Wear Slippers, Talk to Strangers, Take Notes: The "GAP Year in Israel" Handbook
Written by a returning GAP year seminary student (if you’re the author, please tell us so we can give you credit) we’re happy to share the ultimate handbook for your GAP year in Israel. Filled with amazing practical tips and tricks about everything from navigating the Israeli transport system to surviving your moldy dorm bathrooms, this is a must read for any GAP year student boarding a plane to Israel. We're also constantly updating this blog with new feedback we get from GAP year students and their parents.
Even if you get lucky enough to have AC in your room, have a fan! It gets very hot in the dorms AND it acts as a white noise machine to help you sleep even when everyone is talking loudly right outside your room.
Have a shower bin (and storage bins in general)! It keeps your toiletries together and prevents your (normal) dormmates from using your things accidentally.
Keep your toothbrush inside a toothbrush cover. Your bathroom will likely be moldy and gross. You don’t want your toothbrush touching that.
Always wear slippers around the dorm (you’ll end up wearing them to class too) and flip flops in the shower. Otherwise, ew.
Bring travel sized toiletries (toothpaste, soap, contact solution, shampoo, conditioner, etc.) with you to Israel for the first week so that you don’t have to spend your first few days stressing out about buying them.
Exchange a little bit of money (around $100-$200) at your local bank before you leave. It will be more expensive than doing it in Israel, but it will also save you the stress of having to find an exchange place near your dorm while you’re still adjusting. Your school will also probably exchange $100 for you on your first day. You can also exchange money at the airport if you don't do it before you leave. They're not the best rates, but not so bad either. If you have a credit card, you do not need much cash (be sure to bring one with no extra fees for foreign transactions!).
Bring at least 1 notebook and 1 pen with you so that you can take notes during your sample classes for your first week. They’re real classes and are awesome!
Download the Moovit app before attempting to take public transportation! It gives you all the bus info you’ll need and will help you avoid getting lost (you’ll get lost A LOT at first).
The Gett taxi app is also great. Gett is Uber’s Israeli brother. It’s good to have in case you get stuck somewhere or just don’t feel like taking a bus.
The Central Bus Station is like an airport for buses. There are buses going to almost every city in the country from or near the station.
Get a Rav Kav. A Rav Kav is basically a smart travel card that you use to get around on buses and trains. (In most big cities, you cant actually buy single tickets on the bus anymore). You can pick up the Rav Kav card in lots of service points around the country including the central bus station and that's also where you recharge the card. You can either get an anonymous card or you can get a personalized one with your name and picture (you'll need your passport for this). The advantage of the personalized one is that if the card gets lost, you can recover the money from the lost card. There is also an app where you can check your balance and recharge your card but your phone has to be NFC enabled for the app to work.
A nesher is an airport carpool van service. It will bring you to your dorm from the airport for a low price if you don’t take the group flight.
When going to the Kotel/Old City, get off the train at the stop called “City Hall”. Do NOT get off at “Damascus Gate”, even if it may seem closer - it’s less safe.
Be mindful of the volume of your voice on public transportation. Israelis hate loud American teens.
Do not try to be cool and go hands-free on a bus if you are standing. There’s nothing cool about falling on a stranger.
Be ready for hikes and tiyulim. You’ll need a sports (or any) backpack, sneakers, water shoes (ie crocks, etc.- not flip flops), a hat of some sort, big water bottle, a portable phone charger. Anyone who receives a Masa scholarship will also receive an awesome Masa backpack sometime around October.
Bring your yearly supply of makeup, tights, razors, and deodorant with you to Israel. These things will be much harder to buy there.
Bring your favorite pain reliever medicine with you. Don’t count on buying it there.
Read the labels on everything you buy!Google translate will save you lots of money and pain (ex. מרכך means softener, not detergent. It’s also the word for hair conditioner.)
Label your things! Detergents, water bottles, dish sponges, food, etc. can often seem like they’re for public use if you don’t put your name on it, at least in the beginning.
Unless you plan to order from one of the online services for direct Israel delivery, bring at least 1 set of linen and 1 body towel with you. You can buy more later.
It’s good to have an extra set of linen for Shabbos, you will often need to bring your own linen to wherever you go.
Lice is a serious issue in Israel. Don’t try on random hats in random stores. It’s not worth it.
Don’t be afraid to talk to strangers. Most people are nice and will help you get around. Just be careful with who you approach.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your madrichot and shana bet girls. They did exactly what you’re doing and can help you out.
Don’t be embarrassed to speak broken Hebrew. You’ll catch the language much faster if you try speaking it. Most people understand English though
The shuk is meant for bargaining. Do not pay full price for anything.
Bring a sewing kit. You’ll need it, even if you don’t know how to sew.
Being a backup phone. You never know what can happen and don’t want to be phone-less.
Keep a journal. You’ll appreciate it later.
Do NOT assume that everything is kosher just because you’re in Israel. You will probably get a list of reliable hechsherim from your school. Follow it.
Don’t be afraid to speak up if your roommates/dormmates do something that bothers you intensely. You’re just as entitled to your comforts as they are.
If you’re afraid that you won’t make friends, so is everyone else in your school!
Be friendly, introduce yourself, and relationships will form naturally.
Don’t let the brats intimidate you. They’re not worth your mental energy.
Learn the difference between the 10 shekel coin and the 10 agorot coin before paying for anything to avoid looking like an idiot tourist.
Print pictures to hang on your wall! They’ll help you when you’re feeling down and will add a nice personal touch to your room.
Katsefet (Israeli version of Zoyo but better) has great WiFi! The password is katsefet.co.il.
Know that you are not alone in your confusion. There are 100 other girls feeling the same way. You’ll get through it together.
Rainboots and a raincoat are recommended.
Superglue fixes almost anything.
Wear sunscreen and drink lots of water! Dehydration is a serious issue among seminary girls.
Record your classes!!! You’ll want them.
The emergency numbers in Israel are 100 for police, 101 for ambulance and 102 for fire department
You will hate the taste of Israeli water at first. You’ll get used to it.
Your plastic and paper goods are gonna be thin and flimsy and cheap. Deal with it.
Milk is much thicker and more fatty. The 3% is especially intense. It helps to add water to it if you have no option of buying the 1%.
Random children may ask you to help them cross a street. It’s cute and normal.
You might not feel anything when you first go to the Kotel. It’s normal. Don’t worry, it’ll become your second home.
You might be miserable on your first day. Keep your expectations low to avoid disappointment and know that it gets better. You’ll cry harder when you’re leaving.
Jerusalem is full of hills and stairs. Be prepared for your walk to the bus stop to be a workout.
Jerusalem gets very cold during the winter and Poland especially, if you go. Come prepared.
If your birthday is before November-ish, nobody will know about it. Make sure you do something with some friends to make it special.
Toilet paper will become your printing paper, drawing paper, tissue paper, wrapping paper, decorations, your everything. Toilet paper will become your best friend.
Pizza is served on cardboard, not plates.
There are stray cats everywhere. Don’t touch them.
You might accidentally be buying a graph notebook instead of a lined notebook. Check carefully before you buy.
It is sometimes socially unacceptable (especially in Jerusalem) for religious guys and girls to sit next to each other on buses. You’ve been warned.
You will spend lots of money and gain lots of weight. It’s all part of the experience.
This will be the best year of your life so far.
We hope you enjoyed this article. At Pack for Camp - Israel we provide everything you need for your gap year in Israel. You can order bedding and towels, small appliances, toiletries, storage accessories, and more that will ship directly to your school in Israel.