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;