gap year in israel

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Dear Parents,

I hope this email finds you well and that you’ve had a fantastic week.

Before telling you about this week’s highlights, I would like to tell you about last weekend. Last Shabbat we took 30 students away for a Shabbat experience on Kibbutz Hanaton. Selah, our Jewish identity program, goes for Shabbats away once a month and this time the experience was open to the wider program. Hanaton was founded as a Kibbutz affiliated with the conservative movement but in recent years it has attracted a wide range of Jews from different backgrounds. Our theme for the weekend was ‘Pluralism’ and we met with speakers and facilitators from many different denominations. We had candle lighting with a post-denominational woman Rabbi and then prayed in an egalitarian Minyan. After a traditional meal and Birkat HaMazon, we met with a humanitarian rabbinical student who shared his take on Shabbat. Our beloved Rabbi Marc ran an outrageously fun Oneg Shabbat games session where one of our students, Maya Fox, shared a few reflections on the Torah portion. In the morning we had a Kiddush-Breakfast together with a panel session of Kibbutz members (Conservative, Orthodox, and Secular) who argued about their vision for communal life. After lunch, we had a song session with a scholar of Hassidut as well as a ‘Theology for Dummies’ masterclass with Rabbi Marc’s wife, an accomplished philosopher and lecturer. We finished off Shabbat with a third meal (Seuda Shlishit) and a musical Havdalla led by Eliya Gelb and Sarah Pomerantz, accompanied on guitar by Tamir Cohen and Ilay, the counselor. In all, it was a stimulating and provocative Shabbat experience for all involved.

This week was significant and inspiring here on Aardvark Jerusalem. Here are some of its highlights:

On Sunday, in addition to our normal routine, we had two elective activities. The first was an art Chug (activity) and the second was a culture committee. In the art chug the students created decorations for the Ulam in preparation for their Thanksgiving Banquet on Thursday night. In the culture committee the students looked for events and discussed ideas for upcoming weekends. They came up with a variety of ideas, one event the students are planning is happening in two weeks’ time, but for now it is top secret. We will keep you posted 🙂

In the evening, during the apartment meeting, we discussed and processed the past week’s activities. We also began to prepare for our big election activity, which will occur next Sunday. Each apartment was assigned a different Israeli political party: Likud, Labor, Meretz, Shas, Yesh Atid and Habait Hayehudi. Their task is to learn about the party’s ideology, answer the given questions and to prepare for a debate. Each group needs to come up with a video skit and a special poster explaining their party.

On Monday evening we continued the education program and introduced the students to various important people in Israeli politics. We hosted Yariv Oppenheimer who is the General Director of Peace Now . This organization is an NGO that works to promote a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Yariv told the group about himself and shared his beliefs regarding the conflict in Israel.

Akiva Goldsmith mentioned, “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 an Arab Israeli ‘Palestinian’, 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”.

On the same day we attended an army ceremony at the Western Wall with our Marva student Aldo Ramos. He received, for the first time, his army dog tag with his name and army number. We are so proud, and we can’t wait to be there for his next ceremony.

Our weekly Siyur on Tuesday was to Herodion and Hebron. We started the day at Herodion where the great King Herod lived at the time of the second temple. We hiked up the mountain to the ruins of his palace, learned all about the Jewish people of the time, and saw first-hand the amazing architecture that King Herod designed. Later we visited the city of Hebron, the only city in the west bank where Jews and Arabs live alongside each other. First we met with a representative of the town’s citizens. She told us about her connection to the city, why she and her family have lived there for many years and she also described the challenges that come with living there. From there, we went to the Avraham Avinu Shul that was originally built in the 16th century, destroyed during the Hebron massacre in 1929 and has since been rebuilt. There we learned all about the history of the city and the Jews that have lived there over the years. When we were done there, we went to a viewpoint from where we could see Jerusalem. We received an overview of the different aspects of daily life in Hebron. We finished the day by visiting Mearat Hamachpelah (the Cave of Patriarchs), the graves of the mothers and fathers of the nation. It was a very spiritual experience to be able to visit and pray at such a holy place.

That evening we had a terrific program all about the Israeli map. At first glance it may seem to be an easy discussion, however, as we dived into the details it ceased to be so simple. For many people, both tourists and citizens, understanding the history of the land and its borders, from biblical times through to the establishment of the Jewish state, can be difficult and confusing. During the evening, using an interactive method and an actual map floor that was created during the program, we explored Jewish history, the history of Israel and the region, and the various sides in the contemporary conflict in the Middle East. During the program, we discussed important events from Jewish and Zionist history and examined them from a variety of perspectives.

Carli Grossman said, “I mamash (Mamash” is a Hebrew word for “Really”) enjoyed how interactive the program was and I really liked how Joe delivered the topic. It was the first time I understood the complications of the borders of Israel and the complexity of the situation in the Middle East. I have learned a new way to advocate for Israel in a way I’d never thought about”.

This week on 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. 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 learned some of the symbolic interpretations and commentaries 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, Persians, Babylonians, and Romans). According to this idea, Jacob did not wish for the Jewish people to ascend to power and become an empire like others. Another more modern Hassidic idea is that the ladder represents the link between heaven and earth. Jacob was given a message about how to find a balance between spirituality-purity and the physical-material world.

Since Wednesday night the students have been 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 tonight (Thursday).

As for our Selah program, we had an intense week! We came back from our Shabbaton on Kibbutz Hanaton and went early on Sunday morning to the Kotel for Rosh Chodesh services with the Women of the Wall. Part of the group had an inspiring and uplifting women’s prayer service while others were heckled and pushed by Ultra-Orthodox protesters. It was very challenging for us to see a place of unity and holiness turn into a rights struggle. Monday we headed out to the Bet Shemesh area with our fantastic tour guide Eytan Rand on our monthly Tanach Tiyul. We went to see where Samson fought with the Philistines and saw the scene of King David’s fight with the mighty Goliath. Thursday morning’s Learning Space had the group prepare for Thanksgiving in a Jewish manner with their beloved teachers Nilli and Keith as well as exploring the idea of the Chosen People in their Rabbi Sacks class. Rabbi Marc led a text-study session on leadership, and the Ethics of Speech class had a discussion on lying.

Regarding the experience with Women of the Wall Maya Fox said that, “Being able to pray with a Torah at the holiest place on earth, the Western Wall, with tons of like-minded women was the most powerful and spiritual experience I have had yet in Israel. I do not know if another feeling could compare to the freedom I felt as we were singing over those who were trying to drown out our praises”.

Last but not least, Will Oken would like to tell you about his internship, “At Tav Hashmini, I arrive to work every morning at 8:30 and work in the office doing various tasks, such as working in music production and distribution. I work with various music platforms such as Spotify and do research on the musicians and how they are being promoted outside of Israel. I’m learning a lot about the music industry and production and even had the opportunity to meet some of Israel’s biggest artists!”
This weekend, the Madrich on Call is Ofek.

That’s all for the past week. We all are looking forward to next week’s adventures that will include an overnight trip to the Galil. Stay tuned! 🙂

Shabbat Shalom and have a great weekend,



Gap year in israel - aardvarkisrael