gap year in israel

Check out our social media to see what our students have been up to this past week!

Dear Parents,

Here are some of the highlights from our week.

On Sunday we laced up our sneakers and headed to the Ulam to do some Zumba run by me (Natali). I lead us in an hour of Zumba that really made us work up a sweat and got our blood pumping.

During the apartment meetings the Madrichim brought cards along that had different sized circles on them. One card had one big circle and a small circle, one had a circle with an arrow pointing to four smaller circles, another had a circle with an arrow spiraling around it and so on. We had to choose a card and explain how it described our relationship to the program and then we chose another card that explained how we felt on the program. We continued to choose cards that described issues such as how we see ourselves in the world and how we see our relationship with religion) which is our monthly theme (. It was eye opening to hear how everyone felt and the cards really helped us express ourselves in a different way.

On Monday thousands joined us for Masa’s 13th birthday celebrations in Jerusalem for a special and unique event. Two and a half thousand Masa participants, alumni, prominent leaders from the public and private sectors from across Israel and the Jewish world joined to celebrate the 13th anniversary while kicking off a new year of programs for 13,000 participants. The event included a special VIP reception and an exclusive career development and networking gathering for our interns. One of the highlights of the day were Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremonies for those that didn’t have one as a teen, it was a true honor to share the experience with them and with Masa’s founders and supporters.

This video was shown at the event and it features one of our Aardvark students, Aldo Ramos.

Aldo is currently on the Marva track on Aardvark, which is the army track. It was awesome to have him come back to Jerusalem for the MASA event. We are so proud of him and so happy that he was able to have a Bar Mitzvah and that his Aardvark Family was there to witness it. Mazal Tov Aldo!

We also heard a talk from Natan Sharansky, the human rights activist, author, Israeli politician, and refusenik from the Soviet Union, who spent nine years in Soviet prisons during the 1970s and 1980s.

We then saw a performance from Cafe Shahor Hazak (Strong Black Coffee,) recently one of the most popular bands in Israel (click here to listen) and another from Hatikfa- 6. Hatikfa-6 is a young Israeli reggae band that started in Ramat Hasharon. Hatikva 6 plays dancehall and roots styles with Hebrew, English, and French lyrics (click here to listen).

Both of them are extremely current and superstars in Israeli culture. It was fun to dance, sing, and learn the words in Hebrew. What an incredible night. We felt like we were part of something bigger than just Aardvark and the most important thing that we all had in common was that we care about Israel. Unfortunately, because he had other commitments, the Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu couldn’t make it, but he sent us all a welcoming video with kind words!

Tuesday was a big day for our students. In the morning, we toured the Temple Mount (Dome of the Rock). It was crazy to imagine that 3000 years ago people were cutting massive stones out of the earth and then hauling them up for the construction of the Temple. It was incredibly surreal to be at the holiest place in Judaism and to learn a bit about the history of the Temple Mount itself. All of the students were in awe of a place that not everyone gets to see. We are incredibly lucky that we are in peaceful times and able to go up and experience the Temple Mount.

Maya Fox said, “It was an amazing experience getting to go up to the Temple Mount, and visit one of the holiest sites in Judaism. I felt a deep connection to the land, and I was shocked by how peaceful it was.”

From the Temple Mount we walked through the Old City’s Christian Quarter and arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The church is where Jesus is supposedly buried and it was interesting to tour the church and see the different halls, decorations and displays within the church. We were in awe of the architecture and the mosaics. Many students, who had studied art history in high school, shared facts that they know about the art and history of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

On Tuesday evening the organization Shutaf , which focused on social inclusion and offers year-round activities for children, teens, and young adults, with and without disabilities , came and ran an activity for us about labels and how it feels when we label our friends or even people we don’t know. As part of the activity we were split into groups and learned about labels others had been given by people they know, both positive and negative. We learned a lot about each other and became more aware of how we treat one another. Nadav Reed said, “Labels are for jars, not people.”

Here is a little from one of our students about their internship this week:

“I intern with Adi Yair, a fashion and textile designer, at the alliance house. I work on her production line and help with her collection. Working with Adi has made my experience in Israel purposeful and authentic. While interning, my Hebrew has greatly improved and I have developed a love for Jerusalem and the art community. I never thought it was realistic for me to have a future in fashion, but working with Adi has completely changed my perspective and has encouraged me to pursue what I love.”

(Carli Grossman, Apartment Shmona)

This week in Parsha and Pizza we learnt about the birth of Isaac and the destruction of Sodom and Gemorah. The Torah portion of Vayeira ends with the climactic story of the binding of Isaac. Rabbi Marc showed us a few comedy movie clips about the Akeida and after studying the section of the Parsha that describes Abraham’s willingness to comply with God’s command, we listened to a few contemporary songs that play with themes from the story (Leonard Cohen and Israeli music legend Naomi Shemer were two examples). We spoke about different aspects of the story: Isaac’s role, what happened to Sarah in the story and was Abraham really prepared to kill his son. We ended by thinking about the important place the story has in Jewish tradition as a story about God’s mercy for his people and Abraham’s overriding love for God.

This week on Selah the group attended a seminar on the theme of ‘Judaism and Sexuality’. It was run by two people, both religious orthodox Jews, who have dedicated part of their careers to helping people develop a mature and responsible engagement with sexuality whilst at the same time inspiring others to discover the wisdom and values of Jewish tradition on intimacy, family, marriage, pleasure and gender. Both speakers brought different approaches and really managed to fascinate the group and handled their questions bravely. On Thursday we continued our Learning Space program, learning and discussing four over 4 hours. We had a class on Speech Ethics, the Book of Tehillim (Psalms), Science and Judaism as well as Chevruta time (one on one study). We ended the morning at the Machane Yehuda market where we bought things for Shabbat and brought the spirit of Shabbat and song to passersby.

Next week we are going to hear a lecture from Women of the Wall, an organization fighting for women’s right to pray aloud, with Torah scrolls and Tefillin, at the Kotel.

Until next week,
Shabbat Shalom,
Natali Basel
Jerusalem Coordinator,
Aardvark Israel

Gap year in israel - aardvarkisrael