Alan J. Simanowitz
Alan J. Simanowitz
Alternative Solutions for Learning

All the wrong reasons to come to Israel for a year

Learning during your year in Israel comes in many ways. One way is through your feet!
There is more than one way to spend a gap year in Israel! Get support. Get direction.

If you are considering spending a year in Israel, stop! There are so many reasons that a gap year in Israel can be a terrible idea. Don’t get me wrong. I love Israel. I live in Israel. I think that you should make aliyah. And I think that every young person should have the opportunity to experience Israel. With that, hear me out.

A year program in Israel can be the best experience. Or, it can be the worst. (image source: Bigstock)

All of the wrong reasons to take a gap year in Israel

  • It’s 10 or 12 months free from responsibility, growth, and the hard work of self-discovery. We are all growing – but if we don’t nurture our growth we can develop or aggravate problems that we start the year with.
  • Israel will set me (or my child) straight. Yep. A year away from parental supervision, in a dorm with teenagers flooded with hormones, is the best place to get my life together. If you have emotional or learning challenges, Israel is not a magic pill.
  • Just looking to avoid stress. Yes, high school was tough. And the last year has been incredibly tough on all of us. However, just chilling won’t pay off in the long term and it won’t make you feel good about yourself in the short term. The gap year can open doors for future success, but you need to make the most of it.
  • Good intentions do not make good results. Often, program administrators want to be helpful and welcoming to young people with challenges. Unfortunately, good intentions without the backing of resources and support are not a recipe for success.

All of us have emotional and intellectual needs. If you, or your child, needs specific support, picking a program that doesn’t know how to provide that support is not going to work out well.

All the ways to get it right

(image source: Bigstock)

With some planning, a successful gap year is not a year “off” growth. Instead, the gap year should give you (or your child) a framework for emotional growth, building practical skills for success in school, and provide a running start in your career journey

  • Go in with a plan. Most gap year programs are geared to some median or outstanding student – not to emerging adults that need support. With a plan, your gap year can be a great experience, packed with valuable growth, and full of learning.
  • Learning during your year in Israel comes in many ways. One way is through your feet! (image source: Alan Simanowitz)

    Don’t think that there is just one way to experience Israel. The all-day, every day, morning to night Beit Midrash experience is not for everybody. If it’s not for you, look for alternative programs that  might better suit your needs.

  • If you do pick a standard program, arrange to get the support that you need elsewhere. Kadima Support Services helps teens develop cognitive and compensatory strategies needed to cope, thrive, and succeed during your gap year.
  • Take advantage of a fresh start. Being with new people in a new environment can help you take a jump start on the rest of your life. Use this year to build the skills that you will need to get more from higher education or succeed in the workforce. You can also use this year to get a better fix on where you want to go professionally.
  • Challenge yourself. This is chance to mature and enter the following year more ready to succeed in life.
  • Open yourself up to new experiences. Build on your strengths and find your passion. (image source: Alan Simanowitz)

    Find direction. Find your passions. Explore new experiences. You may find that you love learning, working with animals, or creating with your hands. Pick a program that will expose you to different experiences and let you dive deeper into what you truly care about.

Three signs that that a gap year yeshiva program is not for your son

  1. Is your son lost or lacking direction? Does he have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, or lock himself in his bedroom for extended periods of time?
  2. Has your son struggled through high school, socially or academically? Does he have ADD or ADHD, social awkwardness, or emotional issues may have made high school a challenge?
  3. Does your son like to push boundaries?

Unfortunately, the traditional Israel gap year often does more damage than good to many at-risk teenagers. With their newfound freedom, many of these young men start drinking excessively. Others flounder, struggling to meet rigorous academic standards, and experience repeatedly a sense of failure.

The solution? Find an alternative gap year program tailored for your son

There are many paths to a strong Jewish identity. Find your path. (image source: Alan Simanowitz)

Your son needs to find his own path. He needs support to grow and develop his potential.

Mechinat Kadima is a an alternative to traditional yeshiva programs, enabling teenagers to grow and build on their strengths. Mechinat Kadima builds self-reliance, resilience, personal responsibility, Jewish identify, Jewish studies, and life skills, in addition to opportunities for college and career prep.

You can learn more at We would love to hear from you!

About the Author
Alan Simanowitz, EdD is the director of UCanachieve Learning Alternatives ( and Mechinat Kadima ( He combines over thirty years of special education experience with a philosophy that is based on teaching the whole child. Alan’s child centered philosophy leads him to develop very close relationships with every young man at Ucanachieve. Through a caring and sensitive style of interacting, Alan helps each student realize that success is an attainable goal.