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Young Judaea’s Year Course: The Ultimate Israel Experience

Young Judaea's YEAR COURSE is the oldest, largest and most successful program of its kind in the world. Each participant keeps a journal during the school-year length program and, as a concluding assignment, prepares a speech on the Year Course experience.

Zach Snyder, Portland, OR age 18

All I had ever known was Portland. I attended a Jewish day school and densely Jewish high school, so there has never been a shortage of Jewish culture in my life. But when I thought about college, my mind automatically shot to the thought that college would be another four years of high school; I just did not want that. My father told me to take a year off - how going to Taiwan when he was young was the best thing he ever did, My mother told me about her own travels on Young Judea Year Course, how she had the time of her life. Naturally this got me thinking. A year in Israel…a year to apply all of my Jewish upbringing, a year to learn about a world outside of Portland… to learn about myself…to figure out what I want to do and where I would like to go in my life. I was told that year course was not a year off, instead I was promised a year on. My year was always on the move… on the way to Tel Aviv after classes in Bat Yam…helping produce a flash mob at shuk ha carmel…and almost getting killed by an Israeli bus driver - twice... A year with friends tied together climbing a mountain, pushing one another, believing in one another. A year on the trail of shvil Israel, with people I would never trade, and an experience that will never fade. A year of hardships, of unexpected friendships… a year on the temple mount… walking to bagel bites feeling that crisp Jerusalem before breakfast air…A year of celebration and commemoration... 9 months of seeing the bigger picture… a year with Responsibility.

I certainly had quite a year, but it was not just a year on……
A year with shoko bsakit, brarechas and hummas
A year of seei ng soldiers on patrol in a capitol city
A year of hearing sirens
A year of Hebrew
A year in Israel


Alyza Sebenius, Cambridge, MA age 18

I was on Olami's final trip of the year. Previously we had visited and spent Shabbats with Lost Jewish Communities in Portugal, Uganda, and South Africa. Each visit had been an amazing and unique blend of indigenous tradition anchored by a firm backbone of universal Jewish tradition. "Olami" is a Hebrew word that translates to "my world." Not only does this special word capture the weeks I spent traveling, but also the months that I spent in Israel. Each chunk of my year—Kibbutz, Shvil Yisrael, Jerusalem, Bat Yam, and the Lost Jewish Communities trips—created new and distinct worlds for me to inhabit. Each one has become an important part of my larger world, the Jewish world, the world that I have spent this year discovering. The first world I discovered was Kibbutz Keturah… working in the guesthouse and soaking up kibbutz culture with eleven other chanichim. It was hard to explain to my non-kibbutz friends why the months there were some of the best in my life. While they heard that I did eight hours of hard physical work six days a week, lived in a grubby shack, and ate food we fondly referred to as "borderline disgusting," they overlooked how rich my life was in the dimensions that really mattered. "All" I had were my close friends, the majestic desert and a kibbutznik's "work hard, play hard" mentality. If living on Kibbutz taught me to love a self-contained world, the culmination of the Kibbutz experience- hiking Shvil Yisrael - taught me to love the natural world of Israel's desert……..

Spending time with the Abuyadaya Community in Uganda with Olami was a doorway into a world to which I long to return. The Abuyadaya is a Black Ugandan tribe that lives in a village with a school, synagogue and Rabbi. We spent a weekend playing with hundreds of kids that eagerly welcomed us to their village, getting to know the teenagers and elders, and attending Shabbat services….Even though we were in East Africa, the only significant difference between my Shul's services and theirs was that some of the prayers were sung to African tunes- a method of attracting more Jews to the poor village following the horrors of Idi Amin. While our culture and circumstance were different, religion linked us to the Abuyadaya. I will never forget a walk I took with an eight-year-old Abuyadaya boy named Itzik. We had just visited the grave of the Abuyadaya's founder, Semei Kakungulu. On the walk home, Itzik picked up a rock and began etching the dates from the tombstone onto the back of his hand. When I asked him what he was doing, he replied in broken English, "my father knew all the history of Abuyadaya. He learned it from his father but passed away before he could teach it to me. It is my job to learn and remember as much history as I can." As American Jews, it is our responsibility now to teach their history to others, and to help these communities, not nearly as materially fortunate as ours, to flourish.

