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The illusion of the year in Israel

The gap year gets such high billing that participants risk missing what is meaningful as they hunt for the incredible

I stepped off the crowded El Al plane in August like every other teenager around me, exhausted, yet somehow undeniably bright-eyed. This was the moment I, we, had been anticipating for almost our entire lives.

Whether they had known it or not, everyone in my previous 18 years of living had forced me to expect the impossible — that this year would assuredly be the most incredible year of my life. It seemed so irrefutable at the time. I would be living with other girls, most likely just like me, and my biggest worry would be choosing where to go out to dinner on Monday night.

I heard about the good stuff from everyone. The hard stuff I’d have to learn on my own.

I experienced (perhaps not literally, but equally dramatic), being thrown out of the nest, and that panicking sensation when I knew I had to open my wings and fly, or face the looming impact. Nothing prepares you for that adjustment you make from daughter or sister to independent self. And it hits you like a kick to the stomach. But much like the pains of teething and getting taller, these too were growing pains that I had to endure, and though they caused me discomfort at the time, I knew, much to my chagrin, that I couldn’t stay a child forever,.

I slowly but surely grew accustomed to the life of a post-high school seminary girl, and after a few bus mishaps and laundry horror stories, I could say I was fully adjusted.

But with every walk down Ben Yehuda and every successful swipe of my Ravkav bus-pass, I still felt remains of the pressure I felt when I initially got off the plane. I constantly wondered if everything I did was contributing to my “most amazing year ever” fund, and I feared I would come home in June with nothing different to say than the hundreds of other young adults who spent this year in Israel.

I started to seek out every experience I could get my hands on, or as the locals call it, a “chavaya.” I travelled more, spent Shabbat in random places, and visited local hubs of cultural exposition. But the feeling persisted.

So I continued to spend my year the way I had gotten used to spending it, doing my best to ignore that nagging feeling of “this could be better.” Until now, that is. As I sit here, watching as the sun sets on my year in Israel, I can say with complete sincerity:

This has not been the most incredible year of my life.

At least not in the way I had expected. I didn’t find my love for Israel the way I thought I would, through the late night concerts in town or the incredible scene of the marketplace on Friday afternoons. I didn’t find it in the aesthetic beauty of the rolling topography, and I didn’t even find it when I looked at the Western Wall.

I found it by watching the intangibles.

I found it as I watched the country mourn as one, for a boy who lost his life because he was a Jew. I saw it when, only moments after a memorial for a victim of terror, the entire country rejoiced at the wedding of a woman who too lost her family in a terror attack.

I found it by learning what it means to a part of a nation. That when one of us cries, we all cry, not because we know it’s the right thing to do, but because, at the core of our bones, there is a bond that time or terror can never break.

I am thankful for the experiences I had here this year, good and bad. I’ve learned a lot, in school and maybe even more outside of it. There is no way to measure how a year can be better than another. And everyone’s experience in their year in Israel is unique to themselves.

Therefore, I’d like to redefine expectations for anybody who embarks on something as hyped up as a whole year abroad. Everything considered, I don’t believe that one year of life has the ability to stand out as the “most” incredible. Individual experiences and moments should stand alone, not bound by the dates on a calendar. We should live our lives in search of these meaningful moments, never once worrying that we won’t have enough days in the year to find them.

About the Author
Devoted thinker and stingray enthusiast, Shoshy is a gap-year student, trying to make sense of her world through words.
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