gap year in israel

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Dear Parents & Students,

Happy Sukkot! The entirety of Jerusalem was dressed in white for the holiday and we enjoyed the celebratory atmosphere. Here are the highlights from this holiday week:

For Tuesday afternoon’s trip, we took to students to one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Mishkenot Shananim. Mishkanot was the first neighborhood built outside of the walls of the Old City. An actor named Ariel led the tour and during it he took on the role of many different characters. First he was Sir Moses Haim Montefiore, 1st Baronet (24 October 1784 – 28 July 1885) who was a British financier and banker, activist, philanthropist and Sheriff of London. Montefiore was born to an Italian Jewish family; he donated large sums of money to promote industry, business, economic development, education and health among the Jewish community in Palestine, including the founding of Mishkenot Shananim in 1860, the first settlement of the New Yishuv. As President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, his correspondence with the British consul in Damascus, Charles Henry Churchill from 1841 to 42, is seen as pivotal to the development of Proto-Zionism. Next the actor became an old woman from Tripoli and for his final performance, he transformed into a Yemenite Jew who lived in the neighborhood, close to the Jordanian border, during the Six Day War. He spoke about the deep tensions on both sides of the border during that time.

Tristan Hecht said, “He taught us about how Mishkenot Shananim came to be in an entertaining and interesting way. We also learned about the history of the area through his multiple characters and their stories. He was very funny and kept us captivated and laughing throughout the entire tour. If only all tours could be like this.”

On Tuesday evening Shay-El (our assistant director) met us in the Ulam and ran an activity called “Being A Mensch”. The activity began with a short film about what it means to be a mensch and some of the students spoke about their ideas of what a mensch is. We then received a ‘Periodic Table’ of making Menschs. It showed us different attributes that make up a mensch, whether it be wisdom, courage, honor, justice, moderation, or transcendence. Each student received a magnetic piece of metal on which to write attributes that they already possess or want to develop this year. Everyone was very artistic and creative and took the activity seriously.

Holly Issenberg said, “I definitely knew what a mensch was before the activity, but now I have a deeper understanding of what it means. It really helped that we were given the opportunity to write down our positive qualities or the ones we want to work on. Sometimes it helps to write things down so we can see them and visualize them into actuality.”

We began Wednesday morning bright and early at the Birkat Kohanim (ברכת כהנים). This is the priestly blessing or priestly benediction, also known in rabbinic literature as the raising of the hands (nesiat kapayim) or Dukhanen (Yiddish from the Hebrew word dukhan, platform, because the blessing is given from a raised rostrum). It is a Hebrew prayer recited by Kohanim – the Jewish priests. According to Torah, they are descendants of Aaron, the first High Priest and older brother of Moses, and they have been divinely chosen to work in the tabernacle and assist the Israelites in blessings, ministering, sacrifices and atoning for their sins to God, for all eternity.

Even after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the practice has continued in synagogues, and today, in most Jewish communities, Kohanim bless the worshippers in the synagogue during special prayers. We were at the Kotel with at least 50,000 other people who also came to experience this.

Micah Gonchar said:

“Everyone there was praying, singing, and just being in the moment. At the part where the Kohanim give the Blessing, it was so quiet, even with so many people there, and all you heard were the Kohanim echoing throughout the entire Kotel Plaza. It was one of those experiences where you felt a part of the Jewish Community and part of something much much bigger than yourself.”

Internship in the Spotlight:

“Hi my name is Jillian Elman and I am from Cleveland Ohio. I am living in Jerusalem for Aardvark’s fall semester. My internship is at the Melabev Dementia Center. Usually I like to spend my time there getting to know the patients who are at various different stages of dementia. Patients who are in the later stages sometimes require help feeding themselves. At the other end of the spectrum, patients with mild forms of dementia don’t require that kind of attention. Many of the patients love music so as a musician I have a great time contributing my work to these lovely individuals! When I’m not playing music at Melabev, I’m listening to it because music therapists come to the facility daily. Every patient is so special and it is so interesting to learn about who they were, because even if they don’t remember, I will.”

This week’s Parsha and Pizza had a holiday theme as we sat in the Aardvark Sukkah together with Rabbi Marc. We had the chance to shake the Lulav and Etrog and learn about their symbolism as well as the secret meaning behind why we sit in the Sukkah. The group was treated to a lavish lunch of cheeses, pasta, salad and pizza to get into the holiday vibe. Rabbi Marc made a playlist of songs with the word ‘happy’ or ‘happiness’ for the group and played a number of them. We even sang a few Jewish songs about happiness. Being happy is one of the central themes of the Succot holiday and everyone who attended got involved in a powerful discussion about the nature of happiness, what makes us happy as people and whether our society is a happy place. We also heard about the story of the biblical book Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), which is attributed to King Solomon. It is a short work that makes us think about how to find the key to true happiness and meaning in this world. We ended with Rabbi Marc telling a Hassidic story and linking it to the famous song ”Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin.

Here is a Torah talk for the holiday by Barri Miller, who took the initiative to prepare a ‘Dvar Torah’ for Sukkot. She delivered the talk while sitting in the Sukkah on Thursday.

“Sukkot celebrates the gathering of the harvest and commemorates the miraculous protection G-d provided for the children of Israel when they left Egypt.

On each day of the festival (except Shabbat), we take the Four Species, recite a blessing over them, bring them together and wave them in all six directions: right, left, forward, up, down and backward. There are many ways people interpret why these four plants are used, but my favorite interpretation is that the sages of the Midrash tell us that the Four Species represent the various personalities that comprise the community of Israel, whose unity we emphasize on Sukkot.

So, what are the four kinds? Etrog, Lulav, Mertle, Willow.

How do they represent the unity of Israel?

Etrogs: They smell good and taste good
Lulav: It tastes good because it makes dates, but has no scent
Mertle: Smells good, but doesn’t have flavor
Willow: Neither tastes nor smells good

So, what does this all mean? Well, I didn’t just say that the four kinds taste and smell good for no reason. It has meaning. The taste represents a Jew’s devotion to the study of Torah, while the smell represents the mitzvahs of a Jew. All the four plants have different combinations like people. You may do the Mitzvah but not devote yourself to studying the Torah, like a Mertle. You may study Torah and do mitzvot like an Etrog. Or, you may not do either studying Torah and mitzvot like the willow.

This is what sukkot is all about. The gathering of all Jews no matter what you practice. It is a unity of all spectrums of Judaism. To me that is truly the magical part of sukkot.”

Shabbat Shalom and happy holiday,

Natali Basel

Gap year in israel - aardvarkisrael