Jun 19, 2006
The Israel Experience
I brought my baby sister to the airport last night to see her off. She has completed her year in Israel and is now on her way back to the USA to start college and whatever else she will be doing.
She had a good year in Israel. I am a bit envious of her. She went on a program with none of her friends from back home. Her friends who came to Israel went to the standard seminary and yeshivot programs. While they experienced Israel to a certain extent and probably grew in their textual learning of Judaism and Tanach and other Judaic studies, they could have done the same back home in seminary in Chicago or New York or wherever they come from. Many of them hardly experience Israel. They are in school in a protected environment. For understandable reasons they are often not let out on their own. They only go away for shabbos occasionally to anybody other than immediate relatives. Often they are set up in pre-selected places that only allow them a very specific and limiting view of religious Judaism. When they go away as a group, they go to specific places that allow them to see a very limited view of Israel and Judaism. Basically they gain little from actually being in Israel.
True, I would not tell them not to come. Some do develop the love for Israel on their own. Some do go out on there own and see and experience Israel, and not just what the seminary wants them to see. Some grow not just in the book sense that can be done anywhere in the world, but also in the life experience sense. They are more adventurous and figure out how to get around and go back to America with a heightened sense of self and their position in the Jewish world and how to relate to Israel. However, the majority of the young men and women who come to study for the year in the yeshiva/seminary system do not experience this. The vast majority spend the year as I described above. A lot of classes that could be taken in a classroom anywhere in the world and limited and controlled experiences exposing them to a very select set of views.
My sister had the good fortune of ending up in an unusual program. It was not her first choice and I do not think she even knew about it originally, but that is where she ended up. The program was run by Bnei Akiva. Despite the fact that Bnei Akiva programs have been losing popularity among the American students and some of their programs have not been run well in recent years, this program, ,which was really more geared for Europeans, was very successful. The kids spent time on a religious kibbutz working. They worked in a development town with underprivileged kids. They spent time in the army and in Magen David Adom. They spent time traveling around the country on tiyulim. They spent shabbos in Mea Shearim for a different viewpoint. They experienced Israel in a way that most kids from America do not. They developed themselves as adults and people, not just as students in a rigid system.
I am envious because she experienced Israel in a way I never got to. Yes, I was one of those more adventurous types. I volunteered in Mishmar Ezrachi when I was in yeshiva and I traveled the country on tiyulim. Yes, I went around the country to people for shabbos and made my own arrangements. Yes, I worked on a kibbutz for part of one of my vacations from yeshiva. Yet, I see from my sister that doing all of that in an organized way can really enhance your experience. It is a shame that more programs like that do not exist and it is a shame that American students come to Israel for the year and do not really experience Israel.