gap year in israel

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Dear Parents and Students,

We have had a very special and exciting week full of great activities enjoyed by all the students.

On Sunday, we began the week in the Ulam for the monthly community talk led by me. In these talks, the students can share their experiences and address the entire group about different matters. In addition, each talk contains an educational message, details of changes happening in the program and information about the future schedule. We played the game ‘Kahoot!’ and we linked it to the activities from last month, such as the tour of Mishkenot Sha’ananim, the Segway Tour in the Old City, the Graffiti Tour in Nachlaot, and more. We then discussed the coming month’s activities and topics. The month of October will deal with the theme of God and Religion and throughout the month, we will be addressing a number of questions about this theme through activities and tours. Some of the questions we will be posing include: Does God really exist? What does God mean to me? Do I love religion? What information do I have about all religions? Should religion and state go hand in hand? Is there a connection between religion and war?

After the talk in the Ulam, we left the building, went next door to the soccer field and played a game of Human Foosball. The game is just like tabletop foosball, but played with real people. We split into a red team and a black team. Even Rabbi Marc and his kids joined us! The evening was enjoyable, and we were also able to see our competitive sides and release some pent up energy.

On Monday, we decided to be brave and to go with the students to the Crazy Mary Horror Maze. Personally, I am very afraid of these things. However, our students showed great courage and most of them made it to the maze’s higher levels. The lowest level is 1 and the highest is 9. Most of us made it to level 6. It was a good experience for our students. Despite the concerns of some, they were there as a group and had to help each other overcome their fears. Eden Grossman said, “I wasn’t scared because my eyes were closed the whole time.”

On Tuesday, we left the city and went on a tour of a small village called Abu Ghosh, an Arab-Israeli local council located 10 kilometers west of Jerusalem on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway.

The first stop on the tour was the Crusader Church. Historically located at the village’s entrance, it is now the center of the Benedictine Monastery, and is one of the best preserved Crusader remains in the country.

The next stop was Abu Ghosh’s historic mosque in the town center, the Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque. The new mosque was completed in 2014 and it is the largest in Israel; it was built with money donated by the Chechen government.

We then had lunch at THE BEST Hummus restaurant in all of Israel before heading for our last stop of the tour, Har Adar.

Har Adar was once named Radar Hill due to the World War II British military installation on the top of it. The local Jewish military thought that the installation was an anti-air radar for the protection of Jerusalem. In fact, it was a relay station, used to boost the radio signal. The installation was handed over to the Jordanian Arab Legion on May 10, 1948, prior to the second phase of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The Palmach’s Harel Brigade made 23 failed attempts to conquer it, although the Jewish force held the position for four days starting on May 22, 1948. The Harel Brigade finally captured it in the Six-Day War.

Ethan Harkavy said, “During this trip, the highlights were going to the Hummus restaurant and visiting the mosque. The hummus place was definitely a high as we got to taste local cuisine in a local restaurant. Also, we got unlimited pita, hummus, falafel, and salads, which made all the students happy. Many of us had also never been to a mosque before, and speaking to the Imam was very enlightening.”

On Tuesday evening we hosted a representative from Women of the Wall (Neshot Hakotel הכותל נשות in Hebrew), Yochi Shapira. Women of the Wall is a group of Jewish women from Israel and elsewhere who strive to achieve the right to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem. As you know, the Western Wall is Judaism’s most sacred holy site and the principal symbol of Jewish peoplehood and sovereignty, and Women of the Wall work to make it a holy site where women can pray freely. Women of the Wall is comprised of women from all denominations of Judaism, Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Masorti, Renewal and Reconstructionist.

Not only do Women of the Wall seek empowerment in group prayer and Torah reading at our most sacred site, but they also strive for recognition of prayer service by the legal and religious Israeli authorities, for the sake of all Jewish women. The group, with a membership that is not only multi-denominational but spans the political spectrum, embodies a message of tolerance and pluralism. For more information, click here to watch a video about the organization.

On Wednesday morning, some of our students went 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 some Ultra-Orthodox protesters. It was very challenging for us to see a place of unity and holiness turn into a rights struggle.

“Women of the Wall is an organization that helps advocate for women’s rights at the Kotel. Although there are many things that many people, including myself, disagree with the organization about, praying out loud at the wall with a group of passionate Jewish women really helped me connect to prayer. It made me feel a part of something bigger than myself and it was truly the first time I felt a strong connection to this holy site.” Barri Miller

Internship in the Spotlight: “For my internship, I intern at The Bloc. The Bloc is a rock-climbing studio that every morning has something else going on. Sometimes professional climbers come in, sometimes school groups come in and we help them, and sometimes we help sort the inventory. My time helping out at The Bloc, has been very enjoyable and an interesting experiential learning experience so far. It’s a fun environment to work in, but also a professional setting. My favorite moment so far has been coming into my internship in the morning to help take down the rock from the wall while our boss helps us and blasts music as we work. Once a week we get to change the different paths to climb the wall.” -Yoni Ben-Naim

This week in Parsha and Pizza, we read the story of Noah and the flood. The Torah portion of Noach also includes some interesting stories about what happened after the flood – including the famous story of the Tower of Babel. One of the themes we spoke about with Rabbi Marc was the crimes of the generation of the flood. We tried to understand what could have made God so angry that His best option was to wipe the slate clean and start humanity again. We explored the roots of violence and its impact on society as one of the opinions of our Rabbis of old was that violent robbery was the immoral behavior that caused God to get angry. A different view was that the flood generation would steal halfpennies from each other – a seemingly irrelevant amount of money and not something one would be put in jail for, yet by accumulating small coins in huge numbers people would profit off the back of others. We also learnt about the symbolism of the rainbow. God gives us the rainbow as a sign that He will never again destroy humanity in a flood. One explanation of the rainbow’s power is that it represents an upturned bow. In ancient times a way of showing the end of hostilities in a conflict was to turn your bow around, thereby showing you have no intent to harm. God shows us his bow and it is pointed away from us, a mark of peace. A final idea about the rainbow is how all of its colors come from the same source of light refracted into reds, yellows and violets. Perhaps God is showing us that we all have a place in the divine light of creation.

This week on Selah we had a wonderful experience at the Hebrew Music Museum. We toured around this impressive museum and saw hundreds of instruments gathered from Jewish communities around the world. Our guide helped us understand some of the traditions, customs and differences between Moroccans, Iranians, Ethiopians and Europeans. We were able to try our best at playing some beautiful and unique instruments like the Persian Santur or the Yemenite Tankah drum and had a percussion session with Ethiopian and African instruments too! One of the most fascinating exhibits is a virtual reality tour of the Beit HaMikdash – the Jewish Temple – where music played a key part in the spiritual services and rituals of our people thousands of years ago. We ended the experience with a moving Music Workshop, led by Rabbi Marc. Seeing as music is such a key way for people to connect to their Judaism and Israel, each student was asked to pick a song that made them feel Jewish. We made a playlist (click here to listen) and heard the songs before guessing which belonged to whom. The students then explained to everyone why the song was significant. People shared powerful memories of experiences at camp, at home with family and visits to Israel.

On Thursday, we had our regular Learning Space. After breakfast we began studying the laws of Lashon Hara in our Ethics of Speech class. We then had Chevruta time where people chose a book from Rabbi Marc’s library and read or studied alone or with a partner. Our Shabbat class focused on how to prepare spiritually and physically for Shabbat. Some people took an optional Tanach class about the book of Tehillim, Psalms, and others took part in a mindfulness activity based on Tai-Chi, called Tai-Chai! A great week for all.

Shabbat Shalom,


Gap year in israel - aardvarkisrael