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.