gap year in israel

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

Dear Parents & Students,

This week was eventful and productive, and we have so much to tell you!

On Sunday afternoon, after a morning of internships and volunteering, Orly Wahba came to speak to the students. Orly Wahba is an educator, entrepreneur, author and community activist passionate about inspiring and motivating people to be the best that they can be. For more than ten years, Orly has worked extensively with young adults as well as local charities in her community providing a helping hand for those who need it most. Yearning to make a larger impact with her philanthropic work and after having been inspired by a small sign on a plane labeled “Life Vest Inside”, Orly founded Life Vest Inside in 2011. It is a non-profit organization with a mission to encourage people to embrace the incredible power of giving and recognize that in times of hardship, it is kindness, like a life vest, that keeps the world afloat. Orly inspired the students with her story and motivated them with words of advice that will stay with them in their internships, volunteering, and future jobs.

“Listening to Orly’s story was truly motivating and inspiring. She spoke so passionately about what she does and her passion wore off on me. Almost immediately after her presentation, I spoke with her about possible volunteering opportunities. I’m excited to see what happens next, the Life Vest Organization would be so satisfying and important for my semester in Jerusalem and in life as a whole. I really believe I can do so much good and contribute to this organization and society,” said Noah Hirsch.

On Monday evening, after classes, we went rock climbing at a local rock climbing gym. All the students learned how to belay and had a really good time.

Elan Ganz said, “Dear Mom and Dad, I had the best time and I’d like to do this every week. I even made it to the top! It was a fun way to exercise, especially since you know I don’t like to exercise. Before Aardvark, I felt like I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. And now I’m just climbing upwards and I don’t want this year to end! Love, Elan ‘The Rock’ Ganz.”

Tuesday morning, was a big day for our students, they went on a special tour of the Old City that highlighted sites significant to Judaism, Islam and Christianity. First, we toured the Temple Mount and had the opportunity to see the Dome of the Rock from up close. It was crazy thinking about how 3000 years ago people were cutting massive stones out of the earth and then hauling them up for the construction of the temple. For most of us, it was incredibly surreal to be at the holiest place in Judaism and we enjoyed learning about the history of the Temple Mount itself. All of the students were in awe of the beautiful mosque. We are incredibly lucky that we are in a time of peace and that we are able to go up the Temple Mount and to visit this site which is so important to both the Jewish and Muslim people.

Annie Wilkin 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.”

Next, we walked through the Christian Quarter of the Old City and arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This church is where Jesus is said to have been crucified as well as buried and then resurrected. Inside, the church was packed with thousands of visitors. We explored the different halls and enjoyed seeing and learning about the decorations and displays within the church. We were in awe of the architecture and the mosaics inside. Many students who studied art history in high school were able to tell us many interesting things about the art and history of the church.

Our last stop was the Churva Synagogue. The synagogue’s story began in the 16th century when a group of Ashkenazi Jews were fighting the Muslims over the land purchase ban in Jerusalem. The property was eventually acquired, and it became known as “The Ashkenazi Courtyard”. Despite hardship and difficulties, this Jewish group was fully committed to Jerusalem and to the idea of establishing a Jewish community in the city. The Hurva Synagogue was constructed and destroyed over and over again until it was finally completed in 1864. During the War of Independence in 1948, the Jordanian soldiers bombed the synagogue. Its reconstruction began after the Six-Day War, when the Jews came back to live in the Jewish Quarter. However, it did not officially reopen until 2010.

On Tuesday Evening, we had a Faces of Israel activity called Café Dilemma organized and run by the madrichim. We presented the students with different issues facing the Jewish community in the modern age and they had the chance to explore these complex issues. Some of the topics included the government’s position on non-orthodox conversion in Israel, anti-Semitism, and the refugee situation.

Eden Grossman said, “One of the dilemmas we discussed in this week’s activity made me realize that as Jews we should be more inclusive of others due to the fact that we have been persecuted for so many years. The madrichim turned our Ulam into a coffee house, and served us drinks and desserts and it was great to spend that time with our counselors and discuss these hard issues with them. Dilemmas that they know a lot about as they are Israeli and live these dilemmas on a daily basis.”

On Wednesday evening, the students had Parsha and Pizza with Rabbi Marc. This week we learned the Torah portion of Lech Lecha. It is an action-packed Parsha about the early life of Abraham and Sarah. We read of their leaving home in Mesopotamia and journeying to the land of Canaan. They encounter famine, war and rivalry. Sarah is also barren and jealous of her handmaid Hagar who has had a child with Abraham called Yishmael. The portion ends with God making a covenant with Abraham, promising him descendants greater in number than the sand or the stars. This covenant is affirmed through the act of circumcision, which Abraham performs on himself, his son and his servants. The group had a lively conversation about the reasons for Jews performing Brit Milah – a central ritual for most Jews. We also spoke about why God tells Abraham that his children will go on to be slaves in Egypt and what this reveals about the nature of history and autonomy.

This week on Selah we went on a Tanach Tiyul to the ancient city of Shiloh. Shiloh appears many times in the Bible, particularly in the books of Joshua, Judges and Samuel. For hundreds of years Shiloh was the site of the Mishkan – the central place of worship for the Jewish people until the Temple was built by Solomon. We toured the site with Rabbi Marc guiding us as he had previously led a couple of workshops on the topic. As Shiloh is the site of one of the most famous prayers in Jewish history – Chana, mother of Samuel the Prophet – we held a prayer session of chanting, singing and calling out to God. Shiloh is also the place where Joshua divided the land by lottery to the different tribes. To honor this we ran our own lottery – each student received a city, town or region from the country, which they have to visit between now and the end of the semester. We ended the day with an extended mosaic making activity. Ask your children for a photo – they made some beautiful artwork.

This week we also ended our first round of One-on-Ones. Rabbi Marc met with each student to talk about their Jewish background and experiences, family life and asked each person to set some Jewish goals for the year. Thursday saw us back at our Learning Space. We had Chevruta time, breakfast, classes and conversations that were inspiring. We ended the day in the Shuk for an exercise together with two of their teachers that involved going around the market buying things for Shabbat and getting vendors and people to say ‘Shabbat Shalom’. Tomorrow (Friday) we head off to Raanana for a Shabbaton. We are staying with Anglo families who have made Aliya from around the world and we are taking part in a community youth meal along with over a hundred Israeli young people and children.

Next week we will be going on a three-day seminar at Kibbutz Ketura. We can’t wait to tell you all about it!!

As well, the student Micah Gonchar will be starting the Marva Military Program next week and we wish him Behaztlacha (Good Luck!). We are excited to cheer him on and support him throughout this two-month experience!

To see more photos from our trips and activities, check out our Facebook and Instagram pages!

All the best,