Anna Blum, Houston, TX age 18

Learning about monotheistic religions and other academics was just the tip of the iceberg of the knowledge I've gained on Year Course. Transitioning from the shack that 11 of us lived in on Kibbutz Ketura, or the 20 person tents on base in S'de Boker, to the Beit Ar-El apartments in Jerusalem was not as easy as anticipated. Running and screaming with excitement into our new apartment just to realize 7 girls were about to live in a two-bedroom living space was quite shocking. We began to realize that living as a functioning apartment is not an easy task because realistically, we were far from functional. It takes a lot of work to keep the apartment clean: how to decide who goes food shopping and who is responsible for doing the dishes after dinner were just a few of the daily decisions that needed to be made. We also learned what it takes to be independent. Independence relating not only to money, but also relating to whom you are. This year is about finding out who you are and learning how to relate that to people around you. We learned how to be better friends, to truly give yourself to the people around you and believe in anything you set your mind to. These lessons are just microcosms of values to be practiced later in life.

Rose Thompson, Seal Beach, CA age 19

Constantly in motion, I traveled around Israel grabbing at life altering moments by the handful. Whether the results were positive or negative it didn't matter, because in the long run it all added up to who I became while I was on Year Course. Before I came on year course, I considered myself to be a well-traveled person. Most of the people I know haven't even been out of their own state. Then, I come here and there are people who have traveled all over the world. I come here and my independence built upon itself because of everyone here. It may sound surprising, but it takes the coexistence of people like us – so diverse – to begin the changes of the future. We are change. Whether that is what we chose to do or not, it's what we are. It's not just a flight to Africa or India. It's the state of being we have found ourselves in. Each person here has impacted me. Each private world we build for ourselves touches someone else's. Every confusing set back, every hardship from our homes that we carried with us, every challenge we found ourselves struggling with made us that much stronger. And now, here we are. Two days before we separate and my heart wrenches in the fears of going home. Will I be able to hold onto my experiences here? Will I lose everything I've learned? These questions fester in my mind but I push them aside because I know that I will hold on to everything and everyone. I am so thankful that I did this. Israel has a firm grasp on my heart and I have found myself driven by the soul of this country and the souls of my friends. I will see all of you again someday, and I hope when I do – each of us will still be in motion. Thank you.

Ilana Grossmark, London, England age 19

My year course journey began in a guesthouse in England with my soon to be closest friends. Orientation was overwhelming; we were told by the madrichim how jealous they are of us and how we have to make the most out of every moment. I was excited but nothing could have prepared me for what was to come. People back home ask me "Why Israel? You've been there - why not travel the world?" This was difficult to answer before Year Course as I wasn't really sure why other than the fact that I just love Israel. However, this year is nothing like any other trip to Israel. This was my journey, my connection with the land, and my time to experience Israel.,,this year has strengthened and solidified my Zionist ideology immensely. Standing with my Tzahal Uniform on marva, saluting the Israeli flag with my parents proudly watching me, was the first of many moments that I felt pride in Israel. I had chills down my spine and tears rolling down my cheeks as I sang Hatikva with my fellow soldiers. Although not the real army, it made me appreciate what every Israeli experiences. I have so much respect for soldiers now and their work in defending our land. Leaving marva with such a strong passion for the IDF, I started volunteering for the Lone Soldier Centre in Jerusalem. Watching them graduate from their basic training at a tekes at the Kotel, I was overwhelmed to think that they paused their lives and left their comfortable homes to defend the state of Israel.

Amy Schmidt, Los Angeles, CA age 19

Two months ago, I stood at the top of a mountain, looking down at Eilat and theRed Sea, wondering at the beauty I saw in front of me. It was the end of threeweeks of hiking, friendship, blisters and more than a little personal growth. ShvilYisrael was arduous, fantastic and possibly one of the best metaphors I couldchoose for what this year has been to me. A period that was at times difficult andvaguely dangerous, amazingly fun, and a good opportunity to choose when totake full advantage of the group, and when to walk alone with only your thoughtsto keep you company. I realized how different things would be when I firsttouched down in Israel after a fifteen-hour flight from Los Angeles. I wassurrounded by a few people that I knew from orientation and over 200 that I'dnever met before in my life. That was when it first sank in that these would be thepeople that would have the most impact on my life in the year to come. Jerusalemflew by in a blur of classes, volunteering, and cooking. I treasured my time in theOld City working on the archaeological dig and the classes where I learneddifferent culinary techniques with yet another group of people that I began totreasure as very dear friends. Avi Rose opened my eyes to Jewish art in hishistory class, and with Susan Yammer I learned all about the various Jewishcommunities dispersed throughout the world. I cherish my time in Jerusalem asmy most difficult and, at the same time, my most informative… I value everyminute of this year beyond words, and I keep every trial and accomplishmentclose to me.

Date: 8/17/2011 12:00:00 AM

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