By Emma Silvers, JWeekly
Nina Tabrizi has been back in the U.S. for almost two months now, but in her mind, she’s still in Jerusalem.
If she closes her eyes, it’s early May, and she’s at the Mount Herzl cemetery for Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day. She can still hear the sounds of sirens echoing in the air, the gunfire, and then celebratory shouting all around her as the holiday transitions into Yom HaAtzmaut, Independence Day.
“Hearing all the politicians, seeing these thousands of people at the soldiers’ graves, and then you turn around at night and everybody’s celebrating … it was incredible to see,” said Tabrizi, 19. “It’s such a big jump going from complete sadness to complete happiness, and it was amazing to witness how normal that is there, from an outsider’s perspective, from a North American perspective.”
That night is just one of many Israel experiences that Tabrizi says will stand out in her mind for the rest of her life. It’s also one of the reasons she’s so grateful she had the chance to do a gap year program in Israel
— in her case, a nine-month, international travel–focused track called Olami, organized by Young Judaea
— following her senior year of high school.
“It was the most amazing experience of my life,” said Tabrizi earnestly. “I would not be the same person if I hadn’t done it.”
Gap years have long been a way for recent high school grads to take time off before college and enjoy a little independence before heading back to the school environment.
But gap year programs in Israel can do more than provide an avenue for soul-searching. According to a recent study commissioned by the Masa Israel Journey program, which allows young adults to spend up to a year in Israel, an extended Israel experience made alumni more likely to marry someone Jewish, become involved with Israel-related activities back home and consider a job in the Jewish community...