By Ilana Peskin
As I sat in the backseat on the way to John F. Kennedy International Airport, my stomach tight with knots, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I didn’t know much about Young Judaea Year Course, but the program had been recommended to me by quite a few people, so I decided to apply – a week before the program’s application deadline. I have always been an indecisive person; after finally completing the grueling process of college applications and waiting impatiently for decision letters from my selected schools, the last thing I wanted to do was fill out another tedious application. And though I had already committed to Goucher College, a small liberal arts college in Baltimore, Maryland, there was still a thought lingering in the back of my mind—should I go to college next year? Am I ready for such a big step? Or should I take advantage of my youth and freedom and choose an opportunity I may never have again?
The decision was a tough one. I knew Goucher was the right school for me, and although I was excited to be a future student there, I felt that something was missing. I had been to Israel twice before, once with Heritage Academy when I was in seventh grade, and again in the summer of 2013 on a BBYO leadership trip.
These experiences were amazing, and I am so lucky to have seen the beautiful country that I had learned about in Jewish schools for ten years. Though I had been fortunate enough to have prayed at the Kotel and climb Masada at sunrise, I had tasted only a small piece of Israel. I wanted to see Israel through the eyes of a local. I wanted to buy ingredients for Shabbat meals at the shuk on a Friday afternoon and see the entire country shut down on Yom Kippur. I didn’t want to be another tourist aboard a coach bus en route to Ben Yehuda Street. And though I have seen many of the traditional touristy things this year, I have also learned to navigate Tel Aviv on my own, and I have discovered where to buy a delicious falafel (for under 15 shekels). Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means a “local”; I still make mistakes when speaking Hebrew and get lost when taking public buses. But living in Israel for the past four months has made me much more mature and independent.
I live in an apartment with five other girls, and we are responsible for buying all our own groceries (on a budget) and cooking our own meals as well as keeping our apartment clean and livable. Living with just one other person is tough, so you can imagine that living with five others would be pretty challenging. And though living in a small space with so many others has its ups and downs, we’ve managed to do a pretty good job.
Before this year, I had never had to go grocery shopping for myself or cook my own meals, but now those things are merely routine. We have learned to manage our money and live on a budget, a skill that will be necessary for the years to come. I know that I, personally, have benefited from learning and applying these real-life skills before I go on to college next year, and I know many others who would say the same.
Ilana Peskin of Longmeadow is currently living in Israel on a gap year program between high school and college.