Jewish educators are constantly searching for ways to engage students in discovering their Jewish identity and connecting with the land and people of Israel. There is agreement that one of the most impactful way to link Jewish teens with their Jewish identity is having them spend extended time in Israel. Taking a gap year, between high school graduation and the start of college, is an ideal time.
This past year, Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta in partnership with JumpSpark Atlanta, offered a gap year scholarship opportunity created by the Zalik Family Foundation. The scholarships can be applied to a wide selection of programs facilitated by the Jewish Agency, and coordinated by an organization called Masa Israel Journey.
Twenty-five students from around Atlanta have received grants of $10,000 to help subsidize the cost of their gap year program. An additional $5,000 scholarship was awarded to students who commit to serving the community upon their return. In a new twist, Federation is offering a new gap year option called Shinshinim IL bringing an Atlanta teen to volunteer in the Yokneam community for a year.
Michal Ilai, Director of Israel Programs at the Weber School, helped recruit students for gap year experiences. She said, “Masa is a provider of many fine gap year opportunities each with a slightly different way to authentically engage students in Israel. Some programs are focused on academics, others are more experiential offering tiyulim (trips) around the country. But every avenue leads to the same destination — deepening Jewish identity while getting to really know Israel. There is a gap year for every kind of teen, and I was lucky to have been the matchmaker this past year. I hope this scholarship will be offered to Atlanta high school graduates for years to come.”
Rebecca Lewyn, a Weber graduate and scholarship recipient, is looking forward to leaving for Israel. “I am so excited to be participating. It feels good to know my Federation supports a very important cause and helps send kids to Israel who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity.” Lewyn will join Young Judea Year Course, a well-established and popular gap year program that has been attracting teens from all over the world since the 1950’s.
Daniel Landis is a Chamblee Charter High School graduate who also received the scholarship. He chose a program with a technology track in which students intern in Tel Aviv tech companies. When asked what he wanted to get out of the experience, he immediately said “I want to gain a lot of new skills, explore my Jewish heritage and make new connections.”
Leah Stock-Landis, Daniel’s mother, is extremely thankful for the scholarship. “From the beginning stage, all the information provided, and continuous support made us feel that somebody was looking for what was the best fit for Daniel.” He’ll be part of a program that takes students to Poland to visit concentration camps. This is of particular importance to the Landis family, as Daniel’s grandfather was a Holocaust survivor.
A local family whose daughter recently returned from her gap year program, shared their excitement about the initiative. “Israel is very important to us, so it was a given that our daughter would go on a gap year program. We wish we had this level of guidance at the time we looked at the options. In addition to the incredible scholarship, the help to Atlanta families with selecting the appropriate program is a tremendous service,” the father shared.