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December 25, 2021

Year Course 21-22 Update

Two Year Coursers Share the Latest from Israel
10 min read

Alex Weintraub:

Hometown:  Brooklyn, NY

- How did you hear about year course?

I heard about year course online. I decided that I wanted to do a gap year in Israel at the beginning of senior year. I spent a lot of time researching various programs, but Young Judaea Year Course absolutely stood out above the rest. I remember taking one look at the year course website and deciding this was the place meant for me.

- Have you been to Israel before? If so, how has this experience compared with previous ones?

I have not been to Israel before. The last month and a half has been a powerful experience unlike anything I have experienced before. I have never been surrounded by such a large Jewish community. I feel safety in a way I had not felt growing up in America as a minority. Integrating into a culture defined by Judaism is a special opportunity that every Jewish person should experience in their lives.

- how has living in and experiencing Israel affected your Jewish identity?

Judaism is engulfed in my daily life in a way it never has been before. I am surrounded by people who, no matter how different they are from me, we still have our Jewish commonality. I feel more Jewish religiously, but more so in a cultural sense. I am certainly happy to eat babka, rugelach, and challah on a daily basis, but that's besides the point. I have experienced so much through opportunities not open to me outside of Israel. Every waking moment in Israel offers an opportunity to learn about the culture which has sustained the Jewish people for centuries, and will continue for centuries to come. I have come to an understanding of the importance of my Jewish heritage; there is value in keeping the traditions of history. My curiosity to learn and experience Jewish tradition has peaked in ways that never could have occurred in America.

- How has the way you practice Judaism changed or stayed the same?

For starters without even trying I essentially keep kosher. Although it’s not a requirement of year course, without trying it is just a reality in Israel. Aside from the occasional cheeseburger, most restaurants keep kosher. Out of respect for those who may be kosher, at home we keep the kitchens separated between meat and dairy. As someone who has never kept kosher, I am surprised to find that this has not been a challenge for me or any of my friends. It has also been easier to observe Shabbat. Shabbat is very peaceful. Everything closes, and I mean everything. There isn't a place in Israel to go shopping on the weekend. The world stops Friday afternoon, and stays at a standstill through Saturday evening. This provides unique opportunities unlike anywhere else in the world. Shabbat is truly a day of rest, recuperating for the start of the new week ahead. As I sit here writing about Shabbat, the sun begins to set on this warm Friday evening, I look forward to the coming day of rest.

- Do you feel more connected to your religion/community/people?

I completely feel more connected to my community. A shared religion creates a bond which is incomparable. There is a beautiful strength within the year course community. We are a cohesive unit of young adults who love and accept each other. There is no stress, anxiety, or drama in our community. Our shared religion and culture forms a maturity which sustains us.

- Why year course?

I chose Year Course because of the many different opportunities Year Course offers which are above and beyond better than those offered by other gap year programs. From weekly trips across Israel, to interning at a leading environmental and energy management advisory company, to road trips with the rabbi, to volunteering at a displacement camp in Rwanda, to integrating in Israeli culture and society, Young Judaea is unmatched.

- What were your expectations going into Year Course? How has your experience in Israel differed from your expectations?

Israel is nothing like I was expecting. Admittedly it is an adjustment learning a new language, navigating a new city, and meeting new people. The bonds I have formed with fellow Year Coursers has given me energy to face these challenges. I am never alone on Year Course. All struggles that I face are shared struggles of which there are a 100 plus people who are experiencing the same things, and who are willing to support me as I support them.

- Have you had any negative experiences with Israel so far?

Quarantine was hard, but well worth it. For the first week in Israel, all of Year Course were confined to our rooms. It was very hard to be in a new place with new people without the freedom to go outside. Quarantine was really difficult, but I kept thinking to myself if I can get through quarantine, I can make it through anything.

- Did you experience culture shock?

I did experience a culture shock but being surrounded by a Jewish community limited that shock in a very meaningful way. Everyone on Year Course struggles together, and supports each other.

-  Do you have a meaningful year course memory so far? Why was it so meaningful?

This picture is of me and my friends on the road trip with Rabbi Adam to Tzfat during Simchat Torah. Learning about Kabbalah and celebrating Simchat Torah was an incredible experience.

- Have any of your opinions of Israel changed since being there?

I have learned that it is important to be a Zionist. The Jewish community in Israel is very important. Israel offers protection in the face of antisemitic hate. I have also learned about the struggle of Palestinians, and that Zionism cannot be used as an excuse to deny Palestinians their human rights. My recent trip to the West Bank and the Golan Heights was eye opening. I saw the socioeconomic divide between Israelis and Palestinians and it breaks my heart that helping Palestinians is such a divisive issue. I believe in peace, and in the preservation of the Jewish homeland.

Sara Greenberg: 

Hometown: Westchester NY

  • How did you hear about year course?

I heard about Year Course through school friends of mine that went on Year Course last year (2020-21). I had never heard of someone disliking Year Course or having a bad experience, so I figured this would be an amazing gap year program!

  • Have you been to Israel before? If so, how has this experience compared with previous ones?

I have been to Israel before both on family trips and school trips. This is a completely different experience because I finally feel like an adult living in Israel. While I still have the total support of the Year Course staff when necessary, I have the utmost freedom to explore Israel on my own, which is a very maturing experience.

  • How has living in and experiencing Israel affected your Jewish identity?

Being able to live in Israel on my own has really pushed me to think about which religious traditions of my parents’ I want to continue when I have a family of my own, and which traditions of my own I want to adopt. So far, I’ve realized that I would like to observe more Shabbat traditions when I raise my kids.

  • How do the way you practice Judaism changed or stayed the same?

Now that I don’t have my school or my parents telling me which traditions to observe, I have been much more focused on finding which Jewish traditions speak to me here in Israel. I also definitely feel more connected and willing to commit more of myself to Judaism now that it isn’t imposed on me.

  • Do you feel more connected to your religion/community/people?

I certainly feel more connected to my people during Year Course, as I understand that I am in the land that my ancestors for thousands of years dreamed of going to and prayed about every Passover. It makes me feel like I am part of a massive line of tradition, and that I am living in the golden age.

  • Why year course?

I’m entering college as a pre-med student and am incredibly passionate about medicine, and the option to work with Magen David Adom during my time in Tel Aviv is what drew me to Year Course. The opportunities that Year Course offers were unmatched. I also loved the pluralistic aspect to Year Course, as it actually motivated me to discover which Jewish identity fits me, rather than being told what to do.

  • Did you experience culture shock?

The only sort of culture shock I experienced was when the entire country closed down for Shabbat. At first, I found it tricky to navigate my weekends with this ‘obstacle,’ but there is really something beautiful about the whole country resting for a day. This experience made me only want to slow down for the day with the rest of my community and embrace the day.

  • Do you have a meaningful year course memory so far? Why was it so meaningful?

There was one time where I felt slightly uncomfortable in a situation I was in, and I turned to a Year Courser who was standing next to me who I wasn’t necessarily friends with, and I asked for help. Without hesitation or any questions, he ensured my safety and made me feel much better. This experience really made me understand how powerful my Year Course family is, and that I can rely on any Year Courser, even for the rest of my life, to be there for me. I am truly part of such a strong, incredible community.

  • Have any of your opinions of Israel changed since being there?

Since living in Israel, I feel a stronger pull to return after college and settle here, as this place is really starting to feel like my true home. Being surrounded by Jews and being part of such an incredible community is not something I can leave just yet.

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