Graduation for North Shore seniors was far from what was expected; the coronavirus pandemic turned their world upside down.
Gone are the parties, the prom, and the ceremony that would have marked their academic passage from high school to higher education. Now most of these graduates are faced with a summer devoid of work or camp or travel to be followed by more limits in the fall.
The move to college usually means a new freedom. But the same coronavirus plague that stopped these students’ graduation ceremony also has caused uncertainty among college administrators about whether to open their campuses for what would be their freshman year.
Incoming freshman and their parents know the high cost of a college education and are reticent about paying for impersonal online learning. The alternative to beginning college right after high school – called a gap year – is seriously being considered by some high school graduates because of the pandemic.
Israel has not escaped the coronavirus. There have been 16,608 cases and 268 deaths, and scientists can’t rule out another wave later this year. But the country has been extremely aggressive in tracking cases and keeping those who might have been infected in social isolation. Israeli health care also has had a high rate of success in treatment, with a 98 percent rate of recovery for closed cases. That compares to a 79 percent recovery rate in the United States.
A gap year for many North Shore Jewish graduates who have gone to Israel under the Youth to Israel program could have special meaning. Not only could a gap year be a dramatic continuation of ties to Israel, but travel in a foreign land would be exciting and informative. Teenagers choosing Israel for a gap year would have a multitude of programs that could expand their lives. A gap year in Israel could involve work with Israeli social service agencies, living and working on a kibbutz, or studying at one of many Israeli universities or in a yeshiva.
The Orthodox community offers courses in all aspects of Judaic studies in this center of Jewish education. For the more adventurous, Jewish teenagers could serve in the Israeli Defense Forces. Putting on an IDF uniform for a young Jew is a heady and transforming experience. Army service would be a dramatic difference between a cloistered existence on the North Shore and bearing arms to defend Israel.
Israel has understood the draw and importance of bringing young Jews to its vibrant country and has developed many diverse programs for that purpose. Israel has shown its customary insight in developing gap year programs that are attractive to Jewish high school graduates and strengthen the bond of these students with the Jewish homeland. Young Jews returning from an Israeli gap year talk enthusiastically about living in a foreign culture and traveling through this ancient land. Not just the standard experience of visiting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but the visual excitement of the Dead Sea, the Negev, and remnants of Roman civilizations. An Israel gap year provides the excitement of living and learning that expands the life of these young Jews beyond the limitations of their American Jewish upbringing.
The costs for these Israeli gap year programs vary from $4,000 to $22,000 depending on the type, length and available scholarships for the selected program. This is a financial consideration for parents since gap year is a cost in addition to four years of college.
With that, the gap year quandary is a choice between two positives: whether to start the college freshman year or to take a year off for different educational and life experiences. Parents and graduates have to weigh both and decide which offers the better choice when a pandemic clouds the future. For the graduate, their choice will have life-changing consequences. Either way, their future awaits.
Herb Belkin can be reached at email@example.com.