Student’s immersive gap year in Israel is a defining experience — for the whole family


On Nov. 8 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Masa Israel Journey’s 2018 gap year fair comes to Rockville’s Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, where students, parents and other interested community members will have an opportunity to get all their gap year questions answered and to find out about the different types of experiences Masa offers.

Masa operates two- to 12-month gap year, study abroad, volunteer and internship opportunities for young adults ages 18-30.

Below, a Masa alum from Rockville and her father reflect on what their family discovered from the program.

The alum’s perspective

By Becca Gordon

Early in my high school years, it had never crossed my mind to take a gap year before college. As a public school student, I didn’t realize how important being involved in the Jewish community would be for the rest of my life.

Yet I ended up enrolling in Masa Israel Journey a day before my high school graduation, and my time in the program continues to shape the course of my life. Masa wasn’t my first Israel experience, but it was by far the most immersive.

For part of my gap year from 2016 to 2017, I volunteered for the Israeli-inspired Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda, where I taught English to vulnerable children who have been affected by the country’s 1994 genocide. It was a profound and emotional experience, and it inspired me to pursue my current academic track in public health as opposed to my initial plan to major in psychology.

Masa enabled me to perform highly impactful volunteer work in Rwanda on a parallel track with my passion for Israel. I’m not sure exactly what my professional future will hold, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it involves working with an Israeli NGO that helps repair the world.

Before Masa, I’d participated in BBYO and March of the Living. I came home from those experiences with a strong desire to do a gap year. Marching from Auschwitz to Birkenau with more than 15,000 Jewish people, and then going directly to Israel during Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut, gave me a much deeper appreciation for the Jewish homeland and helped me connect with Israel’s past and present. I wanted to experience more, especially while I was still in that state of appreciation.

My initial research on gap year programs pointed me to another course. But I had also attended Masa ceremonies in Israel, so I was somewhat familiar with its programs. As I continued my research on gap year options, Masa had the most appealing website, longest-running and best-reviewed programs, and interactive content like videos and blogs that piqued my interest. It was clear that Masa offered the broadest, most diverse, most pluralistic experience in Israel, without a particular affiliation or agenda. I was hooked.

Without the strong foundation of my Masa program, I couldn’t be the student leader I am today at the University of Maryland. I’m considering leading an Israel trip this coming winter with non-Jewish student leaders, an undertaking I would’ve never considered without the diverse knowledge I gained during my immersive gap year in Israel.

I got to experience Israel with young adults from across the spectrum of Jewish backgrounds and opinions, and was exposed to both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as all facets of Israel. It gives me the confidence to educate my peers about Israel, regardless of their existing opinions about the country or the conflict.

Becca Gordon is a graduate of the Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville and a sophomore at the University of Maryland.

The parent’s perspective

By Dave Gordon

With only four months before my daughter would begin her college career at the University of Maryland, she approached me about deferring her enrollment and going on a gap year program in Israel. I imagine that if she had asked to take a gap year in Europe, I likely would have not been as supportive. Yet having attended a six-week summer tour of Israel with USY when I was a high school student, I understood Becca’s desire to experience Israel for herself in a meaningful way.

We’d gone to Israel on a family trip the summer before her senior year in high school, and she had already attended BBYO and March of the Living trips to Israel. It was a step-by-step process in which one Israel experience led to another, and an immersive gap year was the natural next step.

Indeed, Masa Israel Journey not only took Becca’s passion for and knowledge about Israel to the next level, but substantively moved her forward as a person, as a leader and as a future professional.

It’s almost too easy to be Jewish in Rockville, and to take that comfort for granted. Masa gave Becca a deeper appreciation for Israel and all of its colors, and inspired her to become a leader among her peers in college, an often-challenging environment for pro-Israel students where her leadership is desperately needed. She’s learned to articulately respond to opposing views on Israel, confidently convey her own position, and persuade her fellow students to embrace a diversity of perspectives.

I’m particularly proud of Becca for volunteering at Rwanda’s Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village as part of her Masa experience. After having the privilege of growing up in a relatively upper middle-class community, she got to work with many of the village’s most vulnerable children. It was an eye-opening experience that she would’ve never gotten outside the context of her Masa program.

It’s wonderful to see your child develop their passion — whatever it is — and discover what really speaks to them, what their greater purpose is in this world. In Becca’s case, she embarked on a journey that ignited a deep passion and commitment for Israel and a first-hand experience in Tikkun Olam, repairing the world.

If Masa had held a gap year fair in Rockville when Becca was a high school senior, I would’ve eagerly attended such an event with her. Fortunately, she discovered her gap year program on
her own.

Dave Gordon, a native and current resident of Rockville, is an independent business development consultant to government service providers.

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