gap year in israel

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Dear Parents,

This week was crazy fun, and I have so much to tell you! So let’s get started!!

On Sunday we had elections! To round off our Politics Month the students spent the day preparing for the elections and in the evening they had a debate between each apartments’ assigned Knesset party. The students had prepared extensively and came to the debate with a lot of information about their assigned parties. Each apartment nominated a representative for the debate and afterwards a vote was held over which political party should win. Yesh Atid won!!! Apartment 10 was victorious and they received a blender as a prize.

On Monday night we make clay chanukiot (menorahs). Everyone was super creative and Will Oken even made a chanukiah in the shape of a guitar! We played Chanukah music and really started getting into the holiday spirit. We are all really looking forward to lighting the menorahs we made on Chanukah!

Alena Berkman 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 we embarked for our third overnight tiyul of the semester, this time back to the north, but not as far north as our first tiyul which was in the Golan. We headed to Akko in the Western Galil, and spent the two days in the Lower Galil despite the somewhat wintry weather (it is all relative, but for Israel it was rainy and fairly cold towards the end of each day).

We left Jerusalem early on Wednesday morning and made our way to the Carmel mountain range, near to the northern city of Haifa. We started our tiyul with a two-hour hike in the beautiful green Carmel forest, following a path in the area called “Little Switzerland”. While the views were stunning and we all enjoyed climbing the tree-covered hills, our European students all agreed that this wasn’t really what Switzerland looked like!

Then we went to the Druze village of Isfiya, where local Druze guides met us. They told us all about their culture and religion, and then we had a very tasty traditional Druze meal for lunch. All the students found the experience very powerful, being exposed to a new religion and culture, and many were amazed at how many similarities there were to Judaism.

We then continued our journey to the Old City of Akko, where we visited the British Prison from the time of the British Mandate, housed on the site of a crusader fort. There we learnt about the history of the British Mandate in Palestine, and the Jewish struggle for independence. This was especially powerful as we were visiting the day before the 70th anniversary of the UN Partition Plan, on 29th November 1947 the UN voted to establish a Jewish State in our homeland.

After that, we watched sunset on the Akko beach and then took a walking tour of the walls of the old city of Akko and explored the shuk before checking in to our youth hostel. That night the madrichim ran a fun improvisation game based on the TV show “Whose Line is it Anyway?”

We spent the entirety of the next day volunteering and meeting Israeli gap year volunteers with the organization “Hashomer Hachadash” (The New Guard). This organization helps farmers and agriculturalists to protect and farm land that is often at risk. We helped the adorable Shalom, an 80-year-old olive farmer, who made aliya from Yemen in 1950. We helped harvest his olive trees and the olives will later be pressed to make olive oil. Shalom was deeply grateful to us, and we just wanted to take him home with us. Sadly the heavens opened while we were picking the olives and we all got quite wet and muddy. However, this was all part of the fun and added to the experience!

We then split into two groups and visited Israeli students of the same age as our students who are dedicating a year of their life to volunteering and connecting to the land of Israel through Hashomer Hachadash. It was fascinating to hear about their gap year, and their reasons for choosing to do this in the year before they then enlist in the army for further service to the country. We then cooked lunch together and continued to hang out and have fun. All in all, the day was fascinating, powerful and fun. Definitely a day to be remembered!

In other news, well done to Julianna Mallis who served as the program’s rabbi this week and prepared a weekly Torah portion for the students.

This week’s parsha is Parashat Vayishlach. It opens with Jacob preparing to meet with Esau in the hope of reconciliation. He sends Esau gifts of livestock, prays for G-d’s protection, and divides his family and property into two camps so that one may escape if Esau attacks. At night, when Jacob is alone after bringing his family across a river, he wrestles with an angel and dislodges a tendon in his hip (the origin of the kashrut practice of not eating the sciatic nerve). The angel informs Jacob that his name will be changed to Israel, and then he blesses him. Esau arrives, he and Jacob embrace and then agree to travel separately. Eventually, Jacob arrives in Shchem where he buys a plot of land. We learn about Simeon and Levy’s tricking and destroying of the kingdom as an act of vengeance for the prince’s offense to their sister, Dinah. Later, Jacob and his family travel to Beth-El and it is there that G-d officially renames him as “Israel.” Finally, we are told about the birth of Benjamin and the death of Rachel, and hear of the death of Isaac. We discussed the different theories regarding the sincerity of Esau’s kissing of Isaac, heard Michal’s interpretation of Genesis 34:1, and listened to a charming song about Jacob’s preparations for Esau which Yaeli and Michal learned in school.

The students loved the myriad of pizza toppings which Ofek ordered, and really appreciated Julianna’s continuation of their favorite weekly activity.

Next week we are going to the Begin Museum. Menachem Begin was the sixth Prime Minister of Israel and founder of Likud. We will also learn about the movement to boycott Israel (BDS) in a conversation with the organization Stand with us.

Shabbat Shalom,



Gap year in israel - aardvarkisrael