A New ‘Gap Year’ Experience
By Elisheva Hermann | December 17, 2020
After careful consideration of where to attend seminary for my gap year in Israel, I was suddenly faced with the reality that the pandemic meant my year would be nothing like I had envisioned. I had so many questions. Would I be granted entry into Israel? How would I feel quarantining with students I had never met? After quarantine, would students in my program be divided into different capsules that would have limited interaction? Would classes and chevrutot be virtual and if so, would it matter that I was physically located in Israel rather than in Teaneck? Would I be allowed to leave the midrasha? Would I be permitted to visit friends and family in Israel and experience Shabbat in other communities? Would I feel deprived of the traditional amazing gap year experience? So many questions and so much uncertainty.
Fortunately, while recognizing that ultimately everything is in God’s hands, Midreshet Lindenbaum and Ohr Torah Stone provided great assurance that they were planning for a rich and productive, albeit unique year, and that they were working with Masa, the Israeli government, infectious disease experts and consultants to ensure a safe environment for our program. As our scheduled departure date grew closer, I received thoughtful and meticulous instructions. From advance meetings with guidance counselors and students to applications for entry permits and airport check-in, from bus and room assignments during quarantine to class scheduling and book purchasing—no detail was overlooked. But the best part was all the fun and inspired creativity.
Rather than two weeks in boring isolation, I was greeted by an apartment stocked with food and activities, and a schedule jam-packed with primarily virtual activities: ice breakers, shiurim, paint night, challah baking, movie and ice-cream nights and tours of the midrasha and neighborhood. During quarantine, we completed Rambam’s Hilchot Teshuva, learning virtually with a new chevruta each day. We used quarantine to formulate our individual spiritual plans and learning goals with our faculty advisors. Quarantine was a fantastic way to meet everyone in the program and a great bonding experience for everyone in my bubble. Talk about together time!
When quarantine ended, we celebrated, thrilled that our program would be a single cohort. Now we all know each other well and we have a relatively “normal” learning experience together— generally we don’t even have to wear masks among our program group, unless we are outside the midrasha or in communal areas. Our classes and chevrutot have been in-person, even during lockdown. We also learn and have chevrutot with the Israeli program and with the Darkaynu program for students with special needs. We even have learning with special guest teachers—virtually or in-person.
I feel so fortunate to have such a “normal” in-person learning experience with my teachers and peers. I recognize that due to the extra time we spend at the midrasha, our learning and our relationships have grown rapidly and exponentially, more so than the traditional gap year. Our beautiful beit midrash is always open and welcomes us to learn independently or with a chevruta, helping me to achieve my personal goal of making a siyum on all of Tanach—an added benefit to this unique gap year.
Even during the pandemic and lockdown, there are myriad Chesed opportunities. I have been baking for Lone Soldiers, working with Pantry Packers, volunteering in a community garden, and assembling PPE kits for first responders with Magen David Adom. Soon I will begin tutoring a neighborhood child in English. There are numerous ways for us to make an impact.
Despite my fears that we might not be able to spend Shabbatot in different communities and experience tiyulim throughout Israel, Midreshet Lindenbaum has obtained approval for us to do so. Sometimes, we “relocate” our campus for the weekend to communities such as Susya, Shadamot Mechola or Tzfat. With very detailed and careful protocols, we have been able to visit families and friends for Shabbat and during free time. Meeting points are sometimes parks rather than restaurants, but they are refreshing and fun!
The Shabbatot and chagim we spend together in the midrasha are amazing and made special by our teachers who join us and our tight-knit group. Think cholent cook-offs, dessert potlucks, shiurim, games, siyums, zemirot and ruach intermixed with intimate Friday night meals where we eat in randomly divided small groups to enhance our friendships. Next up, Midreshet Lindenbaum is planning a “Birthright” touring program for our group. No doubt, it will be infused with learning and Chesed.
Did I make the right decision by coming to Midreshet Lindenbaum to study in Israel during the pandemic? The answer is an unequivocal “Yes!” My experience thus far, b”H, has been safe, fun, enriching, and pretty “normal.” I am so grateful for the amazing experience.
Elisheva Hermann is a shana aleph student and Matmidot Scholar at Midreshet Lindenbaum. She is a member of Congregation Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck and a graduate of Yeshivat Noam and SAR High School. She is planning to attend Rutgers Business School in the Fall of 2021.