Laura Shapiro

Why I Still Believe in Gap Year Programs in Israel

My daughter is 6,437 miles away from me today and everyday for the next nine months.  That is how far away Israel is from the Midwest.  She is on a gap year program in Israel.

When telling friends and co workers that my daughter was going on a gap year in Israel, some were very supportive.  Others talk about how they would not let their children go to college farther than a car ride away.  “You are letting your daughter go HOW FAR AWAY for HOW LONG?????”

Maybe because I am a strong believer in summer camp I am also a strong believer in gap year programs.  Perhaps because my daughter has been away for 8 weeks at a time during the summer it does not have the same effect being gone so long.  Perhaps because my family has always been Zionists it seems natural that she would go.  We have cousins who made Aliya and live in Israel.  There have always been conflicts in Israel.  We as a family have stayed in Israel while the sirens have gone off warning us of rockets.  9 months in Israel?  She’ll be fine, no problem!

Gap year is a time for 18 year olds to relax and be stress free before starting college.  It is a time to mature.  It is a time to learn a new language and new things.  It is a time to be carefree and experience life before starting college.  It is a time to do Tikkun Olam.

18 year olds are so young.  So wide eyed and ready to take on the world.  Nothing can go wrong with them.  Nothing can go wrong with their family.  Nothing can go wrong with their friends.  They are 18 years old.  So innocent.  So lively.  So invincible.

Until one day they are not.

18 year olds are not supposed to die.  18 year olds are out to do Tikkun Olam.  18 year olds are out to conquer the world.  18 years olds have their entire life in front of them.  18 year olds are our future leaders.

Until one day they are not.

There are just no words describe the horror and anger felt as a parent hearing about how Ezra Schwartz was snatched from his parents at such a young age.  My heart bleeds for his parents, siblings, family and friends.  There are just no words that anyone can say to comfort them.

The truth is when someone like Ezra dies we are all vulnerable.  Ezra could have been our child.  We are all traumatized.  We all go through some variations of the stages of grief, which is normal reaction to any trauma.  We all go through the emotions of shock, denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and then finally after time acceptance.

As a parent sometimes it becomes a waiting game.  Waiting for the news notification of news in Israel.  Hearing about stabbing after stabbing.  Hearing about terrorist attack after terrorist attack day after day.  Waiting for the call.  Waiting for the text.  Waiting for the email.  Waiting for your child to contact you to let you know they are safe.

Yet, despite the horrors of the world this past week, I still believe in gap year programs in Israel.  I still believe in supporting Israel.  I still believe that our children can have an unbelievable year meeting new friends, learning the language, learning and experiencing Israeli culture.  We do everything we can to protect our children for the first 18 years of life.  Our instinct is to want to shelter them and put them in a cocoon forever.  However, at the same time we want to empower them to grow wings and teach them how to fly and be independent.  A gap year does just that.  Yes, I will still keep my phone with me 24/7.  Yet I hope and know that at the end of my daughter’s gap year she will soar like a butterfly and be ready to take on the world.

Hug your loved ones today.  May Ezra’s family and friends find comfort in the coming days in all the wonderful memories that they had with him.

About the Author
Laura Shapiro is a married mother of 2 teenagers from St. Louis, MO. Her oldest is currently on a gap year in Israel. She works as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at a major health center.
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