To be quite frank, I am not exactly sure where I should start. This year on the Aardvark Gap Year Program has been full of long nights, unforgettable memories and lifelong friendships, all while being in the beautiful Holy Land of Israel. This past year I can definitely tell you that God has found his way into my life, and I have learned to see the bigger picture in God’s great plan for us, but I will speak about this later. First, I would like to speak about my completely unique experiences in arguably Israel’s two largest cities, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I came to Israel on that plane in September. I usually keep a “go with the flow” kind of attitude wherever I go, which is what allowed me to see and do so many different things. When I first arrived, there was so much ground to cover, nobody knew what to do first. Over the next few weeks after classes and internship, my friends and I would walk around the city to go see new things, try new foods and, most of all, have a great time together. Tel Aviv is a fantastic city — you can spend long days on the beach, participate in drum circles with strangers, spend nights out with your friends, enjoy walks around the city and so much more.
For once in my life, I felt free, independent. I was responsible for making it to my internship/classes on my time, preparing my own food, cleaning up after myself and making sure everyone else was doing the same. And Tel Aviv is a city where you can be whoever you want. Before the trip, my true self was hiding inside of me, and once I came to Tel Aviv, I was able to let go and become the person I have always wanted to be. I found new passions and hidden talents, and for once I was completely satisfied with the person I am and have become. Every day in Tel Aviv was a new day to grow as a person, to meet new people and most importantly, to be happy.
A highlight of my Tel Aviv experience was participating in the Aardvark Add-On, Sea Sports. I knew that I wanted to participate in the Sea Sports Add-On from the second I heard about it. I love the outdoors, and what better way to experience Tel Aviv than from the water? Two times a week, the Sea Sports group would meet in the mornings to participate in a fun activity. These activities included multiple surfing lessons, paddle-board yoga, paddle-boarding, wind surfing and many more. I appreciated this Add-On a lot because it allowed students like me to try something we have never done before, or just have a fun activity to do, because sometimes between classes and internships, the weeks can feel long. The Sea Sports Add-On created unforgettable memories.
When my first semester ended in Tel Aviv, I honestly thought all of the fun was over. Since I had spent minimal time in Jerusalem prior to my arrival, I was skeptical of what was to come. For me, Jerusalem was a completely different experience than Tel Aviv. My group in Jerusalem was small, 20 or so kids during my semester. Initially, I thought this was a bad thing, but it ended up being worth it in the end. When you live with such a small group in small quarters, you truly learn to appreciate one another.
Each day in Jerusalem was like a breath of fresh air, and this was where I really felt that God was with me. Aesthetically, Jerusalem is not the best looking city, but I learned to appreciate the old stone, and how different it was from the city. It was Jerusalem where it all began, the place where all of our ancestors founded the principles by which we live. There was honestly not much to do in Jerusalem, which I realized is the beautiful thing about the city. Jerusalem is all about bonding with your friends. It is about picnics in the park, pick-up soccer games, trying out new cooking recipes, long walks down to the first station and annoying your roommates until you all break down and laugh. I had the most incredible experiences with my roommates in Jerusalem. Every day was something new. I think that what I took away most from Jerusalem is that it is a good place to develop as a person, since you have some more time on your hands. Jerusalem is a city to try new things, get good at something you have never tried but have always wanted to, break out of your comfort zone and most importantly, just be you.
Through this experience, I have learned to appreciate that nothing is more important than human connections, the most beautiful thing in this world. Nothing else matters. I met students from all over the world, and each person is unique in their own way, completely different from the rest. I did not truly appreciate the things that I learned from each one of them until recently, when I realized that I took away so many new things from each person I came across and interacted with. I realized that connecting with one another is God’s big plan for us. We learn from one another, and ultimately we take away life lessons and skills from each person that we come across. Human connection is not only important to be successful, but to be truly happy. Once we learn to appreciate one another and our differences, there can be peace. I have experienced this first-hand. There were many students who, initially, I did not agree with, but once I connected with them and saw where they were coming from, I leaerned to appreciate their argument and what they had to say. Everyone has a story. JN
Eli Kreisberger is from Scottsdale. He currently lives in Tel Aviv.