When Emily Goldberg visited Morocco as part of her gap-year program, she and her classmates met a Muslim man who had been taking care of a synagogue for decades.
“He had this huge, rusty old key with little spikes at the end,” Goldberg said, “and you walk into this old room with Hebrew writing all over the walls and the oldest Torah you’ve ever seen and it was the craziest experience and this Muslim man even saw the importance of preserving it.”
This is one of Goldberg’s favorite memories from her program, called Kivunim: New Directions. For those who are interested in spending a gap year between high school and college doing something Jewish, Kivunim is just one of the many options available to students.
Some programs are held at universities in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, where students can take college courses. Others are organized through youth groups like NCSY and BBYO.
Stephanie Aseraph, mid-Atlantic regional manager of Masa Israel, a public-service collaboration between the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and the Jewish Agency for Israel, said her job is to help guide students through that decision process.
Some programs offer volunteer or internship opportunities, international travel choices and immersion and relationship-building with Israeli young adults.
“For a lot of people, their gap year puts them on a trajectory toward their future and becoming more prepared to take on those challenges in college and just more prepared overall for the next four years and afterwards,” Aseraph said.
Masa Israel is intent on helping Diaspora Jews experience Israel. Aseraph said alumni talk about how much their gap years helped them develop or recognize their passions.
“You’re able to find things about yourself that you didn’t know before,” she said. “The people you meet always have an impact on you.”
Teenagers have a variety of reasons to want to spread their wings after high school.
For Goldberg, whose gap year was in 2016 to 2017, it was about finding herself and maturing before starting college.
“I was completely intent on going [to George Washington University] in the fall after I graduated high school, but as it was getting closer … I was getting really stressed out and didn’t think I was mature enough to go,” she said. “I couldn’t stick to things, I didn’t know what I was passionate about.”
She said the idea of studying about the Jewish Diaspora — a focus of the Kivunim program — was interesting to her, especially because in high school she had only learned about Jews in the Holocaust and their lives afterward.
“I think if I had gone to college right after high school, I wouldn’t have as [strong of a] desire to learn as I do and feel [passionate about my education],” said Goldberg, who is now a junior studying business at George Washington University.
She and her classmates took four courses in Jerusalem, and spent about a month and a half at a time there before going on a two to three week international trip. They had four trips during the year, and went to Greece, Morocco, Spain, India and Hungary, among other countries, where they visited local Jewish communities.
Elliana Makovsky, 17, said she wants to do a gap year abroad to help her grow as a person and as a Jew. And she wants her time spent to be valuable.
“I want a program where I know it wasn’t a waste of a year when I get to college,” said Makovsky, a senior at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. At the same time, she recognizes that college will always be an option. “I feel like it’s not hurting me not to go to college right away.”
“Just know that your life can wait for one year, it doesn’t make that much of a difference in making friends. And if anything, it only enhances your desire to learn,” Goldberg said.
Even though there’s an adjustment period after being away for a year, it’s worth the positive impact the trip has had, she added.
“It is very profound, and being there with an open mind and trying new things is so important.”
Makovsky said she wants her gap year to be balanced between travel and Jewish education.
“I want an open environment so I can see all kinds of perspectives” on Judaism, Makovsky said.
Eden Weinstein, 17, said she wants to get a Jewish education in Israel. She is a senior at Sidwell Friends School.
“I think a big part of it is the cultural experience,” said Weinstein, whose older brother went on a gap year to Israel and enjoyed it.
Goldberg said she formed lasting relationships with other students on her gap year program, and gained purpose in the life she’s living now.
“I can really see that my life is more than I thought it could ever be,” she said. “There’s so much purpose in being able to spread what I’ve learned.”
What kind of program are you looking for?
Most programs will take participants around Israel and provide classes, but
there might be particular areas you want to focus on. Here are some options
among many that are available.
• Volunteering and service: USJC Nativ, Aardvark
• University life: Israel XP at Bar Ilan University, Freshman gap year at Hebrew
University, Academic gap year at Tel Aviv University, BIG IDEA Gap Year
• Jewish education: USJC Nativ, Israel XP at Bar Ilan University, Kol Ami, Young
Judea Year Course
• Social change: BINA Gap Year in Tel Aviv, STEAM for Social Change at Hebrew
• International travel: Kivunim, Aardvark, USJC Nativ
• Immersion with Israelis: Hevruta, STEAM for Social Change at Hebrew University
For information on these programs, contact Stephanie Aseraph at [email protected].