gap year in israel

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Dear parents,

It has been another full week packed with activities here on Aardvark Tel Aviv.

Here are some of the highlights:

On Sunday the Madrichim ran activities with their apartments. In the activity, the students were asked to start thinking about a little project that they would like to do for the closing ceremony of the program in two weeks’ time.

For this project, each student needs to write a six-word sentence that summarize his or her experience with Aardvark and chose one picture that relates to that sentence. In order to make it easier for the students to produce the most meaningful sentence possible, the Madrichim used reflection methods to help the students get the best results.

On Monday, after a day of volunteering and classes, the students went to the cinema together to watch an amazing movie called “Jungle”. The movie is about an Israeli adventurer and his friends on their journey in the Amazon. The students had a lot of fun and really enjoyed their time together in the cinema.

On Tuesday morning, we all left Tel Aviv and headed to the Negev desert. Our two-day excursion to explore the dream of modern Jewish pioneers in the southern region of Israel began with a tour of the Israeli Air Force Museum. The Israeli Air Force Museum is located in the open expanse of desert at the Hatzerim Air Force Base, and the local warplanes and training planes occasionally flying above the museum during the day provided great entertainment for us. The museum’s exhibits are mostly outdoors, with a few buildings dedicated to housing Air Force archives and artifacts. There is a small building that dissects the history of the IAF and highlights various missions and operations that have made the IAF into a legend in and of itself. Operations such as Entebbe and the aerial raids on Tunisia and Iraq’s fledgling nuclear facility in 1981. The historical leaders of the IAF are portrayed on a wall, with dates, photos, and trivia. Mock-ups and preserved items such as uniforms are on display, covering a segment of the IAF’s history.

After lunch from Holy Bagel, we continued south to Sde Boker, where we visited David Ben-Gurion’s grave and heard about his vision for developing the Negev, and its importance for the future of the state of Israel and the Jewish people. We learned about the difficult and influential decisions he made during his career such as declaring Israel’s independence when the chances of winning the 1948 war were grim, firing on the Altalena, which contained desperately needed arms for Israel, leaving the role of Prime Minister to pursue his passion of living and building up the Negev, and returning to be Prime Minister when the US- Israeli relationship was in jeopardy of irreversible damage.

From there, we headed to our beautiful hostel that overlooks Mitzpe Ramon. We arrived at the hostel and were astounded by the beauty of it all. The town of Mitzpe Ramon sits on the edge of the Ramon Crater in the Negev Desert of Southern Israel. A town of 3,000 people, it has a reputation in Israel of being a dusty backwater on the way south towards Eilat, however, in recent years Mitzpe Ramon has seen a renaissance with many new innovative and unique touristic businesses and attractions opening in and around the town.

We enjoyed a hearty dinner followed by a game organized by our staff called ‘Minute-to-Win-It’. It was an epic battle of boys against girls. Some of the challenges were balancing 7 Oreos on your forehead, launching rubber bands at a pyramid of coke cans, and trying to drop a Mentos into a soda bottle from way up high. Obviously, the girls were victorious!!

On the next day of the Tiyul, Wednesday, we gave the students two options for our morning hike:

  • The hard hike, which is called “Ein Avdat”
  • The harder hike, which is called “Snapir Gadol” (Big Flipper).

Some of the students were a little worried at the beginning, but they were all up for the challenge! And guess what? Everyone finished the hike and even had enough energy left to play some guitar and explore the colorful sands.

Efi Masliansky said, “Mitzpe Ramon, with its bright sun and enchanting landscapes is the perfect destination for the last overnight Tiyul. As we near the end of Aardvark, we get caught up in planning for college or Aliyah. We need a break to sit down and remember what we are on this program for – “Eretz Yisrael”. Taking in breathtaking views after an exhilarating hike is a major part of what Israel is all about. I always look forward to these Tiyulim, and as usual, I was not disappointed.”

Nathaniel Bitton said, “Seeing the colored sands at the end of the Hasnapir Hagadol hike and looking out at Mitzpe Ramon from the top of the cliff were two breathtaking views on all Tiyulim I have been on in Israel, it’s something I won’t forget.”

After a delicious lunch, we headed out to the Soda Stream Factory. Soda Stream is an Israeli manufacturing company best known as the maker of the consumer home carbonation product of the same name. The device, like a soda siphon, carbonates water by adding carbon dioxide from a pressurized cylinder to create soda water (or carbonated water) to drink. We heard from a woman named Debbie Rolnick, who told us about the history of Soda Stream and the controversy that surrounded them and the BDS movement. We each received a Soda Stream limited addition reusable bottle with images of Golda Meir, David Ben-Gurion, and Theodore Herzl printed on them. We proceeded to have a tour of the factory and saw how all the products are made.

Sadly, our two-day Negev trip ended.

Remy Carr said, “Having studied business in high school, we had learned much about the layout of factory business models but never saw it in practice. This is why seeing this process first hand at the Soda Stream factory was my highlight of the week as it showed in detail the thousands of moving parts within a business in order to create a product at a large scale.”

Will Oken said, “I really loved the Negev trip, coming back to Mitzpe Ramon and the desert was a great time, the hike was wonderful, and looking down on the whole dessert from the peak of colored sands was an image I’ll never forget. As Tiyulim go, we went out on a high note.”

This week has been a very busy one for Selah participants as we have had two very special night activities.

Last Thursday we journeyed to Kibbutz Maaleh HaChamisha where the Jewish Agency’s Summer Camp Seminar hosted us. Close to 1500 Israeli counselors are sent each year to Jewish summer camps around the States and this seminar prepares them for it. As part of their training, they have an activity called Circles of Identity, which involves over 20 rooms of exhibits and activities that help people understand the different components of our Jewish beliefs and practices and values. Selah was privileged to be invited to participate and we went to rooms as diverse as: Shabbat, Environment, Being a Mensch, the Army, Social Media, Jewish history, Music, God and many more.

On Monday we walked downtown to the Third Ear – Tel Aviv’s (and possibly Israel’s) largest music and film store. We hired a private cinema just for Selah and invited Itai Fleisher, Jewish educator, and film buff, to run a workshop and screening about Jews in Hollywood and the place of Jews in film and television. We took in many scenes from the Jazz Singer, Sex in the City, Glee and Curb Your Enthusiasm to name a few and had an amazing discussion about intermarriage, family, and tradition.

The highlight of the week was Wednesday when Selah left the Tiyul at lunchtime to embark on a 7-hour journey to the north of Israel for Lag BaOmer. We stayed over in the holy city of Tsfat. The purpose of the trip was to join with hundreds of thousands of people gathered on nearby Mount Meron for the largest Jewish party in the world for Lag BaOmer. We sang, ate, danced, saw bonfires, prayed and marveled at the throngs of men, women, and children from all walks of life (but mostly Hasidic) who come to mark the life and death of the holy sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. We got back to the hotel around 3 am (!) and on Thursday toured the Old City and Artist Quarter before ending with lunch at a Yemenite takeaway and a health juice bar.

Next week we will go to an Ethiopian agriculture farm to learn about the Ethiopian culture in Israel.

The Madrich on call for the weekend is Ilay.

On Saturday night, our next international trip, to Italy, will set off. I’m going with them and I’m sure we are going to have an amazing trip. I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

All the Best,

Eyal Haim