Create “Ambassadors of Truth” with a gap year in Israel.
By Phyllis Folb, Founder/Director American Israel Gap Year Association
Last week, the attorney general’s office released research that the overall number of hate crimes in California fell by 2.5% last year. However, in the L.A. Times, Hannah Fry reported that the number of hate crimes spiked for Jews by 21%
Many of us in the Jewish community are once again asking ourselves, “What can we do to address the swastika graffiti, arson attempts, and synagogue shootings? How can we counter the unfortunate, age-old tropes and myths that have triggered murderous violence for millennia?” Anti-Semitism should worry everyone, not just Jews, because as we saw in the Holocaust, anti-Semitism is a monster of hatred that spills over to other minority groups that are scapegoated for different reasons, such as Latinos, who experts now say are the victims of the vitriolic rhetoric over immigration issues.
To create the ammunition Jews need to fight against the recurring irrational and inexplicable accusations, we encourage a gap year in Israel for Jewish students and for anyone interested in gaining real-world experiences. During a gap year in Israel, young adults learn to look beyond the media, to discover the reality behind the myths, and to trust their own findings and perceptions in their quest for answers to their questions about Israel, the world, and themselves. In this way, gap years in Israel can empower young adults to enter college as “ambassadors of truth.”
In addition to the media, college campuses have, unfortunately, become the sites of heated, often ill-informed rhetoric about Israel. However, instead of starting college as vulnerable and impressionable youths, gap year alumni come back to the U.S. as empowered and educated adults who are confidently able to dispel myths and to engage in intelligent and civilized conversations about the Middle East. Rather than having their opinions molded by fellow students with angry agendas, gap year alumni are instilled with pride about themselves and Israel.
For instance, gap year alumna Alison Pollock reports, “Every one of the 255 days that I lived in Israel, I learned something new, because of the people I lived with, places I traveled, and the work that I was able to engage with in this amazing country. I learned how to communicate about Israel effectively. I might get angry when I hear anti-Israel biases, but I am able to calmly explain my position. I am now studying Middle Eastern politics and am currently involved in making a documentary about Israel and how it is portrayed on college campuses.”
A tiny dynamo of a country, Israel is forward-thinking, highly technological and economically flourishing. To show high school graduates the realities of Israel, the American Israel Gap Year Association (AIGYA) strives to provide Israel gap year opportunities that are exciting, appealing, and relevant to students across the spectrum of Jewish denominations. Whether a student wants to intern with a high-tech startup, volunteer in social services, learn in academic or religious institutions, volunteer in the Israel Defense Forces, or cultivate the land, a plethora of options abound.
Beyond fighting hatred back in the U.S., the research of the Gap Year Association (GYA) reveals the extensive benefits of students who defer college for a year. Students who participate in gap years routinely earn higher grade point averages, secure leadership roles on campus, and take fewer years to graduate. In addition, gap year benefits extend beyond students’ college years. Alumni report that their gap years helped them to define and focus on their chosen career paths, made them more employable after graduation, and helped them acquire valuable skills that contributed to success in their careers.
Gap years after high school graduation help young Jewish adults to internalize the truth, dignity, and beauty of Israel, in addition to making them better global citizens. By exposing them to the real world beyond the headlines and misinformation, our students learn not only to fight hate about Jews and Israel, but to work to prevent scapegoating other minorities as well.
Phyllis Folb is the founder and the director of the American Israel Gap Year Association, is a gap year counselor, and has been a Jewish communal professional for more than 30 years. Every Fall, the AIGYA hosts the largest Israel Gap Year fair on the West Coast featuring more than 40 programs to engage students of any interest, budget, or level of Jewish observance.
It has become increasingly popular to spend a year traveling or volunteering between high school and college. Exotic gap year programs have sprouted up in every corner of the globe. Why should you choose a program in Israel from all of the available possibilities?
In today's world, most high school students have multiple identities – student, athlete, social activist, artist, Jewish, and more! The Bridge year intertwines the different elements of your identity into an incredibly rich experience that will speak to you on every level. Not only will you expand your global horizons by spending time in Israel, but you will also be exposed to new ways of looking at history, with personal relevance, and so much more – all through a Jewish lens. This perspective will give you an opportunity to learn more about yourself and to find out what energizes you, what confounds you, what inspires you, and what your passions are.
Choosing to do something extraordinary before starting college will allow you the space to grow into a mature, independent individual as you start the next phase of your life. Choosing to spend that year in Israel will build a foundation that will create meaning and connection in today's rapidly changing world. These programs offer everything that a gap year experience should, and goes beyond by connecting you to your values - chesed, community, and a lifelong connection to our people.
