By Rachel Greenberg, Nativ alumna
When the plane touched down in Israel, I could not have imagined the impact my gap year would have on my eighteen year old self. Nativ College Leadership Program is a nine month academic gap year program for Jewish high school graduates dedicated to creating and inspiring the Conservative Jewish leaders of tomorrow. Nativ, which means “path” in Hebrew, provides a unique opportunity to explore new directions on the journey to becoming a Jewish adult. The year is divided into multiple parts, learning, traveling, volunteering, and seminars. My experience was comprised of studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and volunteering on Kfar Hasidim.
First semester on Nativ, we had the choice of Ulpan, studying at the Conservative Yeshiva, or the track I chose which was studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I was able to get a full year of university credit in the United States for the semester I spent at Hebrew University. Hebrew University was my first college experience. Each day began taking public transit from our home for the semester in central Jerusalem to Mount Scopus for class in the Rothberg International School at Hebrew University. The people in my Ulpan (Hebrew Class) were from ten different countries, and there were only fifteen students in the class! We also took a class called “Jerusalem Through the Ages” in which we learned about Jerusalem for credit while traveling to the historical landmarks that were all around us. Every other course was each of our individual choice, so I chose Israeli Politics, Perspectives of Islam, and Issues in Israeli Society. These courses gave me a very detailed understanding of Israel, a knowledge I did not have prior to studying in Israel.
While other students chose to attend classes throughout the day, I decided to map out time to volunteer in my busy schedule. In my spare time, I chose to volunteer for Yad L’Kashish, Lifeline for the Old, a place that gives work to elderly immigrants in Jerusalem. I worked in the workshops with people from Ethiopia, Russia, and America. As I listened to their stories, I began to understand what living in Israel really meant. While leading tours for Birthright groups, I felt proud to call Jerusalem my home. Riding public transportation in Jerusalem gave me the confidence to travel independently around the world.
During my time on Nativ I also had the opportunity to volunteer in a small youth development town called Kfar Hasidim in Northern Israel. Kfar HaNoar HaDati, is a place that uses animal therapy and a kibbutz, boarding school environment to give disadvantaged students from across northern Israel a sense of responsibility for something greater than themselves, despite their difficult upbringings. My friends and I were assistants to the workers of Kfar HaNoar HaDati. Whether we worked in the olive fields, petting zoo, kitchen, school, gan (nursery), special needs school, or refet (milking cows), we were working with people who dedicated their lives to giving these disadvantaged youth the chance to take responsibility for something bigger than themselves and hopefully turn their lives around.
While living in Kfar Hasidim, I got to know the Bnei Menacshe community on a very personal level. This community was about one hundred new immigrants from northern India, who recently found their Jewish heritage, and were brought to this agricultural youth village in Israel to learn Hebrew, and feel more connected to their homeland. Aside from my volunteer work, I decided to become the program coordinator for the Bnei Menasche community to bridge the gap between my North American peers and them. We played games with the Bnei Menasche children and had discussions with the adults. The stories we were told through these programs were incredibly moving and changed my perspective on Jewish people around the world. I saw that no matter what country you are from, or how different your culture is, all Jewish people are connected through the land of Israel. Israel became an even more amazing place in my eyes after meeting these new immigrants and hearing their stories. I saw Israel without the politics and saw it as a place of rebirth and freedom. Assimilation is different in Israel than it is in other parts of the world. Everyone in Israel is an immigrant, the child of an immigrant, or the grandchild of an immigrant, so everyone is accepted because everyone understands. Israel is a place that any Jewish person can go to for refuge or to make a new life for themselves.
A native of Marlboro, New Jersey, Rachel Greenberg received full college credit for her gap year in Israel. She is a rising senior at the University of Maryland where she studies Government and Politics with a minor in Global Terrorism studies.
For more information about gap year programs, click here.