gap year in israel

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Shalom Parents,

We have reached the halfway point of our first semester and I must tell you about some of the amazing things that have happened. We had a great week full of fun, meaningful and educational activities. Here is the news from this week:

Our week began on Motzei Shabbat (Saturday Night), when we had a tie-dye activity with Madricha Maia. We all received shirts and plenty of colours and created our own colourful shirts. Ethan Harkavy said, “Even though my shirt didn’t come out good, I had a really great time doing it.”

On Sunday afternoon, after a morning of internships & volunteering, we held our Culture Committee Meeting. The culture committee consists of students with ideas and the desire to help their peers make the most of their time in Jerusalem. They help plan activities on weekends and throughout the semester. The students are very busy planning a Thanksgiving dinner, extra night activities, and some Chanukah surprises!

On Sunday evening, we celebrated World Kindness Day, and our students got up and Danced for Kindness! The purpose of Dance for Kindness is to look beyond ourselves, beyond the boundaries of our country, beyond our culture, our race, our religion, and realize that we are citizens of the world. Over 126 cities around the world danced for kindness on Sunday and we were one of them! Our student, Noah Hirsch has been volunteering for the company Life Vest Inside, that is responsible for this event. He and Orly Wahba (the amazingly inspirational founder) have been working tirelessly to put this event together and we are so proud of Noah and all our students and staff who came out and danced to bring a little more kindness into the world! Because we could all use a little more love and a little more kindness in the world right now.

Barri Miller said, “It felt amazing to really partake in something bigger than myself, and help spread kindness into the world. With everything happening in the world right now, tensions in the south of Israel, the shooting in the synagogue in Pittsburgh, the fires in LA, and we just really need some more love and kindness in the world right now. I feel lucky and privileged to have participated in such an event.”

On Monday evening, we had a sushi workshop in which we taught the students how to make sushi. For many of us this was our first time making sushi, and we can now add it to the growing repertoire of foods we can now make. “I just love seaweed, and for me to put seaweed with rice and fish is amazing, because I love fish! And it is so easy to make, and so easy to eat. I even heard it’s quite healthy too!” said Liad Zafrani.

Our weekly Siyur (Tiyul) on Tuesday was to Herodium. Herodium, located south of Jerusalem and east of Bethlehem, on the edge of the Judean Desert, is one of the most fascinating antiquities sites in the country. It was built by King Herod the Great between 23 and 15 BCE, as a combined palace and powerful fortress. The complex was surrounded by a double wall 63 meters in diameter and seven stories high, within which Herod built a palace that included halls, courtyards and opulent bathhouses. Being inside the ruins, we truly felt we were living the history.

In the afternoon, after an amazing lunch provided by Aardvark, 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. Adiel Davis 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 night, we had a quiz night (planned by students Solly Sperber and Rachel Popky from the culture committee), where five tables of students competed to be the trivia champions of Aardvark! We had five rounds of questions ranging from Geography to Pop Culture to a music round where everyone had to guess what song was being played from only the first two seconds of the song. Everyone had a great time and the winners were crowned at the end with only a 3-point lead on the runners up. Solly Sperber said, “I had a great time co-organizing and running the evening and hopefully it’s something that we could do again in the near future. This was an amazing opportunity for us to take the initiative to plan something for my fellow students and take a leadership role.”

Selah opened the week with a Jewish Arts Workshop. Due to popular demand from the group, who wanted to do some more creative art-based activities, we met with an Arts Therapist in her home studio. She created an amazing atmosphere using aromatherapy and eased us into a creative frame of mind. The theme of our morning was Jewish rituals and we had a great conversation about what makes a ritual and the meanings we ascribe to them. We were then invited to grab whatever art medium we wanted, and there was an incredible array of materials to choose from – spray paints, clay, oil pastels, paint, beads, etc. and we got busy with brushes, pencils and the glue gun and created some wonderful inspired by a chosen Jewish ritual that we hold important. We ended by displaying our work and sharing the stories behind them. Later in the week, we had our Learning Space. Some of the group studied the history of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai who led the Jewish people during the Roman Occupation. Other members began studying the book Song of Songs – Shir HaShirim. We also concluded our month long study of the Laws of Lashon Hara. We ended the morning with a mock Shabbat table and learnt the secrets of the Shalom Aleichem song and the order of the Shabbat meal. This weekend we head out for our third Shabbaton of the semester – this time up north on Kibbutz Hanaton. Our theme is pluralism and it should be an amazing Shabbat.

This week in Parsha and Pizza we explored the Torah portion of Vayetze. We heard of Jacob’s escape from his twin brother Esau and the famous dream he had on the way. We read about when Jacob met Rachel and how Laban deceived him, and tricked him into marrying Leah in her place. Rabbi Marc showed the group a few paintings by the great Russian-French Jewish painter Marc Chagall who completed a number of paintings around the theme of Jacob’s ladder. We learnt some of the symbolic interpretations and commentaries that have been offered over the centuries. One of the group’s favorites was an old legend from the Midrash that Jacob was being invited by God to climb the ladder but he was afraid to do so. Jacob represents the whole of the Jewish people (he is soon to have his name changed to Israel) and the angels represent the different nations of the world (Greeks, Persian, Babylonians and Romans). According to this idea, Jacob did not wish for the Jewish people to ascend to power and become an empire. One other more modern Hassidic idea is that the ladder represents the link between heaven and earth. Jacob was given a message about how to find balance between spiritual-purity and the physical-material world.   

This weekend, our Selah track and many of our students will be going to Kibbutz Hanaton, a Conservative Kibbutz in the north of Israel for a Shabbaton about pluralism and spirituality.

Next week, we will be going on a tour of the City of David, making menorahs for Chanukah, and having a Thanksgiving feast! We can’t wait!!

Until next week,

Natali Basel

Gap year in israel - aardvarkisrael