July 13, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
July 13, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

In Response to Ezra Epstein: In Support of a Gap Year in Israel

Editor’s note: The author is responding to this article.

I recently came across a Jewish Link article written by a senior in high school named Ezra Epstein (“From the Desk of a 17-Year-Old Yeshiva Applicant,” December 31, 2015). In his article, he articulates several concerns he has about the year that many Modern Orthodox teenagers take to study in Israel. After reading his well-written article, I respectfully dissent with his conclusions. Here’s why:

Perhaps his biggest argument for the problem with this gap year is that it is proof that the yeshiva high school system does not work. He argues that Modern Orthodox parents and teachers rely on that year to keep their kids strong in their faith. This, according to Epstein, proves the tremendous flaw in the high school system; it provides very little substance. However, keeping in line with this idea would mean that Epstein would have to denounce all of higher education. When we go to college and receive a bachelor’s degree, we are now equipped to enter a field in line with that major. We can live a happy life in a job that was afforded to us by virtue of that degree. To assume, however, that going for that master’s or doctorate degree is proof that the bachelor’s degree was insufficient for survival is absurd. The degrees are different, yet logical progressions. When you declare a major, you not only begin studying in that field, but you also take courses that do not pertain to that major. The idea that colleges have worldwide is that you should be well rounded after four years of college. An advanced degree, however, is totally different. The coursework is focused on that single major, with no distractions from outside classes.

The same is true between the symbiotic relationship between high school and yeshiva. After four years of high school, your high school has now hoped that you are a well-rounded Jew, with knowledge of so many topics in Judaism and otherwise, capable of making it out there in the world. But yeshiva is different. It is now focused on Judaic coursework, free of distraction from other subjects, which builds upon the necessary foundation we all received in high school. It is the “graduate school” of the Modern Orthodox world. To argue that pursuing that advanced degree means that your “bachelor’s” has failed you is absurd. The logic doesn’t work in the secular world and surely not in the Jewish world.

His second point, which I believe is the more severe point, is that if the high school system is not flawed, kids should be able to be successful in college without the year of yeshiva. Yet, he argues, parents depend on that year to totally strengthen their kids to be mitzvah-keeping Jews in the future. Here’s the problem. The world of college, be it secular or Jewish, will be a completely different experience from any other experience you and I have had to date. Living in dorms, lack of parents, alcohol and many more are some of the different challenges that will face all of us, no matter where you go. It is therefore logical that parents and teachers would encourage a system that is different from high school, one that is in part designed to help kids make the transition into the vastly different world that is college. Can kids be successful without it? Sure, and I’m sure we all know kids who were. But settling for high school without yeshiva is simply settling for good instead of great, and who wants that?

Lastly, I would challenge his idea of education. The original idea of education, which has unfortunately been lost in a society so obsessed with the elite colleges and standardized tests, was the pursuit of knowledge. If not for anything, the year in Israel affords an intellectually stimulating and rich opportunity to enhance one’s Jewish learning and should be welcomed with open arms. To deny that there is not inherent benefit, personal benefit in taking that year, would be shortsighted. It is this reason that I and so many of my friends have decided to take a year in Israel. The past four years of high school we have had our focus on our schoolwork. Through rigorous dual curriculum coursework we have not had the opportunity to focus on the most important subject: ourselves. Placed before us is a year to put math and physics aside and focus on ourselves, striving to become the person we want to become. While on the surface, kids believe they are fine where they are, if they were to scratch the surface and be honest with themselves, they would see that there is room for improvement. For that reason alone, putting aside any opinions on high school education, it should be more than enough reason to go spend a year in Israel.

By Phillip Dolitsky

Phillip Dolitsky is a 12th grader in Kohelet High School in Philadelphia and a member of National NCSY’s National Board.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles