gap year in israel

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Dear Parents & Students,

This was our second week of the program, and it was AMAZING!!!

We began on Sunday with a session about academic lessons and the different classes we have to offer here on Aardvark. We also had a session about the importance of Internships and Volunteering.

The students then had free time to clean their apartments and cook food for dinner after which each of the apartments had a meeting with their madrich or madricha. During these meetings, the madrichim check the apartment’s cleanliness, go over the weekly schedule, and run an activity for the students.

This week focused on the students’ expectations individually and as an apartment. In Hebrew the word for pillow cover is “Tzipiot” and it is also the word for expectations. The madrichim gave each student a pillow cover on which to write his or her expectations for the semester.

On Monday we woke up bright and early and began our internships and volunteering! While some students began their internships this week, others participated in group volunteering activities while awaiting their interviews that will occur over the next week. The students worked on a range of activities including planting at the Gazelle Valley, picking up litter and beautifying Lifta, and helping with the campaigns for the election of a new mayor of Jerusalem, which will take place in October.

Hadassa Abrahams said, “It was incredible to plant in the Gazelle Valley and meet the locals who work there, but it was even more incredible cleaning up Lifta. It was so fulfilling making the place I now call home beautiful again.”

We had our first Ulpan (Hebrew) class and everyone came out speaking more Hebrew words than they did when they went in! Then we started our other classes. The students are able to take classes on Politics, Midrash, Chassidut, and The Art of Reading and Writing.

On Monday evening, we offered bowling as an optional night activity and we had so much fun that the students already want to go bowling together again. Noam Aharon said, “Even though it was an optional activity, we all showed up to go bowling. It was an awesome way to continue bonding as a group and with our madrichim.”

On Tuesday, once everyone was awake and ready for the day, we had a session on Israeli Culture and what makes it unique. Osnat Lautman, an accomplished researcher, author, and lecturer, ran the session. Osnat has carried out extensive research on the differences between Israeli and non-Israeli business cultures.

We then headed out to the Old City of Jerusalem on a SEGWAY TOUR!!!!! For many of us this was our first time on a Segway and it was a little bit scary, but we got the hang of it and it was a novel way to see the Old City. We learned about the different quarters, such as the Jewish quarter, the Muslim quarter, the Christian quarter and the Armenian quarter. From there we Segwayed to King David’s grave, and paid tribute to one of the Jewish Kings. We also saw the Churva Synagogue that has been rebuilt 4 times over the years. We then had some free time to walk around Mamilla Mall. Saul Barnett said, “It was really nice to see the Old City in an alternative way, it’s a place we always visit, but this was a new way of seeing the history in the walls. We also challenged ourselves and learned how to do something new. I think this is a really great way to start off the New Year, by learning how to do something we’ve never done before.”

To conclude the day, our madrichim prepared an amazing Rosh Hashanah Seder with all of the traditional foods (and some nontraditional ones). We wrote our goals and fears for the year, the things we want to contribute to the group, and the things we are aiming to accomplish, on colored pieces of paper and then placed them all around the room. We dressed up in our best attire and took photos while singing along to popular Israeli songs. There also was a pool filled with water, and we wrote a character trait or something we want to throw away this year on a soap pod and then watched as the soap dissolved in the water.

Barri Miller said, “Even though I’ve only known everyone for 2 short weeks, everyone already feels like my family.”

This week our Selah group began their activities. Selah is Aardvark’s Jewish Identity track and it offers our students the chance to engage in Jewish exploration through a series of weekly interactive activities and Shabbat programs. This week the group met Rabbi Marc and his family at their home for Seuda Shlishit – a late Shabbat afternoon meal – and heard all about what is in store for them this year. On Monday, the group had its first Tanach Tiyul – every month Selah goes on a walk around a historic site or hiking trail that connects to a famous biblical story. This week we reenacted the entry of Joshua and the Jewish people to the Land of Israel with a stone-art activity and while walking and bonding as a group, we read a text about Abraham’s ancient walks through the land. It gave us the opportunity to speak about Israelis today and how much they love to hike in nature.

On Wednesday night we held our first Parsha and Pizza of the semester. This is an optional evening activity that runs throughout the year. Rabbi Marc introduces the main outline of the weekly Torah portion that is read in synagogues that week and while the students eat and enjoy some free pizza, the group discusses and learns about themes and ideas that interest them. This week we read the portion of Nitzavim and had a lively conversation about free will, choices and consequences in life. We noticed that the Torah mentions the gathering of the exiles and we looked at the different backgrounds and ethnic groups that make up Israeli society. The group was keen to ask questions about the afterlife, heaven and hell, and the Messiah too! It was a very memorable way to begin the year.

On Thursday Selah set out to the Israel Museum for a ‘Selah Tour’. This was a special activity in which each student was randomly assigned an exhibit or artifact from the museum grounds, and then had to tell a story about how they connect with their Judaism. We heard about people’s favorite holidays, family histories, life-cycle events, and personal milestones, all while touring the art and archaeology and seeing the Dead Sea scrolls. Everyone took part and it was very moving. Thank God, we have been blessed with a wonderful group of students this year and we continue to grow as more students opt in to join the Jewish fun!

I want to wish everyone a Shana Tovah U’Metuka!

All the best,