gap year in israel

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Shalom Parents and Students,

Another great week on Aardvark is ending, and as always, I have numerous experiences, pictures, and stories for you. Find yourself a comfortable spot on the couch and we will be ready to start.

On Sunday, we had the special treat of the Madricha Maia teaching the students extra Ulpan. She ran three different classes for the three different Hebrew levels. Hannah Saban said, “I learned so much from Maia, she taught us a lot of practical Hebrew and helpful phrases that I use on a daily basis.”

On Monday night, we made pottery! Each student was given some clay to make a bowl, plate, mug, or whatever else they felt like. Our students are super talented and created real works of art. Jared Suffet said, “I realized while making my ceramic bowl, that I am artistic! My ceramic bowl came out smooth and round and truly beautiful! I’m really proud of myself!”

On Tuesday morning, we went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum. We split into two groups. One group consisted of students who had been to Yad Vashem before and the other group was students who had never been. We walked through the museum learning about the Holocaust and the atrocities that took place. We were shocked by what we saw and the experience was truly moving. Becca Carin said, “While looking at the photos displayed, I couldn’t help but think about the events that occurred in Pittsburgh. I haven’t exactly been able to find words that accurately describe my emotions. There is anger, tiredness, worries, fear and so much more. By interning at Yad Vashem this semester I am able to learn and see more about the Shoah and help prevent similar atrocities from happening again, but with shootings in synagogues and the rise of antisemitism, I am scared for our future. Even with this fear, I still wear my Judaism with pride. I wear a Hamsa around my neck and the shema on my pointer finder. The ring on my thumb reads “If not now, then when” in Hebrew. I strongly believe that now more than ever we need to take a stand against antisemitism, and hate in general. Never again.”

On Tuesday Afternoon we went to Mount Herzl on the west side of Jerusalem. It is the location of Israel’s national cemetery as well as some memorials and educational facilities, I asked some students to write a few words about the people that are buried on Mount Herzl, soldiers, or previous leaders of Israel. Tristan Hecht wrote, “Roi Klein is a hero. Born in Raanana, Israel, he was the son of two holocaust survivors. He went to Amit technological high school where he excelled in mathematics, starting undergraduate level courses in eleventh grade. He was drafted into the IDF and joined the paratroopers brigade during the south Lebanon conflict. His paratrooper unit was one of the founding units for the Egoz reconnaissance unit, an expansion of the Golani brigade. He was honourably discharged in 1998 and then he went to mechina to study for a year. He returned to the military as a training platoon commander putting together a plan, which became the model for the egoz unit. He then married and began studying for an engineering degree while also going to Kollel. He graduated with honours. In 2006, he was appointed the deputy commander of the 51st Golani brigade, it would be the last position that he would ever hold. In the 2006 Lebanon war, Hezbollah attacked Roi and his unit. A hand grenade was thrown and Klein jumped on the grenade saying the shemah. He lived a life where he went to school, he studied torah and he served his country and people. There are not many people who could have done any of what he did and fewer still who could have done all of it. That is why he is a hero.”

On Tuesday evening, we gathered in the Ulam to watch the film ‘Operation Finale’. The film takes place fifteen years after the end of World War II, a team of top-secret Israeli agents travel to Argentina to track down Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi officer who masterminded the transportation logistics that brought millions of innocent Jews to their deaths in concentration camps. Hoping to sneak him out of the country to stand trial, agent Peter Malkin soon finds himself playing a deadly game of cat and mouse with the notorious war criminal. After the film, we sat and discussed what the day had meant to each of us, and a meaningful discussion about the Holocaust and how the whole world just stood by.

Rachel Popky said, “Watching Operation Finale after visiting Yad Vashem was incredibly meaningful. After hearing the true stories of those who did not survive the Holocaust, it was thrilling to watch Jews execute this plan and succeed! Though they could have killed Eichmann once they found him in Argentina, they created a plan to bring him back to Israel and allow all of the Jews to feel that justice was served. The movie is technically historical fiction; it gives you a sneak peek of what the Nazis in Germany were like. How manipulative they really were. I personally still can’t wrap my head around how human beings could be so malevolent. All in all, the entire day was a very special and educational experience.”

