I hope that you are all excited to see your children again. We, the Tel Aviv staff, have had a bittersweet 3 days since they left… It is so exciting to see the change and progress every single one of them made during the semester! But at the moment the office is so quiet… it feels unnatural! I’m waiting for someone to walk in and ask for a new light bulb, for directions, to make a cup of coffee or simply crash on the couch and announce that they are hungry. We’ll need to get used to this new loud silence until August when we welcome a new group to Israel.
The final few days of Aardvark brought much cleaning, packing, and tearful goodbyes. Let me tell you a secret, your children are not children anymore, they actually know how to clean…so please, make use of this information (but it didn’t come from us).
Yesterday the last group of students got in a taxi, drove to the airport and as of now, Aardvark is officially over!
On Sunday we all gathered for the final ceremony of the Aardvark year. As you can imagine it was really meaningful. Three students had been chosen to share their experiences from the year/semester, three students performed musical numbers, and there was also a wonderful slideshow of the whole year. Among the performers was Shira Goldsmith who sang and played guitar beautifully (she has an amazing voice!) All the speeches were inspiring and I have included a portion of one of them to give you a taste
Maya Weintraub, an amazing student, wrote: (This is only a part of it)
“This year in Israel has definitely been the most interesting, fun, and challenging year of my life, and I would not change anything about it. Looking back on my time here, I am glad that I had the chance to experience difficulties as I came out stronger because of them. While the good times I had will always be a memory I am grateful for. Because of Aardvark, Israel isn’t just a place to visit anymore for us, it will always be a second home to come back to. “
Debbie, the Aardvark Director, also shared some personal wisdom about the process of returning to “real” life after a gap year. Part of it explains the difficulty of expressing such an incredible experience to people who didn’t share the journey with you:
“As you’re driving away from the airport, your parents will turn to you smiling, thrilled that you are home healthy and in one piece, and they will ask you one question, “so, how was it?” And, there will be so much to say, you will want to talk about love and loss and friendship and relationships, and you want to talk about the country of Israel and the people of Israel and the feeling you got standing on top of that mountain with your best friends on tiyul, and the music that you played in your rooms and the meals you learned to cook and the loneliness you felt at times and the way you felt when you gave and when you volunteered and when you learned…And let me tell you what your answer will be to your parents’ question: “so, how was it?” You will reply “yeah, it was alright.” “
I do believe it will take them some time to process what actually happen here for them (I’m still processing my Gap year…). They will need your help to ask the right questions. We, the senior staff, are still available to you for any questions or doubts – Don’t hesitate to use us, we have plenty of experience in this field. For now, I’ll just wish you good luck!
Whilst final preparations were underway for the students’ leaving we had a closing dinner at Garger HaZahav, a close-by Hummus restaurant where we had our first dinner all together at the beginning of January. It was a significant and emotional way to spend our last evening as a complete group and to look back on all the amazing memories we had shared.
To conclude, here are the thoughts of Pandora Yadgaroff:
‘Coming to Aardvark not knowing anyone else I was nervous about coming to a strange country with people from places I’d never been to. I expected to have a great time, and of course I did. But I never expected to come away a more independent, mature and interested person. I never expected to come away from the program with a family that hails from America, South Africa, Australia, Holland and so many other places. Once the difficulty of understanding each other’s’ dialects and accents passed I found things in common with people from the complete opposite side of the world as we bonded over our developing relationship with both Zionism and Judaism. I want to thank both Aardvark Staff and Students for such a fantastic semester!’ “
Thank you Pandora!
Finally, I want to thank all of you for being supportive of us throughout the semester. I know it’s not easy to send your child away from home for such a long time and I wanted to thank you for taking this leap of faith with us. You all gave us feedback over the phone when you spoke to your child’s madrich and we are taking everything you said into consideration in the planning of 2016-17. I can tell you that we tried our best to make this year as significant as it can be for your kids and I believe that we succeeded in achieving this goal. Let me know if you see something different in their eyes when they get back.
So, for the last time,
And Shabbat Shalom!