May 20, 2024
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Young Women High School Graduates Take a ‘Gap Year’ in Israel

A greater connection with the land of Israel. Studying Torah in the innate kedusha of Eretz Yisrael. Devoting a year solely to Judaic Studies to solidify your Jewish foundation. A year of independent, personal and character development away from home. Volunteering for community service in our homeland. Spreading chesed throughout our country.

These and many others are a variety of reasons why a high school graduate may choose to take a “gap year” in Israel between high school and college. While some go to study and others to give of themselves, taking a year in Israel has become a widely accepted phenomenon in the frum Jewish community, often accepted as college credit as well.

On Thursday June 18, Rabbi Yaakov Neuburger spoke to the graduated high school senior girls from Congregation Beth Abraham regarding their upcoming year in Eretz Yisrael. The rav began by acknowledging that it is often difficult for a rabbi to have any relationship with the young women of the shul, but that he hopes by being a part of the girls’ send-off to Israel, they will continue to build a relationship with him when they return.

Rabbi Neuburger continued by quoting an intriguing thought by Rav Kook, saying that “Eretz Yisrael has a way of bringing out the best of people…a genuineness, an honesty, bringing out a caring Jew…and moments of tremendous mesirat nefesh (self-sacrifice). When you see those moments, make sure to take stock of them; this is what Eretz Yisrael is about.” According to a Rashi at the end of Achrei Mos, Eretz Yisrael is the “Armon HaMelech,” the palace of the King. When we come to the palace of the King, it demands of us a greater code of conduct, and is where Hashem’s presence is felt much more than in Chutz L’aretz, which is part of the innate sanctity of Eretz Yisrael. When in Eretz Yisrael next year, we will be told about and able to feel what exactly it means to act appropriately in the Armon HaMelech, as well.

Not only does the experience in the land of Eretz Yisrael itself display tremendous opportunities for growth, it is a chance to focus solely on Torah studies and character development with a greater purity, without many of the distractions or worries that we may have here in America or in the usual school system. Although this blissful experience may seem like living “in a bubble,” and unrealistic to maintain ad meya v’esrim shana (until 120 years), you will meet people who live in that bubble all of their lives, which is exciting, and being in that bubble for a year is also very uplifting. This bubble is being surrounded by kedusha, by Eretz Yisrael, by things that only concern Jews and are filtered just for Klal Yisrael. That bubble, that immersion year, has an impact on a person and is a great opportunity, said Rabbi Neuburger. Though in today’s technological age, the ability for those in Israel to be in touch with family and friends from all over through Whatsapp, Skype/Facetime, texting and calling does “break the bubble” to an extent, it can also foster closer relationships with parents over the year than in previous generations, which is a huge positive.

The rav added that “there are great people to meet in Eretz Yisrael as well; great because their lives center on Torah. There are people you will meet that live with a different kind of emunah than we are used to, a life of emunah peshuta (simple faith), and those who live more complex lives. You will then decide where you see yourself—living a life of emunah peshuta (simple faith), or a life more nuanced and complex—but both have great depth and simcha attached to them. But, you do have to see it being lived out in order to determine whether that [lifestyle] can be [right] for you.” The Rav concluded by saying that we must have an “Eretz Yisrael filter,” to be careful to judge all types and personalities there favorably, understanding that they live a life of greater tension and reality than we do in America, which comes along with much greater mesirat nefesh as well.

The seniors thanked Rabbi Neuburger for taking the time to speak to them about this important year; they were confident that his insights and thoughts would be helpful for the upcoming year.

As one senior heading to Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim next year said, “Being in the work force for one year less should not have a long-lasting impact on my life, but learning in Israel for a year does have the power to leave an impact that will last a lifetime. The opportunity to live in the heart of our homeland and Am Yisrael, deepening my relationship with Eretz Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael and learning only in-depth Torah for a full year from top-notch teachers will serve as an invaluable foundation and principles that I can use to model for my life in the future.”

“I became more mature, able to fend for myself and to reach out and communicate with others, while keeping a budget and navigating the bus system, but more importantly, I developed a much stronger connection to the land and to our people, and a greater appreciation for what it means to live in Israel and the sacrifices our people make by living there,” added Esther Hirsch, a rising junior at Stern College and fellow JLNJ intern.

“I was able to see Torah learning come alive in visiting places that we learn about in Tanach…Seeing many types of Jews living in all different ways was unique and certainly an important experience, and I met and united with Jews from all over. Not only did I develop religiously, I became more of an advocate for Israel through my year there.”

As always, there are other considerations to have in mind, as spending a year in Israel following high school is not right for everyone and should not be considered an automatic rite of passage.

“I considered what seminary had to offer and concluded that it was not the right place for me, so I decided not to go,” said one high school graduate who asked to remain anonymous, who is heading directly to college next year. “I am excited [for college] to finally be able to handpick all of my classes…I have been waiting to be able to take the subjects that I have loved in a more intensive and comprehensive way. There is much to say about the greatness of learning in Israel, but it shouldn’t be presented as the proper course of action for everyone because not every person will feel the ‘spirituality’ exclaimed about, and others will misuse the year to party and act inappropriately away from home. The right way to present the year in Israel is to show students the pros and cons from an unbiased perspective, and then let each student make the decision of what is right for them on their own,” she said.

With summer on the horizon and the current year of Israel-attendees having all returned from their year, realization has dawned upon the graduated high school seniors: we are up next.

It is our turn. It is only up to ourselves to make the most of the upcoming year, wherever it may be.

By Aviva Jacobs

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