A Year to Explore

In August 1987, I was at B’nai B’rith Perlman Camp in Starlight, PA for the BBYO (AZA and BBG) International Convention. I had already graduated from high school, yet was running to become the Grand Aleph Godol (International President) of AZA. If I would win the election, I would take a year off between high school and college to travel; and if I had lost the election, four days later I would be at New York University starting their five-year MBA program.

Well, I did win the election and had the incredible opportunity to travel for a year through 36 states (Portland, OR was my very first visit), seven Canadian provinces, England, Ireland, and Israel. It was an opportunity for me to see the world, mature as a young man, and understand my own goals and path in life. Including, leading to a career in Jewish communal professional leadership.

As we enter High School graduation season, I am reminded of my “special year” -- how much it meant to me and how much I developed as a person. I do not think I ever thought of it as a “gap year,” yet that is the commonly used term today. Mine may have been different than most, yet the Jewish community wants to provide opportunities in Israel and elsewhere for anyone interested (and not just for those in between high school, but also while in college and beyond).

Masa Israel Journey, a partnership between the Jewish Agency for Israel (funded in part by the Jewish Federation) and the Israeli Government, enables young Jewish adults, ages 18 to 30, to spend five to 12 months in Israel interning, volunteering or studying on one of more than 160 programs. Participants of Masa Israel programs build lasting relationships with Israel, the land, and its people, strengthen their Jewish identity, and have meaningful, life-changing experiences.

Masa Israel’s mission is to assist in planning and creating a successful “gap year” experience in Israel. While participants on “gap year” programs have all recently graduated from high school, each one has a different reason for going to Israel – whether it is to enhance their resume, have an adventure, gain a new perspective, or simply experience a different culture. The program offers young Jewish adults a range of transformative career development, service, and study immersion experiences in Israel. These unique opportunities allow you to gain unique insight into Israel’s culture and obtain valuable work experience in an international setting.

In addition to assisting you with choosing the program that’s right for you, Masa Israel provides grants and scholarships to help reduce the cost of your program tuition and offers support, activities, workshops and resources during your time in Israel. For a 5 month program a $3,000 universal grant is available and $4,500 for a 10 month program. Additional scholarship assistance is also available.

In addition to Israel options, please consider American Jewish World Service (AJWS) for those in their 20s and older. AJWS provides unique opportunities to learn, work, serve and travel in Africa, Asia and the Americas. They partner with grassroots community-based organizations and focus on building collaborative relationships in developing countries, either through individual or group service experiences. AJWS service programs draw on Judaism’s religious and cultural traditions to provide guidance regarding the responsibility to pursue global justice. By integrating service with text study and dialogue about the Jewish values that inform this work, participants return committed and passionate about their role as global citizens in creating a more just world.

If you would like more information or know of anyone who may be interested in these amazing opportunities, please feel free to contact me by replying to this email or visit www.masaisrael.org and www.ajws.org.

What is the value of a “gap year?” Why stray from the normal high school to college path and/or take a year to go abroad?

Harvard University’s Dean and Director of Admissions, William Fitzsimmons, recommends going on a “gap year” program to engage in career-related, academic or personal pursuits that encourage students to “gain perspective on personal values and goals, and gain needed life experience in a setting separate from and independent of one’s accustomed pressures and expectations.” By spending a year abroad, one will gain a taste of independent living for perhaps the first time in his/her life and enter college with more maturity and self-confidence, greater wisdom, and experiences to handle the challenges ahead.

Perhaps I should have sent this sooner, since most high school graduates have already made their plans (although I know of several Portlanders taking advantage of such programs). Yet, I now understand how much my year experience meant to me and hope that others will consider such an option in the future at any age.

Shabbat Shalom.


PS – Please join us for the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland’s Annual Meeting on June 13 from 4:30 – 6:00 p.m. at the Rose Schnitzer Manor (6140 SW Boundary Street). We will celebrate Gersham Goldstein as our outgoing Chairman and other members of our Board who are rotating off, and welcome Michael Weiner as our new Chair and several new Board members. In addition, we will announce the winner of our “Next Great Jewish Idea” contest and the recipients of the $300,000 in Community Impact Grants. It will be a fun and informative evening and hope you will join us. Please RSVP by clicking here.


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