By Isabella Lefkowitz-Rao
Rebecca Weiss of the District is spending a gap year in Israel on the Hevruta Program run by the pluralistic Hartman Institute. Since arriving last month, Weiss, 18, a 2020 graduate of the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, has been largely confined to her apartment in Jerusalem, as the coronavirus rages in Israel.
When did you decide to take this specific gap year?
I was always planning on taking a gap year. I am a person who likes plans, so I planned on going on this specific program since ninth grade.
Are you happy with your decision?
Yeah, I’m definitely happy. I’m going to Columbia next year and they’re completely online and off campus. I just feel like the whole world is almost like pausing and having this weird year. I want to be able to learn the most in college and make valuable connections and meet professors and have the resources of the institution that I’m going to and all those things I wouldn’t be able to have if I went this year.
What was quarantine like?
When we came here we were locked in our apartments. It was challenging, but I grew to really enjoy it. We had a really good routine down. We would wake up late and do an online exercise video. We had Hebrew classes and every day a different parent volunteered to teach a class about their field. My expectations were really low so it definitely exceeded those, but it wasn’t ideal. They let us out only once during the two weeks. We were allowed out into our courtyard and had 45 minutes of yard time.
What activities are you doing? Are there activities you have missed out on because of the pandemic?
Right now we’re in a total shutdown, so we’re all together, but our teachers come in by Zoom. We’re also supposed to have every other weekend as an off weekend. You have to be super creative with the programming. It’s crazy, I’ve been in Jerusalem for 6½ weeks and I haven’t been to the Old City, which is so weird to me. Also, our internships are starting online and our volunteering is going to be online, which is going to be challenging.
What rules are in place and what are the difficulties surrounding that?
We’re bound by the Israeli laws. We can’t go more than a kilometer out from our apartments unless we’re exercising or one of the exceptions like grocery shopping. Also, the communities that the Americans came from were very, very good about wearing masks and some Israelis told stories about being shamed while going to grocery stores with a mask on. The Americans are definitely more scared and there were a lot of tensions between the Israelis and the Americans. Also, the whole mail system is kinda messed up. I can’t get my winter coat because of lockdown.
What have been the best moments so far?
One is that we can’t go to other synagogues for davening, so we had to create all our High Holiday services. We worked so hard to make it happen. We prayed on the roof and could see three other groups of people praying. There was another service from our neighbors on their balconies. You could hear other groups blow the shofar or sing a song. One Friday night, there was a group on the roof across from us and we joined in singing with them. Another time, we blew the shofar and a 6 year old from a building near us came out and blew the shofar back at us. The whole city is praying, but because everyone is outside because of corona you can hear it and it’s so beautiful.