Some 250 recent high school graduates from across Europe, North America, and even Puerto Rico, gathered under a twilight sky in the ancient city of Jerusalem. The young people were sitting in clusters on mats laid out across a grassy lawn in the heart of a quaint garden neighborhood. Suddenly the call of a shofar, a ritual ram’s horn, pierced the evening. A hundred youthful conversations hushed as all heads turned to the spectacle of caftan-clad marchers sounding shofars and beating bongo-like goblet drums in tune with Hebrew song.
The Young Judaea Year Course 2012-2013 has arrived. Young Judaea's Year Course is the largest gap-year program for Jewish youth in Israel. The program aims to immerse participants in all aspects of Israeli life while building Jewish religious and communal values. It's the 56th Year Course, which began in 1956.
“Year Course is a force in every one of you, individually and collectively.” Young Judaea Director in Israel Dan Krakow said.
“This will be the best year of your lives, it will be challenging, and that is why it changes lives,” Krakow advised the newcomers.
“Zionism is a cause and a vision that is not yet fully realized, and that is what Young Judaea is all about – playing an active role in creating that Zionist dream.”All Year Course participants spend one-third of their program year – about three months – in each of three locations: the spirituality of Jerusalem, the working class Tel-Aviv suburb of Bat Yam and its sandy beaches, as well as their choice of an “Israel Experience,” which offers programs as diverse as social action, the arts, EMS, or even basic training. Classes in Israeli history and culture and Jewish history and culture enrich the experience.
“Formal study happens in Jerusalem and Bat Yam but not during the ‘Israel Experience,’” explains Adam Jenshil, Director of Year Course. “Informal education occurs throughout the program. They have formal Hebrew language studies yearlong, mostly in Jerusalem. Volunteering is also throughout the year, the majority being in Bat Yam, and in most “Israel Experience” options, while there is some group volunteering in Jerusalem.” When the blue and white flag of Israel was raised, Barbara Goldstein, Deputy Director of Hadassah in Israel said, “We raise that Israeli flag, and the first day that all of your friends have started at whatever university they will attend, they did not raise the flag of Israel for them. That was reserved for you. You are the elite of every Jewish community that you come from, and with that comes a responsibility that you will forever fall in love with the Jewish people.”
Former Year Course participant Alana Gaffen, from Kansas City, today a new recruit to the IDF shared her own experience. “Two years ago I began my Year Course journey. I learned that I had more inner strength than I thought I had. I learned that I had the capacity to be a leader and the ability to allow myself to be led by others,” Today I am proud to say that my Year Course experience planted the seeds that led me to enlist in the IDF.”