My gap year experience in Israel so far has been nothing short of the best year of my life. I have explored so much of Israel and so much about myself in just the three short months that I have been here. Each day brings something new: a new food, experience, conversation, trip, or insight. As a part of the program I am on, Nativ College Leadership Program, I live in Jerusalem and spend most days at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Mount Scopus. There, I broaden my knowledge of many fields in which I have always been interested, and establish context for daily life here in Israel. I am taking four classes: Advanced Hebrew, Colloquial Arabic, The Battle over the three Bibles (Jewish Bible, Christain Old Testement, and Muslim Quran), and Technology and Entrepreneurship in Israel. These classes have given background and insight on ideas that I have always pondered, and I constantly look forward to applying all that I have learned into my own life. For example, after learning how to read, speak and write Arabic letters, I have been able to read every Arabic street sign. Also, after learning the basics of a conversation in colloquial Arabic, I have gone up and talked to Arabic speakers in their native tongue. I have learned more about Israel as the renowned start-up nation, and had the opportunity to learn from intriguing people who began successful international companies from scratch.

When I am not studying at Hebrew University, I explore Jerusalem and soak in all it has to offer. I get to experience the antiquity of the city, as well as the vibrant and diverse aspects of the bustling, modern city. I walk around the Old City, museums, synagogues, parks/nature trails, the Hebrew University campus, restaurants, Shuk Machne Yehudah, and cultural and religious landmarks for Jews, Christains, and Muslims. I have had the opportunity to try the most delicious food from around the world and breathtaking flavors that I had never before tasted. 

When I am not in Jerusalem, I travel around the country to other cities, kibbutzim, moshavs, villages, or landscapes. In these places, I experience first hand Israeli culture, explore diverse Judaism, and embrace the Hebrew language more than I have ever before. I’ve traveled to coastal cities like Tel Aviv, Netanya and Herzliya where I’ve had countless relaxing beach days looking out onto the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. As one of many Nativ tiyuls, we went to the Negev Desert where we hiked for three days in the vast, breathtaking wilderness and slept in tents under more stars than I had ever seen in my life. We also visited a pleasant Moshav in the north where we spent a peaceful Shabbat and interacted with the welcoming locals. Much of the time, I truly feel like an Israeli: I travel around on my own across the country and visit friends who take me to authentic Israeli places where no tourists go. These “off the beaten path” places are one of the best parts of traveling and immersing myself in another country, knowing that I am living something that is so unique and so few people have the opportunity to experience.

This year has opened up new doors to learning more about Jews around the world, as well as Muslims, Christains and countless other people that I have had the opportunity to talk to. Communicating with people from other religions and cultures heightens my interest in other people from around the world and encourages peaceful and productive discourse that only inspires more exploration. I’ve grown to be much more independent and ambitious through navigating myself around the country, spending my own money, planning weekend trips, figuring things out on my own, and by simply being in control of where I go and what I do each day. More than ever before, I have experienced considerable freedom and responsibility, an exhilarating feeling that is simply impossible to achieve if I had gone directly into college this year. I feel that I am doing a lot of “adulting,” which initially seemed terrifying, but turned out to be completely achievable and satisfying once I got the hang of it. This year has given me new insights on the world and how it works, and encourages me to achieve intermittent goals I’ve set for myself. I have been able to engage in productive communication just in Hebrew, in which I have become nearly fluent in just three months. I have acquired valuable skills of self confidence and initiative by being in a land with which I was initially unfamiliar, yet still so comfortable and motivated to explore. By living in a country that is so unique, incomparable to any country on earth, I have also learned the value of resilience and passion for making this world a better place for all people.

This article was originally published in Fed5. Read the original article here.

If you have a high school senior thinking about a gap year in Israel, JumpSpark has wonderful news! The Zalik Foundation has renewed support for a second year of the Atlanta Israel Gap Year Scholarship pilot. For a second year in a row, select high school students will be generously awarded $10,000 towards a gap year program in Israel for fall 2022. JumpSpark will continue to manage this program which provides generous scholarships for a limited number of pre-approved, eligible Gap Year programs. (Learn more about eligible Gap Year options here).

Right now, 25 lucky students from Atlanta are having Gap Year experiences in Israel. They are exploring the desert, volunteering on kibbutzim, visiting high-tech startups, engaging in meaningful social action, and connecting with Israeli history. One of them is Ariel Goldt, a graduate of Walton HS, who chose the Nativ program for her gap year in Israel. She posts weekly on her adventures. Read some of her excerpts below.

Week 10: Last Shabbat on the Moshav (cooperative community) was such an amazing experience. I played Settlers of Catan entirely in Hebrew with 10-year-olds who didn’t know English while I didn’t know any Hebrew. Somehow, they won but I think something must have gotten lost in translation … or maybe the 10-year-old actually did beat me, but I guess we’ll never know! The family we stayed with did not speak English except for the grandma. The grandma’s daughter, her husband, and seven kids were also staying at her house this weekend. Oh, and a few other of her daughters were there so it was a busy house, but I loved it. Something exciting is always happening and I got to play with the baby all weekend! On Saturday we walked around and got a tour of the Moshav. It was beautiful.

Week 8: On Wednesday we went to a MASA event in Tel Aviv. It was SO much fun! The venue was so cute and Hativah 6 performed for us! We have been listening to their music a lot here, so it was so much fun to see them live! All of the gap year programs that are funded through MASA were there and it was nice to see all of our friends that are in Israel. That night we had a girls’ night in! We set up the laptop and watched Pitch Perfect, the first one obviously, because it’s the best. On Thursday we did some exploring around Jerusalem and found this pretty park! We walked around the park then grabbed lunch at the cutest cafe! That night our camp friend Jonathan was getting sworn into the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), so we went to his ceremony at the Kotel! I loved getting to see him and it was so special we got to be there for him!

Week: 7: This week we started our first official classes at Hebrew University! Now we have classes with other people in the international school. I have never been in one classroom with so many different denominations. Everyone I talked to was from a different country and it’s amazing hearing everyone’s unique perspective on the things we are learning in class! I am excited for the rest of the semester! The other night we last minute decided to go to a Hapoel basketball game! We lost at the buzzer, but it was still a really fun game!

Shalom! My name is Zoe, I’m 18 years old, and I’m from Atlanta, Georgia. I currently live in Yokneam Illit in a communal apartment with six other people and am a Shinshinit, which means I’m participating in a “year of service”. In the mornings, I work in a high school and help students with English and in the afternoons, I help out in a community center. As a shinshinit, I get the amazing opportunity to live and connect with Israelis and create a positive impact in my community. 

I’ve had several “wow moments,” but I think one of my favorites was on our first “komuna Shabbat,” which is when once a month, we all stay in the apartment and spend a Shabbat together. On Friday morning, we made a group trip to the mall, and while we were there, we found a puzzle shop. Now I’m sure you can only imagine how difficult it is for seven people to choose a puzzle. Everyone wanted a different puzzle, and we all disagreed on how much was reasonable to spend on a puzzle. But after a little time, we were able to discuss and compromise, and find two puzzles that we all were happy with. Then we went home, cooked and ate a beautiful Shabbat dinner, and had a very intense, very exciting puzzle competition (not to brag or anything, but my team won). Just the thought that we could all compromise and work together to find a solution really blew my mind. The situation could have turned ugly, but instead I think it strengthened our connection as a team. I’m really happy to be here in Yokneam, and I can’t wait to continue to grow and learn and experience more “wow moments.”