July 19, 2024
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A Letter to Incoming 12th Graders About the Israel Application Process

Overview

Just when you think you are done with all of the stress of college applications, you must begin the process of applying to Israel gap-year programs. There are numerous different programs to consider, with options ranging from hesder yeshivot to army mechinot, and everything in between. For many of us high school seniors, this can be the first decision of our life where we must decide what is truly important to us, while balancing our desires with the ones of those closest to us.

Finally, after realizing what it is you most want out of a year in Israel, the search for the appropriate yeshiva that best fits you and your goals begins. This quest is long, difficult and confusing, but by sharing advice as someone who just went through this, I hope I can help make it easier for you.

Wants and Needs

The first and most important question to ask yourself is: What do I hope to gain out of my year in Israel?

Is it to tour the land and build a connection with the country of our people? To improve your Gemara skills and reach your full potential as a talmid? To strengthen your relationship with Hashem, while learning why we do what we do as Jews? Are you unsure, but just hope to make new friends and take advantage of a newfound independence?

All of these points, and many more, are valid reasons to want to go to Israel for the year, even if they do not align with the motives of your friends. You must look past fitting in and going with the flow, as your gap-year experience is meant for you, and nobody else.

Another significant factor to consider is where and with whom you’d like to live a year of your life.

Do you want to live in the Old City, the center of everything? Or in a more secluded area with fewer distractions? Is a nice campus with amenities important to you? Or are you OK without that? Do you want to go with all of your friends from high school? With none? Or somewhere in between?

Once again, it is what YOU want. Not your friends, not your siblings, and not your parents. Going against the grain is perfectly normal, and perhaps even encouraged.

Next Steps

Once you realize the goals and the factors important to you, it is time to give a long look to the many possible yeshivot/programs that fit the bill for you. Definitely attend three to five presentations from realistic yeshiva options, and try to identify what makes each program unique. While this can be difficult, as many yeshivot do sound very similar at first, it is very important to highlight the strengths and weaknesses (again, to you) of the different programs in order to move forward.

Next, speak to as many people as possible. Speak with your parents to gain an understanding of which programs they like best for you, and try to work out any differences. Talk to the rebbeim at your high school about their experiences with past students in certain programs. Speak to the rebbeim at the different yeshivot and see what they have to say. (Just remember that although they will never lie, they do look to sell/convince you at times.) Call an older friend who’s currently in a yeshiva of interest and voice your goals, interests and concerns to see if it’s a good fit. Attend model shiurim if you’d like.

All of these conversations will provide you with something new and helpful. You may be instantly drawn to the personality of a specific rabbi at a yeshiva. The way an older friend describes the program’s atmosphere and environment can make you excited. Listening to a shiur could vault the yeshiva to No. 1 on your rankings—or drop it all the way down your list.

However, you must remember to remain as unbiased as possible for as long as you can. Try not to only speak with the rebbeim at one yeshiva while ignoring those at the others. The same goes for current students. If you know your high school rabbi is a large proponent of a certain yeshiva, perhaps take what he has to say about that program with a small grain of salt.

Finally, remember that everyone is different. What 10 different people love about a program, you may hate, and vice versa. No two people, or experiences, are the same, so after thorough research and many conversations, apply what you have learned to your unique situation. Only then can you make a properly informed decision.

The Culmination

On a personal level, my Israel application process led me to a decision that I would not have anticipated beforehand. Some of the more classic options did not appeal to me but thankfully, my family, rebbeim, and friends supported my choice of a yeshiva that truly excited me.


Ezra Baron is a 12th grader at TABC who lives in Teaneck. He looks forward to attending Aish Gesher next year.

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