gap year in israel

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Shalom Parents!

The middle of November is here and it’s finally starting to feel like winter. The skies are often gray and warm clothing is being unpacked from the back of the closet. However, despite the cold, our activities are in full swing!

Sunday evening, the moment we were all waiting for finally arrived. Over the last few weeks, several students have been preparing for our TED talks that they delivered this week. Five students left their comfort zones to prepare thrilling and interesting lectures and workshops, and then dealt with one of life’s biggest challenges, speaking in front of an audience.

It was very emotional to see our students stand in front of their friends and talk about issues close to their hearts. The students spoke about topics very close to home, and the talks were all very inspiring. One of the most uplifting things was seeing the amount of love and support the other students gave to those who were giving the lectures. The activity was such a success that some of the students who were previously reluctant to take part, were inspired by their friends and then asked us to organize another TED evening so that they too can speak.

On Monday night we make clay chanukiot (menorah). Everyone was super creative; we played Chanukah music and started to really get into the holiday spirit. We are all really looking forward to lighting the menorahs we made on Chanukah now!

Gabriella Richards said, “I enjoyed making a clay menorah because we were allowed to be imaginative & I was able to make an original menorah that I can keep forever.”

On Tuesday morning, we went to the City of David archaeological site just outside the walls of the Old City. The tour of the City of David began at a breathtaking observation point overlooking biblical Jerusalem, which sent us back in time 3,800 years to the days of Abraham, when the city’s first foundations were laid. As we moved through the site, we came into contact with archaeological excavations and thrilling biblical finds that span thousands of years of history including both first and second temple Jerusalem. Continuing to the Shiloah Pool, the major source of water-drawing in biblical times, we reached the Herodian Road, the ancient thoroughfare that led pilgrims north to the Temple.

M.Z. Wachtel said, “It’s mind-blowing to think that this tunnel was built thousands of years ago and yet it has never collapsed – a true representation of Jerusalem!”

On Tuesday evening, we continued educating the student by exposing them to various important people in the Israeli political landscape. We hosted Yariv Oppenheimer who is the General Director of the organization Peace Now . It is an NGO with the aim of promoting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Yariv told the group about himself and his beliefs regarding the conflict in Israel.

Avi Bendayan said, “Yariv Oppenheimer’s left-wing views may not have been accepted by all the students. However, we have been lucky to have a dialogue about the current conflict with speakers from every side. We have had a left-wing speaker, and a right-wing settler speak to us in the same Ulam and I, among many others, feel more equipped to engage in discussion on the topic after sharing opinions and debating with representatives from both sides of the issue.”

This week in Parsha and Pizza, we focused on the Torah portion of Vayishlach. The week’s reading tells us of the encounter between Jacob and his twin Esau. Twenty years have passed since Jacob took his brother’s blessing and since Esau vowed to kill him. We find Jacob terrified. He sends gifts to his brother to try to appease him. He prays to God for help. Finally, he divides his camp, thinking strategically that if one half of his family is attacked, the others would survive. Finally, Jacob remains alone in the night and an angel appears who fights with him. They wrestle throughout the night and neither one can defeat the other. As the dawn rises, Jacob demands a blessing from the angel and has his name changed from Jacob to Israel. The verse explains (Genesis 32:29) the name is because Jacob ‘struggled with God and prevailed’. This is the origin of our name as the people of Israel and our beloved country, the State of Israel. It is remarkable to think that we are identified as people that wrestle, struggle and challenge God. That Judaism takes effort and can sometimes even be scary. Ultimately though, we are blessed with the power to prevail and to succeed. We are full of hope. Rabbi Marc also told us a number of legends, ancient and modern which try to understand who the angel was. He finished off the activity by playing a beautiful song by Yonatan Raziel based on the prayer that Jacob offered before his fight with the angel. The song was very popular and even won song of the year in 2013. It was written after Raziel’s young daughter recovered from a serious injury.

All day on Thursday, the students were cooking up a storm for Thanksgiving! The students have been filling our hallways with the smells of turkey, pumpkin pie, cranberry dishes, and more. Everyone has been bringing their favorite recipe from home, and we are so excited to celebrate Thanksgiving together as a family.

