Letter to the Editor: HA Alumna Speaks out About Israel Gap Year

“Because Hashem said so.”

I cannot count on one hand the amount of times in my life I heard that saying. I cannot describe, nor can I bear the thought of, how suffocated that saying made me feel inside. What if I didn’t care that G-d said so? What if I didn’t want anything to do with G-d? What if I didn’t think that there was a G-d?

Ever since I was little, I was told that the Chumash does not contain any extra words; every word is meant to be there and expresses “something significant.” I learned in school that if something was written twice, then it was for emphasis. I learned Rashi’s interpretations that sounded like they had nothing to do with the reality of the passuk, like he was making it up. I learned that because G-d wrote the Torah, we were not to question the validity of each verse.

When I was in 9th grade I learned that Gemara was for boys. “Why should a girl learn Gemara? Just tell me the Halacha and I’ll do it. I don’t need to know the process of how they got there,” I would hear teachers say.

In 11th grade I learned that we must follow Halachot, because Hashem commanded us to do so and who were we to question Him?

But after spending two months in my gap year, I’ve learned that Judaism is so, so, much more.

A few weeks ago, I was intrigued when I heard through the grapevine about a head-to-head written for the newspaper, “To Gap or Not to Gap.” I decided to read it, excited to catch up on some good old Hebrew Academy controversial opinions. After reading, however, I was left feeling deeply troubled and frustrated. The concept of this article is totally engaging and relevant, but the execution of it is, well, disappointing.

I was raised in Miami Beach, the heart and soul of materialism. This backwards environment prevented me from seeing how much there is to gain from my religion if I would open my eyes to the vastness of Judaism and all it has to offer. The only way I could have known if it was better to come to Israel or to go straight to college, was by actually going to Israel first and trying it out. I could have easily said last year, “I grew up being religious, and I love it.” But I would have been missing one key piece of information: we can always do more. I could have said that I would strive to learn Tanach or Gemara on my own free time in college in addition to my English subjects. But, naturally, the cycle I fell into in high school would just entrap me again: my Judaic subjects would fall to the side and my English classes would be the focus. If I went straight to college, I would have missed this crucial lesson: in life, to gain the most one possibly can out of something, they must focus all of their attention on it. Presence engenders love. And if I’m distracted by other things, then my relationship with G-d and Judaism won’t reach its fullest potential. And that’s the beauty of this year: there are no distractions.  

Your year in Israel prepares you for the real world. It sets you up religiously for the rest of your life because you have the tools in front of you to properly explore our religion. In high school, one may think that they don’t want to keep Shabbat, that they don’t see a point in it. They know they don’t want to keep Shabbat, so why come to Israel and waste their time learning about it? Ironically, that’s exactly the point: if they do come to Israel, then they can learn all about the beauty of Shabbat, experience an uplifting Shabbat, and can then, after exposing themselves totally to the other side, decide if they want to keep it or not.

This year helps you establish a strong belief (either for Judaism or against it) that will shape the rest of your life, because you can genuinely learn about the complex logic that structures a machloket (argument) in the Gemara, or understand the mind blowing words of Tanach, and how each word, letter, and trup signifies something significant about our ancestors. You can ask your toughest questions, about Amalek, free will, or anything you want; you can explore the deepest parts of your character, and learn about why you, as a Jew, are so special.

And if you decide that you don’t want anything to do with Judaism, then that’s okay. At least you tried.

If you go straight to college, you’re not really giving yourself a fair chance.

By: Aliza Posner (Class of 2017)

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