August 31, 2006
Gap-Year Kids Leave to Study For A Year in Israel
Many college-bound high school graduates are packing up their inflatable sofas and plan to stay abreast Middle East news using wireless laptops. But some of their peers will get a real-time glimpse of current events as they prepare for a year of study in Israel.
In the wake of the recent eruptions of violence in the region, the resolve of students intent on spending a "gap year" between high school graduation and freshman year of college engaged in study or service in Israel has remained strong. While most are relieved that the cease-fire has eased immediate threats, they know that the situation is far from over.
The war in northern Israel has left her feeling "no different than before" about studying in Jerusalem, said Adina Stohl, who graduated from the Yeshiva of Los Angeles Girls High School (YULA) in June and is starting at the Michlalah women's school in Jerusalem in September.
Alison Silver, an alumna of Shalhevet High School who left for Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim in late August, shares Stohl's conviction that her year in Israel will remain relatively unaltered despite recent turbulence in the region.
"I think that in the beginning the seminaries are going to be stricter," she said, "but I was already anticipating a year of 'You shouldn't do this, it's not safe.'"
The University of Maryland sent word to some of its students who deferred enrollment to spend a year in Israel that, due to the current situation in the Middle East, space could be made for them for this semester.
But Shie Gabbai, a Shalhevet graduate who will attend Machon Lev at the Jerusalem College of Technology, declined the offer, saying he is still going to Israel. He feels that Jerusalem is the safest part of the country.
"The overall mentality in Israel is positive. People are going on with their lives," said Gabbai, who also spent this summer in Israel.
For some Israel-bound teenagers, the recent tumultuousness there has evoked new feelings of fearfulness and a sense of renewed obligation to spend time in the country.
Tamar Rohatiner, a counselor at Camp Ramah in Ojai and a recent graduate of Shalhevet High School, is beginning her studies at Ohr Torah Stone's Midreshet Lindenbaum in late August.
"Obviously I'm scared, and I'm a little nervous," she said from Ojai, "but the world is a scary place. If I'm nervous, it's the best time for me to go to Israel. If we stop sending our kids, Hezbollah wins."
The prospect of spending an extended period of time in Israel was made even more enticing for Dani Wexler, after she spent the summer with Israeli staff at Camp Ramah. Wexler, who is enrolled in Shevet, a division of Young Judaea's Year Course in Israel program, which combines academic studies with immersion in Israeli society and community service, said she was deeply affected by the Israelis' emotional response to news from Israel.
"They're very connected," she said of the Israelis at camp, "and I feel like I'm going to be able to accomplish that connection."
Young Judaea has sent participants reassuring e-mails regarding its programs' security. This, coupled with support from her parents, has made Wexler feel confident about her departure in September.
"My parents were in Israel for the summer, and they've been very calm about it and have encouraged me to go," she said.
Many parents emulate the Wexler's encouraging spirit despite feeling uneasy about the war and generally nervous about sending their children far away from home.
Laurie and David Paletz's son, Steven, a graduate of the YULA Boys High School, is attending Yeshivat Sha'alvim this year. Laurie said that she is experiencing "a natural sort of anxiety" that any parent would feel upon sending a child away from home.
"I'm worried and anxious and concerned but unwavering," she said. "My husband and I have always felt very strongly that this is an important time for Steven. It's an important and wonderful experience that I would not deny him."
Many of the students have a sense that their year abroad will prove helpful for Israel as well as for themselves. In Shevet, for example, Wexler can work with Magen David Adom, assist the Israeli fire department or tutor children.
"Everyone is contributing to the country in some way, even if it's not on the front lines," Wexler explained.
Rohatiner, who also wants to perform community service during her stay, feels that simply going to Israel will have an affect, if only by boosting the Israeli economy -- though she aims to do more.
"Before the war I thought I was going for myself, to learn, but now I feel that your year in Israel isn't only about yourself, it's about helping the country," she said.
Ali Austerlitz is in her senior year at Milken Community High School.
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