Gap Year in Israel: Leadership incubator for Jewish future - opinion

Experiencing a deep sense of peoplehood, studying Torah in depth and personally encountering the privilege of the history and the vibrancy of the land to which we have returned.

 THE WRITER (seated in the front, third from right) meets with gap year students from abroad, at World Mizrachi Headquarters in Jerusalem. (photo credit: WORLD MIZRACHI)
THE WRITER (seated in the front, third from right) meets with gap year students from abroad, at World Mizrachi Headquarters in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: WORLD MIZRACHI)

The Gap Year experience in Israel is the Leadership Incubator of the Jewish People. It has the potential to transform lives forever and impact our collective future. Both in its timing and in its essence.

Here’s why:

  • Timing – couldn’t be more perfect. It happens at a time when young adults take a break from 12 years of formal schooling and before potentially many more years of rigorous college study. It is a time of reflection and introspection – a time to dig deep and contemplate what life is really all about and to charter the course of their moral and spiritual lives. It is time of both maturation and impressionability: mature enough to make big decisions and impressionable enough to be idealistic without cynicism.
  • Essence – the Gap Year is a remarkable rendezvous with the soul of our mission as Jews. It is a nexus between the three pillars of Jewish identity – The People, Torah and Land of Israel forming the basis of our collective mission of being individual and collective “Lights unto the Nations.”

Somehow, all Jewish spiritual journeys since time immemorial are always directed to Israel. Indeed, the two great Biblical odysseys mentioned in Chumash are both journeys towards the Land of Israel. The very first time God speaks to the first Jew, Abraham, it is in the form of a command to leave wherever he is in order to journey to a distant to the Land that would become Israel.

The second great journey was a collective trek of the entire Jewish People at God’s command to leave Egypt in order to return to the land of their forebears – Israel. They, of course, left Egypt, received the Torah along the way at Mount Sinai and continued in the footsteps of Abraham and Sarah, to the very same land that they had journeyed to centuries before – (Land of Israel).

Exodus from Egypt (Edward Poynter) (credit: Wikimedia Commons)Exodus from Egypt (Edward Poynter) (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

From the very dawn of Jewish history, from the very first Jew to the first collective journey of the Jewish People, our destination was always Eretz Yisrael. Their spiritual mission has always been inextricably linked to this tiny tract of Holy Land – the Promised Land. Its centrality is undeniable.

The connection between the Torah – the substance of our spiritual mission – and the Land of Israel is unshakable. Indeed, the only two things called in the Torah a morasha, an eternal inheritance for each Jew, are the Torah itself and the Land of Israel. Deepening our connection to both is the very essence of our purpose – connecting with the core of life mission.

In short, the fate of the Jewish people is inseparable from our Sinai-driven spiritual mission and from the Land of our destination. People, Torah and land intertwined together form the heart of our destiny.

THE GAP Year is where all three come together. Experiencing a deep sense of peoplehood – of camaraderie with Clal Yisrael (the People of Israel) – studying Torah in depth and personally encountering the privilege of the history and the vibrancy of the land to which we have returned.

It is a great feather in the cap of the State of Israel that with all the COVID-19 restrictions and challenges and over the last two years, Israel remained constantly open to all Gap Year students. We are grateful, along with many others, to have played a role in this.

Every young Jew should have this transformative opportunity. None should ever be denied. It is here that thousands of young men and women each year study in order to tap into our collective destiny. The yeshivot and seminaries in Israel are the great engines of our spiritual success for our collective Jewish future. These institutions, in many ways, are the leadership incubators for the Jewish people in general and the religious Zionist community in particular.

For this reason, we at Mizrachi are committed to strengthening gap years in Israel through enhancing the scholarship allocation to deserving students and engaging in broad campaigns on their behalf. After all, their success is our success.

This mission is particularly critical today. Too often recent events have shown us how antisemitism so quickly expresses itself unequivocally in the delegitimization of Israel. It is almost as if those who are smitten with the hatred of the Jewish people – antisemitism – understand instinctively that in this era of Jewish sovereignty in Israel, it is this very connection that needs to be severed.

The intrinsic link between Judaism, the Jewish people and our spiritual and historic connection to the Land is at our essence; that which our enemies seek to weaken is the very thing we ought to strengthen.

It is one of our core Mizrachi missions, especially now in our movement’s milestone 120th year, to strengthen the unshakable bond between our Jewish fate as a people, Torah – our spiritual destiny – and the land of our destination.

What a privilege and opportunity it is – for us all – to play a proactive role our epic drama of Jewish destiny. The privilege of building a Jewish sovereign state as an animating force of Jewish life today and striving to be of a positive moral and spiritual beacon of light is a great responsibility that providence has placed on our shoulders.

The writer, a rabbi, is the executive chairman of World Mizrachi.