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I'm Deferring Harvard to Attend Yeshiva in Israel Next Year

May 27, 2020 | by Jacob M. Miller

With many universities planning to hold virtual classes next year, I'm taking advantage of the opportunity to spend a gap year in Israel.

The chances of college reopening in the fall appear more and more unlikely every day. That puts high school seniors like me in an unusual predicament: We’ve endured grueling months of school over Zoom, we’ve kissed goodbye the end of senior year, and we’ve accepted the unfortunate reality that graduations will not happen as planned. But we’re not quite ready to surrender our freshmen year of college – our first opportunity to live away from home – and enroll in a university that plans to hold class virtually.

If you’re a high school senior like me, you’ve probably dreamt about freshman year of college for ages: finally living away from your parents, taking advantage of all the resources universities have to offer, and using your newfound freedom to discover yourself. But the current circumstances dictate that college life will not be found on university campuses: It will take place from your childhood bedroom over Zoom without the amenities and social life ordinary college offers. Perhaps that is why a third of high school seniors will consider a gap year if their college announces plans to hold class virtually, according to a recent Carnegie Dartlet survey.

But what should high school seniors do on a gap year? With much of the world under lockdown and the introduction of new travel restrictions, many gap year options are no longer feasible. However there is at least one place high school seniors can travel before attending college: Israel.

My Jewish high school sends most of its students to Israel every year to enroll in various yeshivot, seminaries, and gap year programs. I was never inclined to take a gap year because the allure of college was too strong. I’ve always enjoyed math and science; attending Harvard to study my favorite subjects was too good a deal to defer. That was my thinking until the coronavirus pandemic began.

While Covid-19 shutters much of America, Israel has largely curbed deaths in the pandemic by instituting severe lockdowns early on. The country is now beginning to reopen and this week the Interior Ministry released guidelines for international gap year students seeking to study in Israel. The guidelines explain how incoming freshmen can travel to Israel and quarantine upon arrival, afterwards allowing gap year students to participate in Israel’s largely open society.

When I was presented with the choice between university in America and a gap year in Israel, I readily chose studying in Israel next year. Even if colleges manage to reopen, they'll reopen with heavy restrictions that will dampen students’ social life. I think high school seniors should seriously consider spending next year in Israel. Israel offers yeshivot and seminaries for intensive Jewish study as well as gap year programs that feature traveling and learning at universities in Israel. There are opportunities that match the desires of every student: Whether or not you speak Hebrew, have a background in Talmud, are interested in studying, or want to travel, a gap year program exists for you.

Next year I will study at Yeshivat Eretz Hatzvi in Jerusalem. I’m looking forward to learning to study independently so that I can continue my Jewish learning in college more easily. I’m also excited to learn about Jewish philosophy and leadership training.

This pandemic has provoked introspection and self-reflection. I’ve personally realized the importance of my relationship with my grandparents and my family’s relationship with Judaism – the one aspect of my life that has not been ended by Covid-19. A gap year in Israel is the perfect chance to deepen my connections with these weighty roots – both familial and religious.

Israel has led an exemplary response to the coronavirus. Israel has become one of the safest places to live owing to its effective handling of the pandemic. Debate about reopening the United States usually centers around finding the appropriate balance between safety and the luxury of normalcy; in Israel that dilemma is avoided. We American high school seniors would be wise to spend next year in Israel where our safety is more certain, our social life will be more vibrant, and where gap year programs will run in-person.

The Yiddish adage “man plans and God laughs” is particularly resonant to the class of 2020, who had planned a number of events – from graduation to post-high school plans – only to see their senior year spoiled by coronavirus. The world may have spelled the end of our plans to study on American college campuses next year, but it has just as clearly offered Israeli gap years as an appealing alternative.

And who knows? Maybe a year in Israel will teach me a lesson or two that will be valuable as we navigate the world after coronavirus.


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