledgling nuclear facility in 1981. The historical leaders of the IAF are portrayed on a wall, with dates, photos, and trivia. Mock-ups and preserved items such as uniforms are on display, covering a segment of the IAF’s history.

After lunch from Holy Bagel, we continued south to Sde Boker, where we visited David Ben-Gurion’s grave and heard about his vision for developing the Negev, and its importance for the future of the state of Israel and the Jewish people. We learned about the difficult and influential decisions he made during his career such as declaring Israel’s independence when the chances of winning the 1948 war were grim, firing on the Altalena, which contained desperately needed arms for Israel, leaving the role of Prime Minister to pursue his passion of living and building up the Negev, and returning to be Prime Minister when the US- Israeli relationship was in jeopardy of irreversible damage.

From there, we headed to our beautiful hostel that overlooks Mitzpe Ramon. We arrived at the hostel and were astounded by the beauty of it all. The town of Mitzpe Ramon sits on the edge of the Ramon Crater in the Negev Desert of Southern Israel. A town of 3,000 people, it has a reputation in Israel of being a dusty backwater on the way south towards Eilat, however, in recent years Mitzpe Ramon has seen a renaissance with many new innovative and unique touristic businesses and attractions opening in and around the town.

We enjoyed a hearty dinner followed by a game organized by our staff called ‘Minute-to-Win-It’. It was an epic battle of boys against girls. Some of the challenges were balancing 7 Oreos on your forehead, launching rubber bands at a pyramid of coke cans, and trying to drop a Mentos into a soda bottle from way up high. Obviously, the girls were victorious!!

Rachel Hasson said, “I am proud to be a woman!! We are strong, smart, competitive and just overall just awesome!”

On the next day of the Tiyul, Wednesday, we gave the students two options for our morning hike:

  • The hard hike, which is called “Ein Avdat”
  • The harder hike, which is called “Snapir Gadol” (Big Flipper).

Some of the students were a little bit worried at the beginning, but they all were up for the challenge! And guess what? Everyone finished the hike and even had enough energy left to play some guitar and explore the colorful sands.

Naomi Pearl said, “I saw a million different rainbow sands on the ground and it was beautiful. It reminds me of the sentence from Parshat Lech Lecha, where God promises Avraham that his descendants will be as numerous as the sands on the shore. It made me think about how every grain of sand is so small and a different color and so too are we people so small and all different colors.”

We were each given a clear tube so we could take some of this sand of Israel home with us.

After a delicious lunch, we headed out to the Soda Stream Factory. Soda Stream is an Israeli manufacturing company best known as the maker of the consumer home carbonation product of the same name. The device, like a soda siphon, carbonates water by adding carbon dioxide from a pressurized cylinder to create soda water (or carbonated water) to drink. We heard from a woman named Debbie Rolnick, who told us about the history of Soda Stream and the controversy that surrounded them and the BDS movement. We each received a Soda Stream limited addition reusable bottle with images of Golda Meir, David Ben-Gurion, and Theodore Herzl printed on them. We proceeded to have a tour of the factory and saw how all the products are made.

Sadly, our two-day Negev trip ended.

“I can’t believe this was our last overnight trip! I hiked a mountain, saw purple sands, made even more new friends, and saw a place in Israel that was gorgeous beyond my wildest dreams. This year has flown by and I really wish it wouldn’t end. One of the highlights of this trip for me, was when we got to the hostel we were staying at, and we went up to the visitors center and we sat overlooking the vast desert at sunset. I couldn’t believe how lucky I am to be living in this beautiful country this year and experience so many incredible moments. It was an incredible time to reflect on the friends I have made, the things I’ve seen, and the memories I will never forget,” reflected Emma Segal.

As we drove back into Jerusalem on Wednesday night, we saw people lighting bonfires for the holiday of Lag Ba’omer. Lag Ba’Omer is a festive day in the Jewish calendar, celebrating the anniversary of the passing of the great sage and mystic Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, author of the Zohar. It also commemorates another event. In the weeks between Passover and Shavuot, a plague raged amongst the disciples of the great sage Rabbi Akiva. On Lag Ba’Omer the dying ceased.

After we dropped our bags off in our apartments, we ran out with our marshmallows, potatoes, hotdogs and more, and joined the neighborhood bonfire.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like this. The bonfire was taller than the buildings here! I loved how the neighbors welcomed us to join their bonfire and I felt a sense of community and belonging,” Avi Cohen said.

On Saturday night, our last international trip of the semester will fly to Italy. We wish them a safe, happy and healthy trip! We can’t wait to hear all about it!

All the Best,

And Shabbat Shalom,

Natali Basel