How a Year in Israel Could Transform Diaspora Jewry

February 7, 2022 | Gil Troy and Natan Sharansky
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What can be done to counteract young American Jews’ rapidly attenuating sense of connection to Israel and Judaism? And how can Jewish college students be better prepared for the increasing hostility to Jews and Israel on campuses? Gil Troy and Natan Sharansky suggest a program to encourage American Jews to spend an entire year in Israel between high school and college:

Since the 1980s, the yeshiva gap year in Israel has become an accepted rite of passage for Orthodox high-school graduates, as it has long been for rabbinic students of all denominations. At the same time, the Birthright revolution shows how even a ten-day Israel experience can launch young Jews’ Jewish journeys. . . . Studies show that almost every Jewish communal leader and every oleh (immigrant to Israel) has enjoyed a serious, transformational, Israel experience.

Our effort will succeed only if American Jews recognize en masse that a gap year is, in fact, a not-to-be-missed opportunity that better prepares their children for college emotionally, intellectually, ideologically, even socially.

If done right, these programs just might awaken students to the exciting opportunities of Jewish identity, peoplehood, and statehood. By getting a grounded perspective on Israel and its dilemmas, in an environment encouraging analytical skills and vigorous debate, many students could emerge as involved insiders rather than dismissive outsiders. They might be less willing to abandon their Jewish state even if it occasionally disappoints or embarrasses them among their peers. A newfound aptitude for understanding and living with complexity, built in one of the most complex places on earth, will be profoundly useful when students get back home: in conversations about Israel and about America, in debates about the past and the present, in the ability to criticize without denigrating or delegitimizing.

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