JERUSALEM – Arielle Engelmayer wanted to spend her "gap year" in Israel, but not in a yeshivah setting.
"I didn't want to go to a seminary, because it's too much like high school," says the former Ramaz Upper School teenager and soon-to-be Teaneck resident (her family is moving to Teaneck from Manhattan before she returns from Israel).
So Arielle chose Aardvark Israel
, a pluralistic nine-month program now completing its second year. The program is affiliated with American Jewish University in Los Angeles. It "offers college credits and I get to go on trips," says Engelmayer, who opted for add-on travels to Kenya, China, and Italy.
Eighty Aardvark participants are divided into two groups, each spending half the program based in the South Tel Aviv neighborhood of Florentine, and the other half of the time in the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Katamon. Engelmayer is now in the Tel Aviv half of her stay.
"We have volunteering followed by classes [essentially, chesed projects] and once-a-week trips [within Israel]. It's not entirely like a year off because I’m getting college credit, but at the same time I’m free to roam around Israel. The counselors are all Israeli and know a lot about everything."