gap year in israel

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Dear Parents,

Here in Israel it has been a packed week including both Memorial Day and Independence Day. Marking these days, the students felt the unification of the country during this special time. Here are the highlights from this week (which was almost every day this week).

Ready? Here we go:

On Sunday evening at our apartment meetings, the Madrichim helped the students prepare for the emotional week ahead. We discussed what was going to be happening all over Israel and how as Israelis, we turn the sadness into happiness. How we, each and every one of us, can make a difference no matter how small and what it means to truly be a part of the Israeli family we have become over the past few months.

The Mind and Body group went to Natal. A center that provides treatment and support nationwide for psychological trauma resulting from terror and war. The students were able to learn about different traumas and the treatment methods used in the center. Visiting during this week in particular, where we marked Yom Hazicharon, was very important because the students were able to see another side of the effects from the ongoing struggle with our enemies.

On Monday evening, after a long day of internships and classes, we found ourselves in the Sultan’s Pool, participating in a big Jerusalem Municipality ceremony celebrating 70 years of the State of Israel. The first part of the ceremony consisted of official dignitaries along with a concert from Israeli singers. We concluded the event by taking part in a march into the Old City and to the Kotel. While there, we prayed as one big nation, danced and sung, with many other Masa participants and local Israeli citizens.

On Tuesday morning we all met at the Moadon for the first Yom Hazicharon activity. We watched a documentary together called “When The Smoke Clears”, a movie by Jerusalem University about three Israeli soldiers who were wounded during their military service. The movie showed us another angle of Yom Hazicharon, about the challenges soldiers face when they try to recover from injury. It was both fascinating and emotionally hard watching the soldiers tell their stories of how they were injured, the friends they lost, and the struggle that will remain with them for the rest of their lives. After watching the movie we split into groups and each Madrich ran a short activity with his group. After a short discussion about the movie, the Madrichim asked the students some difficult questions regarding the topic of sacrifice. For example one of the questions was, “The term casualties of war refers to both dead and wounded, yet we usually focus on the former. How is the sacrifice of the living wounded different and why should we keep them in mind as well?” I have to admit that is was fascinating to hear the students talk amongst themselves on such an emotionally loaded topic.

We finished the activity with a classic Yom Hazicharon poem called the “Silver Platter”. If you want to read the lyrics please click here.

On Tuesday evening we went to Latrun for a special Yom HaZikaron ceremony organized by Masa and attended by several thousand people on different programs. The ceremony was very moving. Natan Sharansky, human rights activist, author, Israeli politician, and refugee from the Soviet Union during the 1970s and 1980s, who spent nine years in Soviet prisons, shared a few words. Naftali Bennet, the Minister of Education and Diaspora, was a representative for the government. We then heard stories about seven different fallen soldiers and victims of terror including Ezra Schwartz, and Michael Levin. Both were participating in MASA programs. All of Israel was mourning and came together as one to remember the lives taken. You can click here to watch the ceremony via Facebook

Rudi Sukiennik said, “I found the Yom Hazikaron ceremony at Latrun incredibly moving. I think it is so important to acknowledge the many people who have given their lives to ensure the freedom of Israel, the Israeli people, and Jews worldwide.”

On Wednesday morning we went to the Kiryat Shaul Military Cemetery in the north of Tel Aviv. We took some flowers with us, as well as memorial candles and “Yizkor” stickers to give to the bereaved families and people at the cemetery. There we witnessed a powerful display of Israeli brotherhood. So many people gathered on that important day to honor the fallen soldiers and to support the bereaved families. After a short time walking around and talking with soldiers and families, we all stood up for the Yom Hazicharon siren. Avigdor Liberman the minister of defense gave a speech and the Misdar Kavod (soldiers performing a military ceremony march) gave a gun salute for the memory of everyone lost to wars and terror attacks. It was meaningful to be able to integrate with all the people who came to the service at the cemetery, soldiers, students from youth movements and people that buried their loved ones, we really felt a part of something big.

Independence Day began on Wednesday evening! The transition from Yom HaZikaron to Yom HaAtzmaut was such a cultural shock. The day changed from one of the saddest days of the year to one of the happiest. It felt almost immediate.

On the day of Yom HaAtzmaut (Thursday), all of Israel goes out to parks to have BBQ with their friends and families. Luckily, so did we. Aardvark hosted a wonderful BBQ in Tel Aviv, full of music, tons of food, and good company.

Bailey Karrel said, “This was an incredible week. We got to attend a memorial ceremony for fallen soldiers and then visit the military cemetery. We also got to celebrate Israel’s 70th birthday the next day. It was so meaningful and such a great experience.”

This weekend, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, joined for a Shabbaton and celebrated the first weekend after Independence Day as one community. We started on Friday, hiking in Derech Burma, which is one of the main roads connecting Jerusalem and is historically one of the roads that helped Israel win the War of Independence. After hiking and eating lunch together, we arrived at our hostel and prepared for Shabbat.

Shabbat celebrations started with a musical Kabbalat Shabbat with dancing and singing. It was an incredible way for all of us to bring in the Shabbat as one program. From there, we separated into 4 optional prayer groups: Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and Secular. We are so lucky to bring Jews from all different walks of life together and to learn about their different perspectives on Judaism and their customs. We enjoyed a very festive dinner and had an interactive discussion about huge life questions in small groups. We ended the night with an Oneg Shabbat filled with snacks and games.

We woke up on Shabbat morning feeling refreshed. We split into alternative Tefillah prayer options: Limmud, art as prayer, finding God in nature, Jewish meditation and exercise, and letters to God. In our groups, we learned how Tefillah doesn’t necessarily need to come from a prayer book but can come from other places and inspirations as well. Following that, we had a panel called, “Everything you wanted to know about your staff but were too afraid to ask”. The students asked questions about Israel, the army, the program, and Zionism. After a hearty lunch, we had a few hours to hang out and chill.
As we finished Menucha time, ten students were asked to prepare 10-minute talks about different topics related to their time in Israel. The topics included food, army, religion, people, chutzpah, start-ups, politics, minorities, geography, and more. It was insightful to hear from the students and their perspective on these subjects and their time spent in Israel. The next session was an elective session lead by our senior staff, about Shabbat and its values. The students came away with a different understanding of the multiple perspectives of Shabbat.

We concluded our afternoon with Chugim (relaxing fun and games) and the students were able to choose between Krav Maga, soccer and basketball, board games, and so much more. Our Shabbat concluded with Seudah Shlishit and a musical Havdalah lead by our students.

Shlomi Efergan said, “The Shabbaton was honestly one of the best experiences of the semester. It’s nice to feel close to both Aardvark groups and have a weekend full of making memories that we will never forget.”

Until next week,



Gap year in israel - aardvarkisrael