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.