gap year in israel

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Shalom Parents!

The Aardvark program officially came to an end today (for everyone except those in Marva). It is a bittersweet feeling for all of us. It has been a wonderful year but it is sad to see the students leave.

While a small number of our students are still strolling along the streets of Jerusalem most of our participants are already on flights home and will soon be trying to shake off their jetlag. Tomorrow Hagai and Tally will be at the final ceremony of Marva to celebrate Daniel’s, Alan’s and Aaron’s accomplishments in the army this past month. Wherever your kids may be at the moment, there is one certainty, they are not here… The office is quiet… All I can tell you is that it feels unnatural! I’m waiting for someone to walk in and ask for a new light bulb, directions to a place, to make a cup of coffee or simply crash on the couch and announce that he is hungry. I need to get used to this new loud silence until August when we welcome a new group to Israel.

Last week we met on Monday to remember our favorite moments from the past semester in Jerusalem as a way to begin to summarize the experience. Our awesome Madrichim printed pictures of our siyurim, our participants, and places in Jerusalem. The Madrichim then asked the students many questions such as, “Who influenced you the most this semester? What was your favorite siyur, and why?” It was amazing to see the students open up and really display their appreciation for their individual experiences.

On Tuesday morning we woke up to a rainy day, but that didn’t stop our fun. Instead of going to the beach we went to the Dead Sea where the sun is always shining and the weather is always fine. This final siyur was really overwhelming for me because everyone was so upset, present, and the vibe was so positive. The students showed immense appreciation for everything, even the small things. We surprised them with watermelon and games at the beach and overall, I personally believe that this was the best siyur yet.

On Wednesday we had a Marva ceremony. For the past four weeks three of our students have been living and training on an army base in the Negev as a part of Marva. All the students from Jerusalem went to support their friends and cheered them on as they received their army dog-tags. Then we all sat together for a meal cooked over a fire to celebrate Lag B’Omer (the Jewish holiday celebrated on the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer during which it is traditional to celebrate with bonfires.)

On Thursday morning we went to our director Debbie’s house for a BBQ and a dip in the natural spring that’s just down the road. Skyler said that being in Debbie’s home really made her feel like Aardvark was a big family and not just your average gap year program. On Thursday night we went to the final MASA event and each student was able to participate in a unique workshop where they learned about food, music, and art. At the end of the evening we got to see Café Shahor V’Hazak, a popular Israeli rap group. It was very fun to see all the students dance and let loose a little.

The final few days of Aardvark brought with them much cleaning, packing, and tearful goodbyes. Let me tell you a secret folks, your children are not children anymore, they actually know how to clean…so please, make use of this information (but it didn’t come from me).

Sunday night we all gathered together in Jerusalem for a final ceremony. After a nice dinner together with all the students and staff from both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv we officially concluded our year with a variety of speeches, musical presentations and an emotional slideshow of the whole year. Representing our group, Miranda spoke about the lessons she learned this year from her “Rav Kav” (bus pass) which she said is an essential tool to adventure in Israel. She shared with us three lessons: be present, say yes to adventure and that everything is better when shared with people you love. Another highlight of the evening was the exhibit of “6-Word Memoirs of Aardvark Israel.” Over the last two weeks each student was asked to summarize or highlight an aspect of their experience in just six words and to submit it along with a photo and the results were very special.

I wanted to thank all of you for being supportive of us throughout the semester. I know it’s not easy to send your child away from home for such a long time and I wanted 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 took everything you said into consideration for the planning of 2016-17. I can tell you that we tried our best to make this year as significant as it can be for your children 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 (and I’m not talking about the jetlag from the 14 hours of sleep they got on the plane.)

Again, thank you!