My Gap Year Helped Me Connect to Global Jewish Peoplehood
By Rose Karlin
Even before I got to my senior year at The Weber School, I knew I wanted to participate in a program called Kivunim, a program based in Israel that combines an immersive academic experience with international travel and cross-cultural dialogue.
Kivunim means “directions” in Hebrew, and though I already had a deep spiritual connection to Judaism, I felt I needed a more worldly understanding of myself before going to college. On my Kivunim year, I lived in Israel and traveled to 13 different countries. Everywhere I went, I was exposed to other people, often Jews, who don’t look like me, speak my language, or live a life that resembles my own. In India and Morocco, I visited “remnant” Jewish communities where Jewish life once flourished but now is only a memory. Yet in Albania, I saw incredible sparks of Jewish revitalization, in an isolated nation that had driven out its Jews under Communism.
To be honest, my parents weren’t thrilled with my gap year plan. It was a new concept to them and one that would take me thousands of miles away. Most of my graduating class at Weber was heading straight off to college and the only people I knew doing gap years were going to Yeshiva. But I can honestly say that my immersion in other countries and cultures only deepened my Judaism. Travel made me see how multi-faceted and fragile Jewish culture is unless you actively preserve it.
I’ve just finished up my freshman year at Washington University in St. Louis where there is an affluent and passionate Jewish community; however, I have chosen to break my day school bubble and also have non-Jewish friends for a change, often their first Jewish friend. I realize how important it is to maintain Jewish culture while simultaneously embracing and understanding others. Kivunim helped me cut right to what I value.
The gap year experience also made me realize how important understanding history and other cultures is. On Kivunim, I saw that there were so many expressions of Judaism and it inspires me to be more fluid in what I define as Jewish. Whatever major I declare, it will have a deep focus on understanding others and the world as a whole, because of Kivunim.
My younger brother isn’t even a freshman yet and I’m already urging him take a gap year too, with Kivunim!