Sheryl Korelitz, Director of Gap Year Recruitment for Masa North America, works with JumpSpark and Federation to recruit students for gap year programs in Israel and match students with programs that suit their interests and needs. We asked Sheryl, the proud mother of two Masa gap year daughters, about the value of this experience:
Q: Why send your teen on a gap year program in Israel?
A: So many parents think of a gap year as a year off and worry that their kids will fall behind their peers when they get to college. Overwhelmingly, research shows that a gap year is incredibly beneficial for college success. Gap year alumni have higher GPAs in college and tend to graduate in four years. They are more focused in terms of their careers, and they develop a higher level of independence and maturity.
All types of kids grow during their gap year. Highly driven kids really benefit from time to breathe and flex different muscles. This gives them a year without expectations and less pressure. And kids who are not super students, who spent their high school years not feeling great about themselves because school wasn’t their best skill, they come back brand new! They walk taller, speak with confidence, and have had a year of tremendous growth and self-discovery.
Q: What are the benefits of deferring college to go on a gap year?
A: Kids have FOMO (fear of missing out), and I get it. They think their brain will wither, or that they’ll forget grammar if they take a year away. Some Israel programs have an academic base where you can earn college credit. But the truth is, your college peers won’t care where you spent the previous year. A gap year gives you a whole year to learn how to make all new friends — you’ll come to campus with that skill. You’ve learned to live with a roommate, you’ve done your own laundry, you’ll hit campus running. You’re not behind, you’re ahead.
Future employers will appreciate your experience, and the fact that you have friends from all over the world is a gift that you’ll have forever. And you’ll have BIG fun!
Q: What does a gap year mean for Jewish identity and future leadership?
A: Parents are understandably anxious about the influence of the BDS (Boycott/Divestment/Sanction) movement on campus and students’ general lack of knowledge about Israel. A gap year is not meant to teach your kids how to be Jewish on campus or dictate a particular point of view on Israel, rather it lets them take ownership of their Judaism — discover how they feel about Israel, and what it all means. Their Israel experience empowers them to come from a place of knowing. They’ve lived it. They’ve met Palestinians. They’ve seen Israeli life and culture. The year empowers young adults to be strong in their Judaism. Being away from family, away from synagogue, helps students make their own decisions. Nothing is more powerful.
There is a strong correlation between Jewish campus leadership and an Israel experience. The Zalik Foundation, a funder of Atlanta scholarships for Israel gap year options, is specifically focused on this and I think it’s wonderful. These nine months spent in Israel are life-changing and I truly believe that they contribute to the Jewish future. I applaud the Zalik Foundation for seeing how impactful this can be.