A MEANINGFUL experience in Israel is a must for the Diaspora.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When I was 15 I spent the spring semester of tenth grade in Jerusalem. Sometime during those four months, I decided that after graduating from high school I was going to serve in the Israel Defense Forces and make aliya.
Living in Israel made me feel so much happier, and I felt such a strong connection between myself and this country. Every story I heard about someone who made aliya (moved to Israel) inspired me and I wanted to see myself follow that path.
I came home to Queens and told my parents my plans. They immediately accepted the idea, were incredibly supportive and encouraged me to do whatever makes me happy. I spent every day wishing I was back in Israel, barely able to wait for that day to arrive. I decided that the best way to start was to spend a gap year in Israel. I could experience Israel in a way that I never had before and truly be a part of Israeli culture.
Masa Israel Journey offers a variety of gap-year programs in collaboration with The Jewish Agency for Israel and the government of Israel that cater to different students’ goals in Israel; I decided upon Aardvark because it would allow me to explore Israel in my own way. I choose where I volunteer, what classes I take, and participate in activities based on my personal interests.
Two months into the program and I can’t imagine being on a college campus instead. In this short time I have learned how to live independently, explored Jerusalem, picked up a lot of Hebrew and made new lifelong friends. Every day is filled with volunteering, tiyulim (trips), classes about Israel and Judaism, and of course, loads of fun.
I am soon to begin a program called Marva in which I will live on an Israeli army base for eight weeks, like a real soldier. This particular feature of Aardvark and other Masa programs will be very helpful as I prepare for my future career in the IDF.
I am hopeful this experience will lead me to becoming a stronger and more capable leader.
Going on a Masa program has allowed me to slowly ease myself into living on my own in Israel and getting used to a new lifestyle as I develop a stronger, global perspective on the world around me and deepen my connection to my Judaism.
Gap-year programs aren’t only good for people like me who want to make aliya, however. This type of transformative, immersive experience is also ideal for people who want to experience Israel in a whole new way for a significant amount of time, whether to volunteer, intern, study or just have a unique personal building experience before college.
MOST OF my Jewish-American peers have gone straight off to college, many without even thinking twice about participating in a gap-year program.
But I believe that spending a substantial amount of time living on my own in Israel has helped me build a stronger connection between myself and the Land of Israel as well as with the Israeli people.
Through all of its programs, Masa Israel helps future olim plant their feet in Israel and also creates a way for Diaspora Jews to strengthen the bond with their Israeli brethren. Not only is it important to maintain this connection on an individual level, but as a community it is also crucial for Diaspora Jews to treat Israel as a necessity to our Jewish identities.
By sending thousands of young people to Israel for long-term programs every year, Masa programs have massively contributed to the movement of people who are dedicated to keeping this bond alive and making it stronger.The author is currently participating in Aardvark Israel, a gap-year program through Masa Israel Journey.
She graduated from the Academy of American Studies in Queens earlier this year. She plans to make aliya and join the IDF next year.