gap year in israel

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Dear Parents,

This week on Aardvark Tel Aviv we continued exploring our monthly topic of multiculturalism in Israel. It was a packed week in which we learned a lot, and even started to prepare for the upcoming holiday of Chanukah.

Before I tell you about this week, I would like to tell you a bit about the Selah Shabbaton which some of our students attended last weekend.

The Shabbaton took place at Kibbutz Hanaton. We toured the Kibbutz on Friday afternoon and learned about the challenges faced by the community in maintaining a pluralist framework – how to run the synagogue when not everyone is egalitarian, community events around food when people have different standards of kosher, how should education happen with conflicting ideologies? We dressed for Shabbat and had an introductory session with Rabbi Sara Brandes, from the Or HaLev Center for Spirituality and Meditation, who led us into Shabbat with prayer, song, and chant. We took part in Kabbalat Shabbat together with 200 other people and had a wonderful Shabbat meal. Students led us in making HaMotzi, singing songs and Birkat HaMazon. We had an incredible, fun and meaningful Oneg Shabbat with a ton of snacks and listened to students tell Hassidic stories and give a Dvar Torah. We played games and had a great activity where we were able to interview God! After a late night playing board and card games, we began late on Shabbat morning with Kiddush and breakfast before splitting into two classes, one meditation, the other a text study before lunch. Rabbi Marc’s wife Miriam is an academic in the field of Jewish philosophy and she taught the group about pluralism in Jewish philosophy. Shabbat ended with a panel of kibbutz members, Seuda Shlishit, and a closing activity run by the counselors

On Sunday Daniel and Avia ran discussions in their apartment meetings about the “Beauty Standard”. The ways in which society sometimes dictates to us how to behave and act, especially in regards to gender, and the difference between how men and women are presented by the media, such as in movies and commercials. At the end of the discussion, the students reached the conclusion that they need to break these paradigms and become their own model and example for the next generation.

Ellie Leybengrub said, “We sat down to talk about society’s challenge about perceptions of beauty, and with that we started to work on creating our own individual view of perfection. It made me feel more secure in who I am and what I thought made me beautiful. I realized that just because you see it doesn’t mean its beauty. Beauty comes from within and you will never see that in a magazine”.

On Monday evening we had a wonderful workshop building Chanukiyot from ceramic and clay. The students met in the Moadon and sat around the table ready to utilize their creativity to make beautiful Chanukiyot in order to use them in two weeks’ time in their apartments. After a short explanation from a ceramic artist who came to guide the workshop, the students began building their Chanukiyot. After an hour and a half, the results were amazing and we can’t wait to get our Chanukiyot back after they have been fired in a ceramic oven.

Mia Solomon said, “I thought the activity was very hands-on and gave us the opportunity to be creative and imaginative. I also liked how we all got to socialize and talk because it made the activity a lot more fun and interactive. Overall, I thought it was great and I really enjoyed it.”

On Tuesday morning, our tour was in the south part of Tel Aviv, where we learnt about another group and their conflict in Israeli society. We started the tour in Neve Sha’anan, then proceeded to the Central Bus Station and ended at the BINA Secular Yeshiva. In Neve Sha’anan, we learned about the neighborhood’s history, from the beautiful menorah-shaped district the founders hoped to build, to how it ended up the poverty-ridden neighborhood it is today.

At the Central Bus Station we explored the station’s unused lower floors and learned how, similar to Neve Sha’anan, the station has colossally underachieved its potential. We learned that these two stories are intertwined. The 25-year building process of the Central Bus Station continuously disrupted and bothered the residents of Neve Sha’anan, driving those with money to find a new area to live.
At the BINA Secular Yeshiva, we had the opportunity to hear from and engage with an asylum-seeker from Sudan. He told us his story and answered our questions about his struggles and successes.

Joe Porter said, “I particularly enjoyed this Tiyul because Neve Sha’anan is, location-wise, not far from our apartments in Florentine. Socioeconomically, however, it is almost in another world. It was fascinating to learn how the development processes of a neighborhood so close to ours were so radically different. On a similar note, I’ve been through the Central Bus Station quite a few times but never knew about its rich (and costly) history. These stories, along with the asylum seeker’s tales about his difficult journey toward finding a safe life, left me knowing much more about Israeli society than I did when the day began.”

This week in Parsha and Pizza, we focused on the Torah portion of Vayishlach. The week’s reading tells us of the encounter between Jacob and his twin Esau. Twenty years have passed since Jacob took his brother’s blessing and since Esau vowed to kill him. We find Jacob terrified. He sends gifts to his brother to try to appease him. He prays to God for help. Finally, he divides his camp, thinking strategically that if one half of his family is attacked, the others would survive. Finally, Jacob remains alone in the night and an angel appears who fights with him. They wrestle throughout the night and neither one can defeat the other. As the dawn rises, Jacob demands a blessing from the angel and has his name changed from Jacob to Israel. The verse explains (Genesis 32:29) the name is because Jacob ‘struggled with God and prevailed’. This is the origin of our name as the people of Israel and our beloved country, the State of Israel. It is remarkable to think that we are identified as people that wrestle, struggle and challenge God. That Judaism takes effort and can sometimes even be scary. Ultimately though, we are blessed with the power to prevail and to succeed. We are full of hope. Rabbi Marc also told us a number of legends, ancient and modern which try to understand who the angel was. He finished off the activity by playing a beautiful song by Yonatan Raziel based on the prayer that Jacob offered before his fight with the angel. The song was very popular and even won song of the year in 2013. It was written after Raziel’s young daughter recovered from a serious injury. 

On Wednesday evening, we had a “Faces of Israel” activity at the Moadon. As I mentioned above, this month’s topic is “Multiculturalism in Israel” and this week we heard from a speaker who told us about what it is like to be both religious and LGTB. She also spoke about her involvement with the Israeli government and how she is fighting to legalize gay marriage. Her story was fascinating, inspiring and through it, we were able to understand some of the difficulties arising from being a part of the pride community in Israel.

Michal Wolman said, “Zehorit’s story is one that is touching and impactful but one that should not be ignored or taken lightly. Her inspiration comes from her courage and unapologetic nature to be her true authentic self. From coming out later in her life to founding the first all-inclusive LGBTQ orthodox synagogue in Israel, everyone can learn valuable lessons from Zehorit and her bravery.”

On Thursday, we had an amazing Thanksgiving dinner led by our culture committee. Each apartment brought a dish to the table and the staff brought a giant turkey for our students to cook. The committee prepared some fun games to play after dinner and we were able to see an amazing American tradition. For some of us it was a chance to connect to a different culture, which many students come from, and for the rest, it just felt like a small taste of home.

Next week the China trip begins and the rest of the group will continue with their normal routine, including a special tour to “Mecorot HaYarkon” where there is a beautiful hike and a great field cooking session.

Shabbat Shalom,



Gap year in israel - aardvarkisrael