Already in the first wave, even before Pesach, as soon as it was announced that the gates of Ben Gurion Airport were locked for the entry of non-citizens of the State of Israel – I thought of thousands of boys and girls from abroad who might miss the gap in Israel.
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Gap Year – in Hebrew: ‘break year’ or ‘profit year’ – is a concept I learned in depth when we lived in the United States. In fact, I knew about it a long time ago. Everyone who walks the streets of Jerusalem encounters countless Americans who spend a year in Israel in yeshivas and seminars for foreigners.
But I never knew how significant this year was for them.
I thought it was a kind of long summer camp that lasts over a year, of young people from the United States and also from Europe who come to study a little, and spend a lot of time. Take a walk in Masada, have Shabbat at the Western Wall, and visit holy places such as Rimon Cafe on the sidewalk or Masov Steakhouse at Central Station. But no, you must not be cynical here.
In general, when it comes to American Jews, cynicism should be put aside. They are very excited about everything in life and are not ashamed of this emotion. Do not repress it, do not hide it, do not try to come out tough and rough. This is very non-Israeli. We are much more sophisticated, sober, but there is something charming about this American innocence, and certainly when it comes to the immense excitement of the Land of Israel.
And there is nothing that connects them to Israel more than this school year here in Israel. It can be said without any exaggeration that this is an experience that goes with them for decades. There was hardly a man wearing a kippah I met in the United States who did not tell me with shining eyes about the year in Israel. And I’m not talking about young people who studied here two or three years ago. I’m talking about people over fifty, at the height of success in life.
Feel free to imagine all the clichés: a businessman in a fancy office on the 90th floor and something in a skyscraper in Manhattan, a surgeon at a reputed hospital, a law lecturer at a prestigious university. People who have done something in life. And what are they indulging in? About that year somewhere at the age of 18 in the beit midrash of Kerem in Yavne or of Gush Etzion or of the Yeshivat Sha’alvim or of the Yeshiva of the Western Wall or of Netiv Arieh.
True, they may have talked to me about it because I came from there, from the Land of Israel. With other people they are probably talking about other things, for example money. I am not claiming that they are all day laid only in memories of the yeshiva. I do say, no matter where they went – it really defines their identity. Theirs and also of their children. Because many of them, basically all of them, send their children for a year in the country, hoping they will experience the same formative experience. And their grandchildren as well.
Wait, if the gap is so constitutive and influential, then why is it replicating itself in the next generation, instead of causing the students to immigrate to Israel and then their children will study in the country not just one year but for life?
So first of all, many good ones are indeed staying in the country following that year. At first for another year, then for another and another and another. But the goal of this year is not just to encourage immigration. also. But first and foremost, the goal is to encourage transcendence. A moment after high school, a moment before entering college and the race of life, they stop everything, say goodbye to the pampering home, to the missing parents, and enter a completely different atmosphere, of sitting in the Land of Israel.
Taste from the “Torah of the Land of Israel”, as they like to say with excitement. It’s not always easy, it’s not even always easy: the conditions in sitting in the country are not what they are used to there from the glorious campuses, parting from home for a whole hard year, there is nowhere to play baseball, but none of them dream of giving up this year. On the opportunity to meet the best rabbis and rabbis, imbued with the spirit of mission, who usually went through a similar path themselves. To receive antibiotic treatment that will hold and strengthen for decades, in the uncomplicated American reality of studying and working in a completely gentile environment.
To miss a year like this is a lifelong miss. In some cases it may even be a lifelong miss. To the extent that.
That is why I was so happy this week to hear the news that the cycle of Zaman-Elul 2020 is not going to miss the year in Israel. That after much effort was found the strict outline that received the approval of the Ministry of Health. By the way, if you ask me, the whole issue of opening the gates of the State of Israel to Jews from all over the world, at any age and in any situation, should be brought up for discussion.
We are the state of the Jewish people, not the state of all its citizens, and if Jews are in distress in the world and want to come here because it is better here, it is worth accepting them with open arms. Sorry, elbows closed. And again, all out of responsibility and with the utmost care. The last thing we need is to import mass patients here, but I am sure that once the State of Israel sees value in it (at least as it sees value in the Balfour demonstrations), ways will be found to do it the safe way (unlike in the Balfour demonstrations).
In any case, when it comes to young people who come here to study in a boarding school, it is much simpler to carry out and follow up. Directly from Ben Gurion Airport, they went to their educational institutions, institutions that had received the approval of the Ministry of Health, and would pass the isolation in capsules of six students.
Among the large mass of about 17,000 students who have received permission to come to Israel, there are not only modern-Orthodox students who come to study at religious Zionist yeshivas.
There are two other main groups: the first group is of non-religious youth, who come to Israel in the ‘Journey’ project of the Jewish Agency and also young people who come to study at universities in the country. In this case it is a real spiritual salvation, because non-religious young people studying on campuses in the United States are in immediate danger of assimilation. The second and larger group is of ultra-Orthodox who come to study here in ultra-Orthodox yeshivas.
As for this group, it seems to me that it can be said that this is the largest aliyah absorption project of the State of Israel in recent decades. Unfortunately, at least until the Corona and the riots in America, the influx of immigrants from the United States was very weak, very minimal, but of the tens of thousands who came to study in Israel in Haredi yeshivas (the most prominent of which is the giant Mir Yeshiva) – thousands, really thousands, remained in Israel. At first for a year and two years, then they got married here, and built houses, and bought houses, and had children.
Entire neighborhoods in Jerusalem are full of hundreds of such families. Ramat Eshkol, Minchat Yitzhak, Ganei Geula, Maalot Dafna, Arazi HaBira and of course Har Nof. I am no longer talking about the economic profit of the State of Israel, even from those who come here for a year or two. Just think of the smoothie and pizza market.
This week, following the rare cooperation of the heads of some 150 yeshivas and studios, both ultra-Orthodox and religious Zionist, this move came to fruition. Even if in the end not a single Jew would come here, this very rare unity around Torah study is an exciting and encouraging thing these days, and I wish it would continue to do so.
I know, I’m not an innocent American, this blessed move has taken all the politicians and journalists and cartoonists out of their holes that the word “ultra-Orthodox” makes them bark automatically. Not so when it comes to importing ultra-Orthodox. What, we do not have enough of our own? I still remember how the government has a future cut the budget for this wonderful Zionist enterprise of American yeshivas. But thank God, despite all the difficulties and distractions, the students have come and keep coming.
So welcome, dear brothers and sisters. We are so happy and excited that you finally came. Every moment of your yeshiva or seminar in the country is going to be meaningful and memorable, even more so than you planned.
Rabbi Reuven Targin, who was one of the leaders of this move and this week received the first group for the Western Wall Yeshiva, a group that immediately went into isolation and actually started Zaman Elul there this week, told them: “Every year it was obvious to come here, The Land of Israel is bought in agony. Suddenly it’s not obvious. You will know this year to appreciate every moment of yours here.
Rabbi Israel Reisman, one of the heads of the Torah and Da’at Yeshiva, recently said that he would come to Eretz Yisrael every summer during the summer, and now he could not. He said he felt the door closed, and he was on the wrong side of the door. You are on the right side. You won. ”
• The column is published in Besheva