gap year in israel

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Dear parents,

We are getting closer to the end of the program, and therefore this week was dedicated to activities focused on reflecting on our time here and saying goodbye.

After a whole year or semester on Aardvark, we have very much reached the point where everyone feels like family. Living together and gaining so many experiences as a group makes this week and the next extremely challenging. They are a mixture of joy and sadness, for this amazing time together which is reaching its ending.

On Sunday the students met with their Madrichim for an apartment meeting. In the meeting, the Madrichim summarized the semester and helped the students to prepare for the last week, both emotionally and logistically wise.

On Monday the mind and body group had a wonderful board game workshop about Positive Psychology. The leader of the workshop created a board game, which helps the participants in the game to understand the methods of Positive Psychology and also to make use of those methods in the game.

In the evening we met in a very special place called Mitcham Hathachana. In the orientation week at the beginning of the semester, we arrived at that special place and did an activity that involved writing letters to ourselves. Therefore there was no better place to open those letters than at the same spot where they were written.

When the students arrived at the location they all sat down next to their letter and a small empty notebook with their name on it. After reading the letters, the students had to choose a few small pictures from different activities that were laying on the ground and give a picture to a friend with a nice blessing. Later on, the students exchanged notebooks with one other and wrote some memories for safekeeping as a souvenir.

On Tuesday morning we strolled to HaYarcon Park Yehoshua Gardens for an amazing Outdoor Training workshop. The goal for the day was to see how the bonds that have been formed in the group could assist in dealing with the challenges of the workshop. The students had to work together gaining mutual trust and corporation in order to complete each task. For example, in one station they needed to tie ropes around a bottle of water and fill up 13 cups lying in a defined area without entering the area. Another mission was to guide a blindfolded friend who through the terrain and different kinds of obstacles.
I’m proud to say that the group was absolutely incredible during the activity. They have shown some high-level teamwork and planning methods, they were communicating throughout the entire process and completed all of the tasks within the given time.

The students had a really good time and also got the chance to recognize their abilities as a group and see the way those abilities have evolved over the last semester.

Rose Schimmel said“The ODT was a great way to end the year. I had a group that worked really well together and saw just how much trust we’d developed over the past months. I’m going to miss my Aardvark friends so much!”

Parsha and Pizza came to an emotional end this week as well. Rabbi Marc surprised everyone by taking the group to a nearby restaurant where he gave a few comments about the book of Bamidbar that we are about to start reading this Shabbat. As it was the last week the students were encouraged to ask Rabbi Marc any questions they wished and a lively discussion took place surrounding the Rabbi’s views on topics as diverse as Israel, feminism, suffering and the messiah. For so many students Parsha and Pizza has been a staple part of their week. Rabbi Marc told us that he knows a lot of people initially came for the pizza, but after weeks of learning and conversations, it is true that most people were now coming for the Parsha too – an amazing accomplishment!

Wednesday morning was our last day of academic classes and internships. in the morning the students went to their volunteering places for the last time to say goodbye. Some came back with recommendation letters, and some places called us to give good feedback about our students. Later, for the academic classes, our teachers had a summarizing lesson and a nice party with snacks and some ice cream.

The Mind and Body group went to Modiin to a place called the Adam and Eve Farm where they learned about medicinal herbs and about the healthy natural lifestyle of the people who volunteer on the farm.

On Wednesday evening, we gathered for Aardvark’s final ceremony. As you can imagine it was truly meaningful. One student from each city was chosen to share their experiences of the year/semester, a few students performed musical numbers, and there was also a wonderful slideshow of the whole year. Three of our own Tel Aviv students, Lielle Agosin, Mikey Szabo and Dina Newstadt, performed a beautiful song together in perfect harmony. All of the speeches were inspiring and I have included a portion of one of them to give you a taste.

Lexee Gordoun said: (and this is only a portion of it)

“The people I have met on Aardvark have got to be the most diverse, exotic and interesting bunch of people I have ever met. Initially, I was frightened by how crazy everyone was, but now it is exactly what I love about each of them.

So many of these people have become not only best friends, but a family to me, and for that, I am forever grateful.

I couldn’t even pinpoint the exact moment this happened, I’m sure a lot of you can relate, looking back on when you became so close with someone, and realizing it’s almost as if you just woke up, and they became your best friends.

