Once only popular with students from Europe, a gap year is being adopted by a growing number of high school graduates in the United States who are delaying
entering college. With college acceptance standards rising and no promise of a career at the end of four years of study, many are considering ways of distinguishing themselves outside an academic environment after high school graduation.
Anecdotally among Jews in the United States, spending gap years in Israel has
been popular in the Orthodox community. But programs in Israel catering to the
non-Orthodox population are reporting a rise in interest.
The Shalom Hartman Institute, based in Jerusalem and New York City, is collaborating with Hebrew College of Boston to offer the Hevruta Partnership in Global Jewish Learning and Leadership Gap Year program. The 10-month experience will bring together 40 students – 20 from North America and 20 from Israel – to explore their heritage in Jerusalem. The goal, says David Levy, marketing director of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, is to create future Jewish leaders with deep ties to Israel and their Jewish heritage.
“We’re hoping to raise up the next generation of Jewish leaders who have a view
toward the Jewish world and not just their individual communities, building bridges between Americans and Israelis,” Levy explains. Student should appreciate “both on a personal level … the connections and the mutual networks of support between the two cultures, [such as] the way that Judaism in America and Judaism in Israel are
distinct and have different things to offer.”
The program’s staff and faculty come from different perspectives religiously and politically, according to Levy. Likewise, the organizers are aiming to put
together a similarly diverse group for this year’s inaugural class.
“We are seeing students who are also considering yeshiva programs in Israel, and we’re also seeing the students who are considering the movement-based programs that traditionally attract more liberal Jews,” Levy says. “What makes it really distinct from other gap-year programs is that it is Israelis and Americans studying together.”
Tuition for the program is $25,000, which pays for educational materials, lodging, kosher food and other program-related expenses. Participants will spend most of the program attending courses on the Shalom Hartman Institute campus in Jerusalem, and live in a section of a nearby apartment building reserved for students and staff. The students will also spend three weeks in North America exploring American Jewish culture together.
Levy divides the experience into two sections. The first part is religious textual-based study, while the second part resembles formal university classes. Among these are four core classes such as a class on the foundations of Jewish thought, great Jewish books, and iEngage – a program developed by a team of American and Israeli scholars and public intellectuals with the institute that fosters understanding and appreciation for Israel.
The fourth part, a “Jerusalem Leadership Lab,” gives participants the opportunity to work cooperatively with various nonprofit organizations in Jerusalem.
“The future of Jewish peoplehood is dependent on the two major world Jewish communities finding new ways of learning to walk together and developing new
models for understanding,” Rabbi Donniel Hartman, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute, says in a statement describing the program. “Building on signature curricula such as those developed by our iEngage Project, Hevruta will encourage new modes of cooperation and understanding between Israel and world Jewry set in a warm, nurturing, pluralistic and intellectually and spiritually engaging atmosphere.”
Large parts of the day will be devoted to classes, with free time in the afternoon and group activities in the evening.
The program will also host monthly group Shabbatons, leaving students free to spend other Shabbat days however they choose.
Applications to the program can be found at shalomhartman.org/hevruta. Applications must be received by April 1.