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.  

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.”