This week in Parsha and Pizza we learned the portion of Hayei Sarah. The weekly reading tells us of the death of the matriarch Sarah and Abraham’s effort to purchase a burial plot for her. After paying respects to his dead wife, the narrative shifts to focus on Abraham’s son, Isaac and the need to find him a wife. Abraham appoints his servant Eliezer to devise a test to find him a match and with God’s help, he finds Rebecca at a drinking station by a well. The portion ends with the final years of Abraham’s life, with a new wife and additional children before he passes away. Rabbi Marc spoke about the theme of Hesed (חסד) – kindness. Kindness is the defining character trait of Abraham in our ancient Jewish sources and both of the stories of the Parsha support this. Firstly, Abraham goes to great lengths to honor his wife’s memory and insists on buying a burial plot instead of receiving it as a gift. In Judaism, the highest level of kindness is called Hesed Shel Emet (חסד של אמת) – the kindness of truth – and it concerns the kindness we do for a dead person. Indeed this is the only kindness we can perform that has no self-interest. A dead person cannot thank you for the kindness you have done. Abraham’s desire to negotiate, argue and pay for the Cave of Machpela as a burial plot is a symbol of this uber-Hesed. The story of Rebecca at the well is also about kindness. Eliezer invents a test to see if he could find a woman worthy of marrying in to the Abrahamic dynasty. He looked for a woman who would not only give him water to drink after his long journey but someone who would also care for his ten camels. The Torah describes Rebecca’s running back and forth from the well to the water trough. For Eliezer this was his sign that Rebecca would go over and above the call of duty and would expand her energy in performing acts of Hesed.

This week on Selah we had an important seminar on Monday morning. Despite the fact there are some taboos surrounding talking about intimacy and sexual relations, we felt it important to give the students an opportunity to see what Judaism has to say about romance, physical pleasure, marriage and sanctity in the bedroom. Our Love, Sex and Relationships Seminar began with Rabbi Marc framing the day and we studied a Talmudic tale that talks about sexual urges and our need to control them as well as the basis of Jewish sexual ethics – respect and communication. We were then privileged to have two guest speakers. First was Dr. Jennie Rosenfeld, an Orthodox leader from the city of Efrat and the author of a book for Orthodox newlyweds. The students had previously written out anonymous questions and Jennie fielded their questions with a no-holds-barred approach. We learnt so much. After the break we were treated to a lecture by the speaker and author Gila Manolson, she focused on the challenges of dating, love and relationships in our current world, and what a Torah perspective on love could be. The lecture was provocative and a good opportunity to hear a different type of voice.

For this week’s Learning Space we headed out to the local park and took advantage of the glorious November weather to eat breakfast together and play some games before Rabbi Marc led a Jewish WhatsApp activity. Our regular teachers then turned up to continue their classes on Jewish Revolutions or the Bible. We ended the day with a meditation class in a darkened room where we learnt about the symbolism of fire and its connection to the soul, and how all of this connects to the practice of lighting candles to bring in Shabbat.

Some of our students are in the Czech Republic currently and having the most incredible time! Click on the link to read their International Blog!

Next week we will be visiting the Knesset where we will speak with MK Yehuda Glick and hear from guest speaker Josh Hasten, the former spokesperson for Judea and Samaria.

Also, our recruiting team will be spending the next month in the USA, recruiting for next year, so if you have any friends/family with 12th graders who may be interested in meeting them, please have them contact us at [email protected].

They will be visiting New York, New Jersey, Boston, Philadelphia, DC, Southern Florida, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Bay Area, Chicago, Dallas, Cleveland and Detroit.

Have a meaningful and restful Shabbat!

All the best,


Gap year in israel - aardvarkisrael