gap year in israel

Check out our social media to see what our students have been up to this past week!

Shalom Parents!

It is great to be back again 🙂
I hope your holidays were relaxing and meaningful.

Here are some of are highlights for the week – things were over the top here and there is plenty I want to share so make sure you are sitting comfortable.

Simhat Torah is one of the most happiest holidays in Israel. People are in the street, doing Hakafot and hearing the Shofar. Rabbi Mark took the students to the heart of a holiday celebration happening in Tzfat. A large group of students joined him. Ethan Ratnowsky reviewed the event:

” On Sunday, October 23rd, a group of about 20 students traveled to the ancient holy city of Tzfat. Here we experienced orthodox rituals none of us could previously imagine. For example, as soon as we arrived the boys and girls split up to perform their genders’ duties. The girls proceeded to make challah while the boys walked to a cave to do mikveh. Mikveh is when a man goes into a pool of holy water in the complete nude to replenish his soul and have a new start. After, we all came together for services of Simcha Torah, which were intense to say the least. At that point, the group proceeded a delicious dinner and a fun rikkud for the night. While performing all these strict rituals and traditions, it was still very relaxed and comfortable as we could drink beer and socialize. As the night came to an end, the rabbis held a Q&A for the students.

The next morning, we attended shul early in the morning which continued the pattern of the intense practice of Judaism. At that point we went to breakfast and rikkud which once again was super laid back and stress-free. Later in the day the students went on a tour of the city. One group embarked on a standard walk around town and joined services at local temples while others journeyed to an ancient cave used by the Ottoman Empire during their reign of the region. Other than the cave being dark and spooky, it was rich with history and enigmatic. As the tours were coming to an end, the sun was setting for the night. The sight was astonishing due to Tzfat being high in elevation, towering over neighboring towns, and the mountain landscape in the background. “

Thank you Ethan!

On Tuesday morning (6:00 am) the whole Aardvark family departed to Kibbutz Ketura. It is a kibbutz located in the southern Arava – 30 min north of Eilat, Israel’s most southern city. click here to view a map of the Kibbutz’s location. It can take 3-4 hours on the bus to get to Kibbutz Ketura and from an Israeli perspective that’s a cross country trip!

The day began with a walking tour of the Kibbutz and a hot lunch. The Kibbutz staff then offered a variety of lectures and workshops for the students. For example: “Judaism and Environment” or “Mud building workshop” etc. (attached is the schedule of the seminar if you are interested).

After the optional workshops, we were all gathered together, the students from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, to get a glimpse of life on a communal Kibbutz. The students divided into small groups, and each group formed a “committee” in the Kibbutz, i.e.- a culture committee, a financial committee, a “secret” committee, etc. The students were then tasked to make decisions based on complicated situations, situations taken from real life experiences either from Kibbutz Ketura or from other surrounding Kibbutzim.

After sunset, the Kibbutz staff organized a BBQ next to the pool. Good food, good music and friends. What more could we want?

The next day was amazing! Here is the highlgiht from that day by Max Landesma:

“Yesterday, we took a tiyul (trip) to the Kasui sand dunes, where after a short group activity we dug, buried, flipped, played, marveled, and barbecued the night away. Immediately coming off the bus, our tour guide took us over what seemed to be an endless expanse of stones, brush, and beetles. We reached a small patch of fine sand and the guide said, “Well. We made it. Make sure to avoid the rocks on all sides.” Of course, he was joking. A few more minutes hike and we came over a hill looking over dunes of gorgeous orange-gold sand.

Our guide gave us each a slip of paper and a pencil, stating not to open the paper until he says so. We all spread over the dunes for a few minutes of silent self-reflection. Looking around, I saw the entertained faces of my friends playing with the sand, burying our feet and legs, and the stunned faces of other comrades just staring over the great expanses of the Negev. I don’t remember the prompts, but after about fifteen minutes to reflect on them, our guide called us back into a circle to share what we said. Some of us had amusing responses, referring to our memories so far on our Aardvark gap semester or year. Others took time to explain what they reflected on in our silent time, going over their opinions of the desert being an obstacle or a time to think and reflect on oneself.

When the metaphorical talking stick came to me, I gave a recap of what I saw in the sand that I had been playing with for those forty-five minutes. I referred to the movies “Men in Black”, at the ends of the movie. In the conclusion of these movies, the camera pans over what we think is the only life in the universe, our Earth, until we come to the Milky Way galaxy as a whole. After that the Milky Way is shown as not just a universe, but a marble in an alien’s game at a shook. (marketplace; those Ulpan classes are already paying off.) Playing in the sand, I’d let the fine particles slip through my fingers like an hourglass, and all I could think of was the alien playing marbles with what we believe to be everything. It made me feel like an all powerful being, with the power to throw or collect entire galaxies to my heart’s content. Then, remembering one of my favorite movies, I remembered I too was just a marble.

I feel safe to speak for my colleagues as well as myself when I say that even if someone is “too cool for school” and didn’t pour their heart into that activity, everyone was touched by what others had to say. Whether you’re learning some Israeli history, playing in the Kineret on a hot day, or just making better friends with people on the program, everything our staff plans for us will have an impact on us for the rest of our lives. “

Until next time,
Max “Dezy” Ledesma

After that extraordinary experience, the Kibbutz made us a Mediterranean dinner in the shadow of the dunes. The staff made dough for the students and the students then made outdoor pitot, using a Tabun, a special metal, concave pan laid over a campfire. It was incredibly fun to cook outdoors using these ancient methods. Shahar, from the Jerusalem staff, showed off her pita-making-skills. She is an expert! Soon we were all eating pita with falafel, salads and labane, a curd cheese. The desert vibe, the relaxed atmosphere of the area and the great dinner created the perfect end to a perfect day.

After a good long break, (because we all were full) we gathered all the students to an Israeli folk dancing session. Israeli folk dancing is both simple and impressive, and, like every year, the dancing formed an iconic moment for the group. We demonstrated some basic steps and a few of the students were already familiar with some of the songs and some of the moves! Goldie Davoudgoleh knew just about every step for most of the songs. She decided to break free and replaced the instructor and showed the group how it is done. She was amazing! By the end of Golsie’s dance we were all sweaty and exhausted…

The last day of the seminar began with an optional bike ride around the area. The students who went on the bike ride got the opportunity to see some rare and unique desert sights. They visited the Jordanian border, a beautiful oasis in the middle of nowhere and a magnificent over-look. The bikers returned in time for breakfast followed by the last activity of the seminar called “Shnitzel Borsht,” an interactive competition between groups of students. Each group was required to go through a number of stations located around the kibbutz. At each station the kids had a test of a different skill. For instance: cooperation, knowledge, listening etc, all relating in some way to Israel. Points were earned and counted and the winners were those who earned the most. We were all surprised at how much the students already know Israel, the food, the sites, the celebrities, the politicians, the culture and the language. After a fun competition and the winners were announced we headed back to the buses for the long journey home.

A few of the students decided to stay and go to Eilat for the weekend and a few opted to camp out in Eilat Heights, one of Israel’s most beautiful trips.

I think the experience of being on a kibbutz in the middle of nowhere for 3 days was an experience these students will never forget. Everything about the kibbutz is as different from Tel Aviv as you can get. What you are seeing, what you are talking about, even time is experienced differently. It was a real break from our daily routine and a whole new perspective on life. I think most of the students would agree.

So, that’s it for now. Until next time,
Shabbat Shalom!


Gap year in israel - aardvarkisrael