gap year in israel

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Dear Parents & Students,

What a week! Between a three-day seminar in the desert and rain finally falling in Jerusalem, it has been busy and exciting.

Ready to hear all about it? Here we go!

The highlight of the week was our 3-day Ketura Seminar.

On Sunday morning, bright and early at 6:00 am, we departed to Kibbutz Ketura, which is in the south of Israel in the Arava desert, 30 min from Eilat (the southernmost city in Israel). Click here to see exactly where the kibbutz is located. It took us nearly 4 hours to get there and from an Israeli perspective, that is a long time!!

We began with a walking tour around the Kibbutz followed by a delicious lunch in the Kibbutz dining room. Then we gathered together (both the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem Aardvark groups) for a glimpse of what life is really like for a member of a communal kibbutz. The students were split into small groups, and each group was appointed as a committee with a scenario they needed to discuss and come up with a solution for. Committees such as Education, Finance, Culture, Food, and Ritual govern communal life on kibbutz. The scenarios given to the students were based on actual situations that happened at Ketura and neighboring kibbutzim. The discussions were interesting to hear and several of the groups came to the same conclusions as the kibbutzim.

Gabriella Richards said, “The tour of the Kibbutz was really nice. It was interesting to see and walk around the Kibbutz and learn how it has changed through the years. It’s amazing to see such an interesting and unique lifestyle alive today in the Kibubtzim.”

Our next session was a panel discussion with students from Ketura’s Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. In addition to being a top-notch place of learning, the Institute is unique as its student body includes Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Americans, and students from other countries as well. It was enlightening to hear about the dialogue between them that is unrelated to politics.

After sunset, the Kibbutz staff arranged a BBQ for all of us next to the pool. We had good meat (and good options for vegetarians), great music, and amazing people to hang out with. Late at night, Rabbi Marc offered a Parsha and Snacks session outside under the night sky.

On Monday morning, we started our day bright and early (at 6 o’clock again!) for different Kibbutz activities.

There was a choice of desert art activities including a hike up the mountains neighboring the kibbutz to enjoy the view of the kibbutz from above, mud building, decoupage, candle making, oil painting, or a tour/volunteering in the experimental orchards.

Simon Schiller said, “The hike was amazing because we got an amazing view of the valley that Kibbutz Ketura lies in. We got to see the desert and the Jordanian mountains and we even got to do some rock climbing during the hike. It was hard to start the hike so early in the morning, but it was worth it!”

Noam Aharon said, “I love kibbutz life because everyone is together as one, sharing and working together. We also got to splash around and have fun swimming in the pool as well as paint in the desert, I feel like the next Picasso“

On Monday afternoon, after having time to relax together, we headed out to the Kasui Sand Dunes. The students went crazy when they saw the opportunity waiting for them in the sand! They were jumping, digging, wrestling, rolling, and running in the soft sand. Some of the group did back flips and surfing – it was such fun to watch.

Yoni Ben-Naim said, “It was amazing to run around in the sand and take in how incredible nature is. I have never felt so mindful of myself, my surroundings and the holy land.”

After everyone had used up their energy, some of the students used the time to pick a spot to be alone and reflect on their experience in the desert. Each student was given a piece of paper with some text to read and a few questions to answer about their experience. At the end of twenty minutes of complete silence in the sandy wilderness, the Madrichim gathered their students to share some of their writings and reflections.

Another group of students took the initiative to prepare a Spiritual Prayer program in the dunes. Through song and personal reflection, everyone was able to truly connect with themselves and their surroundings. Something about being surrounded by a vast desert and Jewish prayer in all of its forms really makes you stop and reflect on life. It was incredibly moving and powerful and we couldn’t be more proud of the leadership skills our students have.

Back at the Kibbutz, we were treated to a fun Middle Eastern dinner, where we even had the opportunity to make our own pita bread.

This was followed by a memorial ceremony for Aardvark’s founder and former director, Keith Berman z’’l. Keith passed away suddenly and tragically four years ago immediately after the Ketura seminar. Keith loved Israeli dancing and so we had an evening of Rikudei Am (Israeli folk dancing) as a fitting tribute to Keith’s memory and legacy. We danced and danced until it was so late that we had to shut down the music so people could sleep!

On Tuesday, we were once again given the choice of Yoga or a bike ride. The bike ride was around the kibbutz and through the date orchards. One of the highlights was being able to stop along the Jordanian Border. The yoga group were able to meditate in the Kibbutz’s fields and really be in-tune with their feelings and emotions while enjoying the peacefulness of the early morning.

We finished the seminar with a fun game called ‘Schnitzelborscht’ that focused on knowledge of Israel. The competition was intense but everyone had a great time whether they won or lost.

Hannah Saban said, “We had to go from station to station and we learned a lot more about Israel, which is so important because Israel is my home this year (and maybe in the future). It got very competitive. It was also very fun to see how much we already knew as individuals and as a group.”

To finish our three days together, we held a ‘Mensch Ceremony.’ About a month ago, we held a session with the students where we discussed what it truly means to be a mensch, how it can help influence the community, society, and all the people around us. A mensch is not only a person who has a good character, but also a person who uses their character to influence their surroundings positively.

Each city (Jerusalem and Tel Aviv) chose four students, who over the last month have shown these qualities and have contributed to the community as a whole. From Jerusalem, we had Ethan Harkavy, Rachel Popky, Adiel Davis, and Gina Lewis. These four students helped an elderly couple dismantle their Sukkah following the holiday of Sukkot and when the couple offered them payment they refused and replied that they just wanted to help. We couldn’t be more proud of our students!!

Internship in the Spotlight:

When I saw Lady Morgana on the list of internships I jumped at the opportunity. I love art and sparkly things so a jewelry making internship was perfect for me. Day to day I travel between the store and the studio, sometimes making new pieces, sometimes just cleaning and organizing. So far I’m having a great time and my boss is an absolute angel! Just today I tried on a headpiece she calls Lu-lu’s and she said it looked so nice in my hair she thought I should keep it! I’m grateful to have an internship that keeps me busy and a boss that makes me feel useful and beautiful! – Tova Brocco

Next week, we are back to the regular schedule of volunteering, internships and classes. We will also be visiting Yad Vashem and Har Herzl on Tuesday for our weekly Siyur.

Wishing everyone a restful and peaceful weekend!

All the best,