High School Grads Opt for a Gap Year in Israel

High School Grads Opt for a Gap Year in Israel

With so much uncertainty about what college life will look like this fall, an increasing number of high school graduates are opting for a gap year. A gap year provides students with the opportunity to defer college for one year to continue to learn and grow. For Jewish teens, living and studying in Israel can fulfill a dream of spending time in the Jewish homeland and deepening one’s connection with their faith.

Yonah Davis (center) with friends Elana Redfern (left) and Samantha Brody (right) during the Northern hike first semester.

In fact, gap year programs are experiencing a rise in popularity. A poll by the Baltimore-based Art & Science Group shows nearly one in six U.S. graduating seniors say they will likely revise their plans of attending a four-year college in the fall and take a gap year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most feel they’ve missed out on senior year milestones and want their college experience to be what they hoped and strived for.

For Jewish high school graduates, this trend has made the Nativ program—a challenging academic year program dedicated to creating and inspiring the Conservative Jewish youth leaders of tomorrow—particularly attractive. Each September through May, a select group of high school graduates from Jewish communities in North America travel to Israel to experience Nativ, which means “path” in Hebrew.

Nativers spend their fall semester studying in Jerusalem at Hebrew University, the Conservative Yeshiva, or in an Ulpan where they also participate in community service. The second semester provides an opportunity to “give back” and connect with a small Israeli community. In recent years, participants have had the option to live in Tiberias or at the Yemin Orde Youth Village

Through it all, Nativers are immersed in Israel’s life and spirit, including daily tefilot and Shabbat observance. They also learn the historical and Jewish significance of locations throughout the country, including the Galilee, Golan Heights, Beit Shean Valley, Carmel, the Judean Desert, the Negev, and even Eilat.

While many wonder if this Nativ experience will look the same come September, Nativ Director Yossi Garr says they are planning for it. “Things in Israel have turned a corner in a positive way regarding COVID-19,” he shares. “Over the past few weeks, several restrictions have been lifted and life in Israel is slowly getting back on track.”

Following the shooting in New York at a solidarity rally, Yonah is pictured with Yitzhak “Bougie” Herzog, a former Knesset member and current chairman of the Jewish Agency.

By the end of the month, for example, all students are expected to be physically back in schools. Malls and stores have also reopened and businesses are allowing more employees to work out of the office. Meanwhile, there are still restrictions regarding large gatherings as well as requirements for social distancing and wearing a mask in public.

“We are still on track for Nativ to operate fully this fall,” he continues. “We have been in constant contact with our different partners to assure everyone is on board with making Nativ 40 happen.”

Fortunately for high school graduates considering Nativ or another gap year experience, most colleges and universities are being more flexible than ever, allowing students who were to attend in the fall 2020 to defer enrollment for one school year. Graduates are encouraged to check with their college as many are revising their deferment policies.

Three Questions With One Nativer

Yonah Davis participated in Nativ 2019-2020 on the Hebrew University track first semester and Tiberias track second semester. He will attend a university in the United States next year. Here, he shares why he wouldn’t trade his Nativ experience for the world.

Why was taking a Gap year and participating in the Nativ program important for you personally?

“Learning about the conflict with international peers at Hebrew University, exploring Jerusalem and finding new restaurants with friends, experiencing all the holidays in Israel and being fully immersed in Jewish culture, traveling around Poland and learning about historical and modern-day life, volunteering with special needs adults in Tiberias, spending full days speaking in Hebrew…it’s impossible for me to share all of the impactful experiences I had on Nativ.”

How do you think it made you a better, more informed leader/person/member of the Jewish community?

“During Nativ, I had the opportunity to learn more about other practices and develop my own connection with Judaism. Nativ solidified my desire to be an active member of a Jewish community as an adult and helped me develop my skills to be a strong community leader.”

Tell us about the one most impactful experience you had there and why it was so meaningful?

“We experienced the chagim (holidays) in Israel during the first few weeks on Nativ. Before Rosh Hashana, some friends and I walked down to the Kotel for Slichot, a service that happens leading up to the High Holy Days. I vividly remember the thousands of Jews from all walks of life packing into the Kotel plaza. The sound of all the voices chanting in unison was so powerful for me and reminded me that, despite all the divisions and challenges facing Israel, it is a homeland for all Jews.”

Can’t Make It to Israel?

Gap years can provide high school graduates opportunities to volunteer, save money for college, and discover passions to help determine a major. If you can’t make it to Israel this fall, here are some other ways to spend your time:

Intern or Volunteer – You’ll have experience before you even start college.

Earn Money – If you’re fortunate to be employed, keep working and saving for your future.

Take Classes at a Community College – Take prerequisites remotely for a fraction of the cost of a university class.

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