FUL-FILLING IN THE GAP
I think it is safe to say,” It’s cold out, eh?” Whoever coined the phrase, it is all a matter of perspective was definitely on to something. Being back in Israel over the winter break, I found myself laughing at my friends who were complaining about it being 10 degrees above zero claiming that it was “freezing”. Not too long ago, I would have agreed with them. There were lots of changes to notice around me. Everything seemed hotter, my little siblings suddenly seem taller, and I realized how much I missed my mom’s cooking. While I was here in Toronto, many of my friends began new journeys as well. Some started different gap years and some got drafted into the army. It is amazing how much things have changed in such a short time. Everyone began talking in acronyms, sharing funny stories about their crazy officers, planning get-togethers months ahead of time as they try to coordinate weekends off together, something that is very un-Israeli unless you are in the army. On one level, I suppose I was anticipating this change. But yet, only after being here, in Toronto and hearing about the dilemmas that Canadian young people our age are facing, did I realize that our reality in Israel is unique and very different from the Diaspora.
While the idea of army service can be worrisome, especially for parents, I think serving in Tzahal can be a very positive experience. Some of my friends are doing their basic training now and I was easily able to see how much they matured. “When you will grow up, there won’t be an army”; is a quote that every Israeli knows well and it has been said for the past 70 years. Frankly the fact that there wasn’t a war this past summer is quite surprising to everyone. This is our reality as Israelis and the only way to deal with it is to find the positive in it. You can learn so much from the army, you develop yourself, learn how to live with other people, learn how not to be spoiled, to deal with your own problems and to look at the big picture. To be honest, the idea of having to decide what to study and what I want to ‘be’ for the rest of my life seems more terrifying to me than getting drafted next year. Being able to tackle these life-changing questions after our army service when we have a broader perspective, more experience and greater maturity, is a big advantage afforded to Israeli young people. I believe that there is no need to rush, which was one of the reasons that I decided to become a ShinShin and do a gap year before my army service. The army service will still be there, next year. But in the meantime I will have given back and developed myself a bit more. I often see this ‘race against time’ in Toronto’s young people too. Everyone is in such a hurry to finish high school, go to the best university straight away, finish their degree and start their life. In Israel there are more than 100 different gap years, varying between volunteering with people with special needs, kids with learning disabilities, with low income families, leading tours around the country and so much more.
I first heard the term “gap year” only two weeks before the screening process for the program began. I didn’t know much about it and wasn’t really into it at all. However, as the long process went on, my opinions changed. I realized that gap years can have a positive influence both on the individual and on Israeli society as a whole, whether you do your gap year in Israel or abroad. I went to my old high school over the break and shared my positive experiences with my friends in the student council to encourage some of them to think about doing a Sh’nat Sherut. Many people my age are worried that a gap year is just a waste of time, yet I believe that in 40 years from now, it won’t matter to me whether I’m 55 or 56. What will matter is what I contributed in my life and what I've experienced. I am so happy that I decided to spend this year in service with your community and that I don’t regret the road not taken.