Chanukah was in the air everywhere for a couple of weeks before the holiday started. The stands in the shuk and different stores were filled with selections of different sufganiyot. Giant Chanukiahs were put up in most malls and on big streets. It was so fun to see all of the lights lit up at night from everyone’s individual chanukiahs. For the last night of Chanukah, me and a couple of my friends went to the old city for candle lighting. There was an enormous Chanukiah on top of a building overlooking the kotel. We met up with friends at the shuk and got sufganiyot. My favorite part of chanukah this year was lighting the menorah in one of my friends’ rooms and us all singing Chanukah songs together. 

This article was originally published in Fed5, a publication of the Jewish Federaiton of Greater Atlanta. Read the original article here.

Did you know your high school student doesn’t have to start college right after completing high school? In fact, taking a year-long break between high school and college — known as a gap year — often contributes to a boost in performance when students enter college. Students who participate in gap year programs, whether academic, travel-focused, or service-focused, frequently become more mature, self-reliant, independent, and college-ready than students who go directly to college. (Read more about the benefits of a gap year here.)

Supported by scholarships of $10,000-$15,000 from the Zalik Foundation, 25 Atlanta area high school graduates are currently on gap year programs in Israel, connecting with Israeli culture and with Israeli peers. JumpSpark, which manages the Atlanta gap year initiative, is excited to announce the scholarship program will continue for a second year. Now is the time to learn more about gap year options and apply.

Jennifer Pollock Crim reports that her son Jordan has been thoroughly enjoying his gap year in Israel. “Jordan went there not knowing one person and now has many friends he can identify with and share new experiences together. He has never tried new food and says he loves trying new food and traveling to see and learn about new places in Israel. He also is enjoying his internship and learning independence and time management – two things that were reasons for him to go in the first place. I highly recommend it!”

Richard and Sheryl Arno said about their son Adam, “This experience on a gap year program has far exceeded our expectations. Adam has grown in so many ways and he has taken advantage of and experienced so many wonderful things that Israel has to offer.  He has made some lifelong friends, not only from the participants but also from the wonderful staff of Year Course.”

Bev Lewyn reports: “Rebecca is having the best time. She has made great friends from around the world, enjoys the Jerusalem academic classes, and had a profound trip to Poland.”

Read a current gap year student’s story about life in Israel here.

What comes to mind when you think of your earliest Jewish memory? For me, I remember my dad teaching me the Shema when I was five years old. The last line instructs us to “inscribe them [mezuzot] on the doorposts of your house and your gates.” My dad explained that because of this instruction, there are mezuzot on the doorway entrances of buildings and rooms and we kiss it as a sign of respect. Naturally, I took that to the extreme and whenever we would sing the last line of the prayer, I would sprint to the mezuzah in my room to kiss it and run back before finishing the last few words of the prayer. This happened every night for years during my childhood. Nobody stopped me- it was my first Jewish memory that exemplified experiential Judaism as it related to my five-year-old life at the time.  

Fast forward twenty years later and I have continued to experience Jewish moments and create new Jewish memories that are instilled in the concept of experiential Judaism. As a kid into my teens, I attended Jewish summer camp and ultimately forged a Jewish identity that could be seen in my plethora of camp t-shirts, singing camp songs to my heart’s content, and experiencing the Hebrew language as part of daily camp life. My teenage years featured endless amounts of USY, undertaking the value of Tikkun Olam as a value in my life (that would remain for years to come), and my first critical thinking opportunities as it related to being Jewish. In college, I learned how to advocate as a Jewish woman, combat ignorance, and work as a Jewish leader as a camp counselor and unit head. Most recently, I traveled to Israel for the first time as an Atlanta Community Birthright participant, served as a JumpSpark Strong Women mentor, and continue to create new friendships in the Atlanta Jewish Yong Professionals community. So, in a true Talmudic analytical questioning, “what does it all mean?” 

Your memories stay with you as they each represent a small impactful experience in your life. Jewish experiences build upon one another to not only create a rolodex of memories to look back upon, but to also create a strong identity built upon years of experiences, albeit positive and negative. I’m grateful to my Jewish community for curating a Jewish experience that allowed me to grow, question, challenge, and thrive into a prideful Jewish young adult. 

As I look back on my own memories, I can see the challenges and many opportunities that teens and young adults face in their Jewish journeys today. My goal while working as a Jewish professional is to create Jewish experiences and build relationships to find your “running to the mezuzah” moments- what ultimately connects and excites you to being Jewish that will serve as a catalyst to eventually create your own collection of Jewish memories along the way.