On Thursday, after classes, we met in the Ulam for our first Thanksgiving. We want to thank the culture committee for planning such a feast! A special thank you goes out to Tova Brocco, Maia Blumofe, Yoni Ben-Naim, Becca Carin, Solly Sperber, Adiel Davis, Annie Wilkin and Barri Miller for cooking and planning activities for our Thanksgiving meal. Yoni Ben-Naim started us off with a Dvar Torah about how we should be grateful for the opportunity to be here in Israel. Everyone then received a name and had to write a thank you card for that person letting them know how much they are appreciated. After eating all the delicious food (made with so much love), we went around the room and everyone said what they are grateful for and why. To end the evening, we ate apple pie and pumpkin pie (made with even more love). It was a beautiful night and we were so lucky and are so appreciative to have spent it with each other.

Internship in the Spotlight: For my internship, I work at the L.A Museum of Islamic Art. The Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem has devoted itself to the collection, preservation and exhibition of art objects and archaeological artifacts that represent Islamic art from the 7th to the 19th centuries. Their mission is to bridge the disparities between Jews and Arabs in Israel through the presentation of art and culture. At the Museum, I mainly work in the education department where I plan projects for students who visit the museum, as well as work hands on with students learning at the museum. The museum also gives me the opportunity to experience the other important arts of Jerusalem in Israel, which has given me so much insight into the history and culture of the people of Israel. I have learned so much through my experiences at the museum and the people I work with. This internship so far has been an amazing experience, and I look forward to my continued work with this museum and others in the future. – Holly Issenberg

Selah began the week a little tired from our amazing Shabbaton on Kibbutz Hanaton. We toured the Kibbutz on Friday afternoon and learned about the challenges faced by the community in maintaining a pluralist framework – how to run the synagogue when not everyone is egalitarian, community events around food when people have different standards of kosher, how should education happen with conflicting ideologies? We dressed for Shabbat and had an introductory session with Rabbi Sara Brandes, from the Or HaLev Center for Spirituality and Meditation, who led us into Shabbat with prayer, song, and chant. We took part in Kabbalat Shabbat together with 200 other people and had a wonderful Shabbat meal. Students led us in making HaMotzi, singing songs and Birkat HaMazon. We had an incredible, fun and meaningful Oneg Shabbat with a ton of snacks and listened to students tell Hassidic stories and give a Dvar Torah. We played games and had a great activity where we were able to interview God! After a late night playing board and card games, we began late on Shabbat morning with Kiddush and breakfast before splitting into two classes, one meditation, the other a text study before lunch. Rabbi Marc’s wife Miriam is an academic in the field of Jewish philosophy and she taught the group about pluralism in Jewish philosophy. Shabbat ended with a panel of kibbutz members, Seuda Shlishit, and a closing activity run by the counselors

On Monday, we focused on the Shoah. We began with a visit to Israel’s first Holocaust memorial, founded by survivors as a place to remember their loved ones. Unlike Yad Vashem, this site called the Chamber of the Holocaust, was never intended as a museum, but as a place of prayer and memory. It has some incredible and unique exhibits, most striking for the group was a coat made by a Jewish tailor from Torah parchments. In order to avenge the Nazi officer who forcibly humiliated him, the tailor picked passages from the Torah containing rebukes and curses. We left the memorial and went to pay respects to Oskar Schindler who is buried in a Christian cemetery on Mount Zion. Schindler saved 1200 Jews during the Holocaust and Steven Spielberg made his story into an Oscar winning movie. We ended the morning meeting Charles Siegman, a Dutch-American-Israeli survivor who told us his account of life growing up in Theresienstadt camp.

The week ended with our weekly Learning Space. Our Speech Ethics class focused on swearing and cursing and our Revolutions class led the group in a discussion on how Jews responded to the onset of modernity and the clash of values it brought for Jews of the 19th century.

Next week, the China International Trip will be flying out on Sunday morning, and we wish them a safe flight and an amazing trip! One of our highlights next week will be attending Micah Gonchar’s army ceremony at the Western Wall. We are so proud and can’t wait to cheer him on!

Wishing everyone a HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

All the best,



Gap year in israel - aardvarkisrael