But… if I had to pinpoint a moment that I realized I had a home and a family away from home, it was probably during all of the hikes, where we were sharing that intimate moments of sweating, and that realization of how unfit we are. It was truly special.”

Hannah Yaeli Rabinowitz also gave a beautiful speech. When I asked today how she felt at the ceremony she said, “The Tekes was an emotional rollercoaster looking back at the times we have had and looking forward at the memories we will make. I will sincerely miss everyone and be looking back at all the pictures and hearing our peers speak was honestly the most amazing thing to see how far we have come. Thank you aardvark for this opportunity.”

Shlomi Efergan said, “It’s been a life-changing year with lots of ups and downs that have shaped me into the person that I am now. I’ve gained friends for life and an experience that I will never forget.”

On Thursday morning we set off very early for a Masa Seminar called, “Conflict in Context: Back to Campus”. Going back home after a year in Israel, can be very difficult on so many levels. Our Aardvark staff have been helping us with the emotional aspect, and Masa held this day so that they could help prepare us for what is to come on college campuses. Between the BDS Movement and Anti-Israel Activists, this was a day to help us know how to answer and stand up for what it is we believe in.

We began the morning with a lovely breakfast spread and opening remarks and Q&A session with Mr. Dan Shapiro – the former U.S. Ambassador to Israel.

Next we had a session titled, “Check In & Check Out”, led by our staff, and focusing on different narratives from our year in Israel in terms of what we expected or didn’t expect and what the actual outcome was. Many students brought up the current political situation and how the situation here has them thinking more about what will be when they return home, and friends and family ask them what is really happening here.

We were then given the choice of numerous lectures, from ‘Cyber and its influence on the military challenges of Israel’ to ‘Prospects for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its resolution.’ Retired Brigadier General Shlomo Brom, head of the program on Israeli-Palestinian Relations, spoke to us about democracy and what would happen if everyone had equal rights in Israel.

For lunch, we sat in different groups on the grass, where we met with Masa Campus Ambassadors and on-campus organizations that we could become a part of when we go back to college in the States or elsewhere.

Following lunch, we once again split into different seminars on different topics from negative social media and TV to how to debate BDS properly. One of the speakers was Hen Mazzig. After 5 years of military service as a humanitarian officer in the IDF working in the West Bank to help Palestinian civilians as an openly gay commander, he started working to defend Israel around the world. He led an interactive workshop sharing his story and why Alan Dershowitz said that he is ‘BDS’s worst nightmare’. We discussed what BDS is, looked at case studies, and together we tried to crack the questions the pro-Israel community can’t answer.

After another workshop, we had a coffee break, and from there headed into our final session of the day. We had a panel with returning Emissaries, Israel Fellows on Campuses. They shared their experiences with us and told us about the hardest things they faced when they were on college campuses in America. They gave us a lot of advice for next year that was quite helpful and put us at ease.

The students who are staying in Israel for the year had a seminar as well. The seminar showed the students the differences between Israeli culture and other cultures around the world, and recommended tools and tips to help adjust to Israeli culture. Those of us who are staying in Israel for the army or college are so excited to continue living here and start that journey.

This week Selah ended its activities. It has been an amazing semester for the 16 participants. Rabbi Marc ran an extended reflection session on the last four and a half months of Jewish learning and growth; we watched a slideshow review and ate a celebratory final meal. Appropriately, we ended with a study session. Later in the week, Selah contributed an amazing poetry slam to the closing Tekes and then everyone was presented with certificates and a parting gift of either a Tanach or a Siddur. Rabbi Marc will write a separate farewell email to the parents.

As this weekend is Shavuot, one of the 3 Foot Festivals, we invited the students to join together for a festive meal. Over 15 students will be gathering late on Saturday night to eat together before heading to Rabin Square where they will be taking part in an all-night study program hosted by 5 separate Anglo communities based in Tel Aviv. This is one of the main customs of the holiday – to stay awake all night in anticipation of the receiving of the Torah at Sinai, which is what we recreate to this day.

Thousands of people will come together for a fascinating night of lectures and discussions about Israel and Judaism. And of course, eating lots of cheesecake!!

We go into this weekend exhausted from such a busy week, but feeling like we gained so much valuable knowledge.

We wish everyone a Happy and Healthy Shavuot (Saturday Night and Sunday)!!

We are very much looking forward to Shavuot and our last few days together next week.

All the best,