While traveling in Israel, you will not only be awed by the history, but also by the sheer diversity of the people that you encounter. Over the course of the year, you will see yourself less and less as a visitor, and more and more as part of the story itself. It might even inspire you to see yourself as a link in the chain that connects us through time and distance. This is an opportunity to decide for yourself how, when, and where YOU relate to our people, our Land, and our Judaism.
As time goes by, you will surprise yourself by asking questions that you might never have thought to ask! The Bridge Year in Israel goes from the classroom, and delves into the unique parts of Israel to try and understand what makes this country (and our people) tick. But even more importantly, you will come away from your Bridge-Year in Israel challenged, excited, and inspired to continue your own journey of self-discovery.
Enjoy this your gap year exploration, we have access to programs and representatives want to meet you. If you have any further questions or need help in the Gap-Year/college process please contact me.
With best wishes for Finding Your Right Direction
Phyllis Folb-Executive Director
American Israel Gap-Year Association
Find Your Right Direction
College/Gap Year Advising
Educational Programs and Events
By Joanne Helperin
(Los Angeles) – Phyllis Folb, founder of the American Israel Gap Year Association (AIGYA), feels that every single Jewish child should spend a year in Israel. AIGYA produces the American Israel Gap Year Fair, this year to be held on November 21st in Los Angeles. “It’s critically important for both the student as an individual and for the Jewish people as a whole.
Although traditionally the gap year in Israel was primarily for students to study Jewish texts, the number of Israel gap year programs has exploded in the last decade to accommodate the demand of students from every economic, social, and religious background. “We take pride in the fact this a cross-denominational fair.so that every student has equal access to the range of Israel opportunities that are available” Folb said parents and their high school students at the Fair will meet representatives from more than 40 programs, as well as address the financial and emotional challenges of taking a gap year. Masa Israel Journey is a featured sponsor of the fair and leader Israel program placement.
Why a gap year in Israel? Below are some of the best reasons, though there are many more.
1. Their Jewish identity may depend upon it. According to the Hillel Foundation, which has its finger on the pulse of collegiate Jewry, “Simply put, Jewish college students are choosing not to be Jewish.” Israel gap year participants, though, tend to develop deep and lasting bonds to the State of Israel and with the Jewish people.
Just ask Noah Jacobson, member of the famous Maccabeats a capella group and co-founder of The Bardary in Los Angeles. Two years at Sha’alvim was a real eye-opener after the small-town feel of his native Houston, where his high school graduating class had 15 people. He loved the “authenticity” of his gap year experience. “Now when I need to strengthen my Jewish identity,” he said, “it’s like a reservoir that I can draw on.”
2. Gap year students combat anti-Zionism on college campuses. Students with first-hand experience in Israel make credible witnesses against the skewed portrayal in the media and among campus anti-Israel groups. The year of everyday living in Israel -- seeing her strengths and challenges -- prepares the students to be unofficial ambassadors of the truth about Israel when they return.
3. Colleges like gap year students. Princeton, MIT, and Harvard, among others, offer financial aid or funding for the gap year of admitted students. They have seen that gap year students their freshman year more independent, resilient, and responsible than those who do not. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence indicating that a gap year improves academic performance as well, and some programs offer academic credit that will transfer.
4. Programs serve every interest – From a single-sex yeshiva to a co-ed agrarian co-op, there’s a program for every interest: academic, political, religious, artistic, environmental, entrepreneurial, and more. Israel’s small size offers students incredible access to whatever they’re passionate about and the ability to combine several disparate interests into a single nine-month experience. Those pursuing technical degrees in college will also discover several that can further their professional goals.
5. It’s a rare self-development opportunity – A one-year break before the start of college won’t be significant to students’ future income potential, but it has tremendous impact on their personal potential.
Joshua Helperin, freshman at the University of Maryland, said, “Israel is a place where you can discover yourself on a deeper level. You find your positive and negative traits, but because you’re in Israel, it’s the perfect time and place to work on the negative traits and turn yourself into the person you want to be.”
Due to the immersive nature of the experience, students return with a stronger sense of who they want to be when they get to college, as well as memories, friendships, and relationships with teachers and mentors that last a lifetime.
Students could opt to go to Israel during their junior year or after college, but once students get to college, the likelihood of them taking time off to explore their heritage, their people, and most importantly, themselves, is drastically reduced. The gap year in Israel is a life-changing experience that every Jewish student can benefit from. For more information about the Gap Year in Israel, see www.israelgapyear.org;