gap year in israel

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Shalom Parents,

The holidays have ended and here at Aardvark Tel-Aviv we have finally returned to our normal routine with a fantastic week full of activities. Today Eyal is attending a family wedding and we send best wishes from all of us, therefore, in his place I am happy to tell you some of the highlights from this week.

Ready? Here we go:

On Tuesday – We started our morning with a special workshop in Ganai-Yeshua. The students took part in ODT (Out Door Training), its primary goal was to help the students come together, develop trust amongst one other and understand the greater power they have as a group. These kind of workshops are very popular in Israel, they are used a lot in the IDF, youth movements and even major high-tech companies to help develop the group dynamic.

The students were divided into three groups and began working through the different stations. Each station had a guide who explained what the station’s task was. Some of the more complex missions included passing all team members through a net with small holes in it and solving a giant puzzle with a marble in its center, it made the team move quickly and at the same time, work as a coordinated unit. At each station the students had time to think, plan and try to improve their outcome. This showed them the importance of forward planning and learning from past mistakes. Personally, I must say that we discovered very strong leadership qualities in some of our students and I’m very confident of the fact that the strong group dynamic that developed during this workshop will lead them on the path to success.

After the activity we went back to our Moadon for a community talk. These talks are held once a month, in the talks the students can share their experiences and address the entire group abut different matters. In addition, each talk contains an educational message, innovations from the program, and information about the future schedule.

This week’s talk focused on the phrase “Let it Go”. Together with the change in seasons and the arrival of fall, the students are also going through changes. The point of the session was to “let go” of one’s previous self and open oneself up to new challenges and opportunities in this program. Afterwards, our madricha Tali told the students about the new committees that will begin next week. I must say that it was pretty amazing to see the willingness of many of our students to sign-up and donate their time and knowledge!

The students told one another about their most significant moments during the holiday season, stories such as meeting family members for the first time, having a meal inside a sukkah, being in synagogue on Yom Kippur and dancing on the streets on Simchat Torah. These moments of connection between Israeli culture and Judaism are very meaningful to the students, so it was very emotional to hear them speak about it and share with everyone.

This week we had the first Parsha and Pizza session since the holiday of Simchat Torah. The holiday marks the end of the annual cycle of Torah readings and the beginning of a new one. This meant that this week we were studying the very first part of the very first book of the Torah – Bereishit (Genesis). Rabbi Marc summarized the story involving the creation of the world, Adam and Eve, the snake, and the tree in the Garden of Eden. Reading the first chapter describing how God created the world in six days was the perfect opportunity for a frank conversation about science and religion and the clash between evolutionary theory, the Big Bang, and fundamentalist readings of the Bible. We also listened to a moving song by the Icelandic musician Bjork about the wonders and myths of the origin of the universe and human beings. The final part of the evening was spent talking about Cain and Abel, the first brothers, and the first act of murder. It was amazing to think about the origins of morality and Rabbi Marc showed us how the great American novelist John Steinbeck connected his great work East of Eden to the story of Cain and Abel.

On Wednesday – the sea-sport group went to the beach and attended a private paddleboard yoga class with an amazing instructor; it was a very fun and soothing experience. Jordi Sachs said, “I just joined sea sports and so far I have been stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) and even done SUP yoga. Watersports allow me to get outside in the fresh air, activate my body, and try new sports that I’ve never experienced before. The watersports add-on is one of the highlights of my week and I can’t wait for more to come!”

After internships and classes, everyone gathered in our Moadon for an evening activity we call “Being a Mensch”. During the session, we discussed what it truly means to be a mensch, how it can help influence the community, society, and all the people around us. A mensch is not only a person who has a good character, but also a person who uses their character to positively influence their surroundings. We started the activity with a great video that discusses the science of character (you can watch it by clicking here). After watching it, each student received a ‘Periodic Table’ with a variety of Midot. It contained different attributes that truly make a mensch, whether it be through wisdom, courage, honor, justice, moderation, or transcendence. Each student was given a magnetic piece of metal where they were able to write the strengths they have or want to work on this year. Many students shared their thoughts and opened up about what being a mensch means to them. It was incredible to hear the students and their thoughts about themselves.

Mia Solomon summarized the experience saying, “On Wednesday night, all of the students came together for a program that revolved around the importance of self-growth. I personally learned a lot through this program and found it extremely helpful to learn what being a mensch really is. This made me want to set more goals for myself for this semester. I loved writing down my strengths and weaknesses because it helped me realize which character traits I could improve and how I can use my strengths to do so. I truly enjoyed the activity and think it will help me to achieve what I came here to do.”

On Thursday – we had another routine day with internships and classes. Starting next week we will begin a new activity called “Open Moadon”, each week the students can sign-up in advance to book our “Moadon” for Thursday evening and organize events there such as movie night, game night, big dinners etc. Each week a different staff member will stay and assist the students who are in charge of organizing the event. This is another great initiative to get our students to come together and bond.

Next week, we will show the movie “The Green Prince” in preparation for our guest speaker, the former Shin Bet agent Gonen Ben-Itzhak. He will come to our program to tell us his amazing experience recruiting the son (Mosab Hassan Yousef) of one of Hammas’ main leaders. The Shin Bet considered him its most valuable source within the Hamas leadership. The information Yousef supplied prevented dozens of suicide attacks and assassinations of Israelis, exposed numerous Hamas cells, and assisted Israel in hunting down many militants, including the incarceration of his own father, Sheikh Hassan Yousef. If you want to watch the movie, as well (I highly recommend it) please click here. In addition, next week we will be going on a tour of Caesarea, one of the most beautiful cities in Israel, to learn about the most ancient history of Israel.

Internship in the spotlight by our lovely student Teagan Cimring, “One of the main reasons I decided to join Aardvark was the opportunity to intern or volunteer somewhere near or in Tel Aviv. With the help of the internship coordinator, I was able to interview at Coinomy, an early stage startup working on an interdisciplinary financial product aiming to provide trade, exchange and storage solutions for a broad array of customers and financial assets. For the past month in Israel, I have been working as the Design and Communications intern and have been participating in the design of Coinomy’s website, marketing, and communication materials. This experience so far has been invaluable to me. I have learned so much about the field of design (a passion I wish to pursue in my future) as well as the intricacies of creating a startup. I feel as if the work I am doing for this company is very meaningful and I have been given a lot of responsibility and freedom in creating useful materials for them. It has been such a unique opportunity to be able to work with professionals in a field I am interested in and cannot wait to further my learning in the upcoming months!”

This week our Madrichah on Call during the weekend is Tali.

Shabbat Shalom and have a great weekend,


Gap year in israel - aardvarkisrael