When June comes around and the gap year kids slowly trickle back into life at home, many of the non-participants, parents and community members expect a certain change. Often, this means a visible shift in skirt length or blue of the tzitzit. For the gap year students, it means the pressure to appear as if the change was as external as is necessary for community standard.
We desire so badly to share our unique experience with those around us and desperately try and express our transformation through our actions. However, this method only works to a degree and I think I speak for all students of this particular year when I say that right now it won’t suffice. This year was probably one of the most difficult for the young teens in Israel as we suffered a personal loss and were subjected to danger around the places we lived. Residing in the Old City myself, a place where many of my friends were not even allowed to approach, I felt that danger as ambulances flew past me and the chaos was witnessed from just outside the gate. No one took their safety for granted. “This was our year,” a friend said at the closing speeches of Midreshet Harova, as she described the situation in which she was asked, “So, besides for the loss and danger, how was your year?”
We want so desperately for our loved ones to understand, and yet, how can we explain ourselves without entering a taboo conversation? People often don’t want to discuss the personal side of these experiences as it shakes up the peace of mind of our standard of living. The strongly opinionated on the subject don’t need much prompting to go on a “Arabs are evil” rant. We can’t seem to grasp the hard truth that Israel is a place constantly threatened by internal and external forces and yet we also share the land with other human beings who are not all out to get us.
So how do we share our year? How can this group of 1,000+ teenagers begin to comprehend their own year as well as relate it to others? Simply by being an example. When we stand up and continue to support Israel and visit and even make aliyah, we are showing what this year meant to us and what we gained from the endless hours of Torah learning. Yes, we learned new laws and new concepts and made new friends. We separated from the familiar environment of high school in order to allow ourselves room to grow spiritually. We gained knowledge and understanding of Torah and its complexity. However, we also gained a fierce sense of self and our position in this world.
We acquired a mission all too important to ignore and we insisted on holding on to that truth when even our own parents may be arguing against our passion. All we can do is know within ourselves that we must be strong in our purpose and our newfound realization of how to live meaningful lives. Judaism and our homeland are top priority and if we can make that the lesson of our year, then we have succeeded in building a safer home for the Jewish people.