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Friday, August 1, 2014

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Students live Jerusalem during gap yeare in Tel Aviv,

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Students immersed in Israeli society, serve their communities and learn about Judaism.

If you’re a Jewish young adult looking for a meaningful, life-changing experience filled with fun, learning and self-discovery, then Aardvark Israel is for you.

Aardvark Israel was founded in Feb. 2010 by Keith Berman and Debbie Goldsmith to maximize the number of young Jews coming to Israel. With more than 150 years of combined experience in Zionist educational endeavours, the staff of Aardvark provide a dynamic and exciting program that allows students to connect more deeply with their homeland.

Deena Hassan, recruitment co-ordinator, said Aardvark Israel is a unique program that deserved a unique name.

“We looked at names and youth culture and determined that unusual names were popular – Lady Gaga, Glee, Avatar,” Hassan said. “

Also, we see the aardvark as an animal that is grounded – close to the earth in a way we want to see our students connected to the land of Israel.”

The premier program of Aardvark is the Aardvark Israel Gap Year. It’s a nine-month university program for students ages 17 to 20. The Aardvark Israel Semester Program offers a five-month option to students ages 18 to 22 who can’t spend a full year away from their home campus.

The Aardvark Israel Gap Year combines immersion into Israeli society, service to the community through volunteer work and internships, and learning about Israel and Judaism through formal academic and informal educational encounters.

As a fully accredited university program, students may earn college credit for their coursework.

Hassan said that of the 70 students currently enrolled in Aardvark Israel, 11 are Canadian. In recent years, there has been an upsurge in interest in gap-year and semester programs as high school graduates are being encouraged to invest in personal growth for a year before entering university, she said.

Recent studies have shown that students are better prepared for success in university if they spend a year maturing and learning about themselves after high school, Hassan said.

The Aardvark experience provides a forum for students to decompress, do something different, foster independence and creativity, and prepare for university life.

The Aardvark Israel programs are based out of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Participants live in furnished apartments in desirable neighbourhoods, spending six months in each city.

Students have the opportunity to shop for groceries, cook their meals and clean their apartments under the supervision of qualified counsellors, Hassan said.

“Tel Aviv was just voted by the Lonely Planet [website] as the third-best city in the world to visit. It is such a vibrant, dynamic city, and Aardvark is virtually alone in offering our students a chance to live there.”

Hassan said students regularly participate in excursions throughout Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as well as the northern and southern areas of the country.

These field trips include visits to museums, historical sites, a variety of communities and nature reserves. Different excursions are offered to students who have little prior experience in Israel and to those who have previously toured the country.

As part of their responsibilities as participants in the program, Aardvark Israel students are expected to contribute to Israeli society, Hassan said. Between 12 to 16 hours per week are dedicated to internships, community service and volunteer projects.

Students are given a range of choices and are placed at sites that match their interests and skills. Options include working with the ambulance service Magen David Adom, teaching English in schools and helping out in soup kitchens, animal shelters and retirement homes.

“Students interested in career journalism are able to volunteer in media and political think-tanks, which help them formulate their academic interests when they go on to college,” said Hassan.

“Similarly, students interested in social justice, environmental causes and special needs learn from each other’s experiences and about themselves and how they fit into the bigger Israeli picture.”

With programs that include a volunteer portion, students learn the importance of giving back to their community and often see direct results. Once the students return to their university campuses, they will have memories that will positively affect the rest of their lives, she said.

Fundamental to Aardvark Israel’s establishment is the commitment to offer programs at affordable prices in order to make high-quality Israel experiences accessible to as many young adults as possible.

All Jewish recent high school graduates and university students are encouraged to apply. For more information, visit www.aardvarkisrael.com.

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