A GAP year in Israel can be one of the most transformative and defining years of your life. Part of the reason for this is the many aspects of life that you experience during this one short year. For many, some of the most interesting experiences during your GAP year take place during the time spent away from your framework. You get to meet new people and experience different corners of Israel, independently navigating your way through the journey…

Almost every GAP year program includes time that you will spend on your own, away from the program, usually on selected shabbatot or during chagim. For people who have lots of family in Israel and are familiar with the lay of the land, this sounds like a lot of fun but for those with little or no family or friends in Israel, the thought of this can be quite overwhelming and even scary.

In order to help you we’ve put together a complete guide to spending time with hosts on your GAP year - from finding the hosts, what to bring, and general tips for being a good guest. We’ve done this with the help of 2 great resources. First, we scoured the “Israel Gap Year Parents” Facebook group and read the (many) discussions on the topic from the past few years. In addition, we got contributions from our very helpful friends, Ariella and Malkie Merril at Ready. Set. Sem. Here goes…

Finding hosts

Some people have so much family in Israel that the challenge is where to go first, but for many of us, we need to be creative in finding host families. Remember, that everyone is in the same boat and this can be a great opportunity to meet new people and get closer with some of them! Here are a few tips for finding hosts:

✓ The Jewish world is a pretty small one! Parents can help their kids by searching your contact list for anyone who might be able to host your child - friends, acquaintances, long lost cousins, etc. You can either contact them beforehand or give the phone numbers to your child and have them contact them directly.

✓ Tag along with a friend. It's very accepted practice when people are hosting, that their guest will often bring a friend along (with advance notice, of course). 

✓ Schools often have lists of families who like to host so the school can put you in touch directly with host families. Sometimes the teachers themselves will also host the kids

✓ There are websites like Shabbat.com and "Anywhere in Israel" that also provide a matching service for GAP year students looking for hosts.

What to bring

Here is a suggested mini packing list for spending shabbat away. Pack your stuff into a backpack, small duffle, or suitcase:

  • 1-2 Outfits (For girls, same sweater with 2 skirts is a great option)
  • Pajamas
  • Shabbos Shoes
  • Toiletries
  • Sweatshirt
  • Shorts / Skirt (if there’s no bathroom attached to the room you’re sleeping in)
  • Motzei Shabbos outfit (what you wore on Friday works great too)
  • Water Bottle (this is super underrated but always comes in handy for some reason)
  • Snacks for you (you never know if you’ll like the food, or be hungry after, so come prepared)
  • Gift for your host - more about this in the next section
  • Linens - It's a nice idea to ask the hosts if they want you to bring linens to save them some cleanup. TIP: If your hosts want you to bring linens,  a sleep sack works as a great lightweight solution 

Bringing a Gift

This is one of the most popular discussions on the GAP Year Parents Facebook group about what gifts to bring and whether you need to bring a gift in the first place. While there are hosts who say that they don't a gift, the general consensus is that it's a nice gesture to bring something small to show your appreciation for being hosted. Here are a few gift ideas:

  • Desserts, cakes, cookies, or candy platters. Note any allergies that the family might have. (TIP: If you like the dessert you are bringing, you know you will like at least one thing at the table :-)
  • Bouquet of flowers
  • Kitchen towels
  • Serving piece
  • Fun game

TIP: A lot of the food items can be purchased on the way in the shuk or a local makolet. You can also purchase hostess gifts in advance so that you always have one on hand to give to a host.

Tips for being a good guest

A lot of schools will give out pointers to the students about how to be a "good guest". There are no hard and fast rules here but these are some of the suggestions. (A lot of these suggestions come from experienced host families)

✓ Try to be helpful by offering to set or help clear the table at meals or by offering to entertain one of the host kids. Your host can always decline, but it's a nice gesture to offer.

✓ Spend some time getting to know your hosts. You will benefit from meeting new people getting to know them better and the hosts will often appreciate spending the time with you.

✓ If possible, offer to bring your own linens. The host can always say no, but for some families with lots of children, it can be very helpful not to worry about the laundry afterwards.

✓ Tell your hosts in advance about any special dietary needs or allergies.

✓ Bear in mind that if you are going to a family for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, it might be a nice gesture offer the host to pay for the seat in the local shul.

Explore the country

Spending shabbat or chag in a new area that you've never been to is a great opportunity to explore different parts of the country, especially during the chagim when you may be away for a few days. Ask your hosts about some fun things to do in the area.

TIP: Here is a collection of fun things to do in Israel over Sukkot.

Have a wonderful year!

We hope you've enjoyed this guide and please let us know if you have any comment or suggestions that we should add here. At Pack for Israel you can order everything you need for your year in Israel: Bedding, towels, toiletries, small appliances (220V), storage accessories, hostess gifts & more.