Year Course Update: Mikayla Kaplan
To describe the past seven months of my life in Israel in one paragraph is nearly impossible. To describe my experiences in Young Judaea’s Year Course feels completely out of reach. To understand the impact of my gap year in Israel on my life will have to wait to be seen. When Year Course began, the first weekend, all 200 of us, mostly strangers, spent the weekend in Beit She’an, AKA the middle of the desert in the north of Israel. As I sat in the heat of the summer, jet-lagged, thinking of my friends from home starting college, I began to question if I made the right decision to move halfway across the world, for nine months, with no family, and just three bags. I quickly realized that even though we were in the middle of the desert, there was no other place I would rather be.
We began the first semester living in Jerusalem by exploring Israel and learning with a variety of teachers, who were all extremely passionate about their love for Israel and passing that same love onto us. Living in one of the holiest cities, on a campus with all of my new friends, was an amazing experience. I began to bond with both the people around me and the city that holds so much history. I explored the city every chance I got – discovering new parks, food spots, and cool places to sightsee. I frequently visited Shuk Machne Yehuda and got to not only taste a part of Israeli culture but also interact with the Israelis and learn about their life, living and working in Jerusalem. Being able to see the smorgasbord of Judaism that exists in Jerusalem and what being Jewish looks like for people living in Israel was a unique learning opportunity that I’ll never forget. Experiencing Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur firsthand – to observe what the holiest days look like for Jews living in the holiest city helped me to further embrace my Judaism and explore the different sects of Judaism that surrounded me. Walking in the middle of the street on Yom Kippur when the whole city was shut down is a sight and feeling that is truly unforgettable. At times, Jerusalem felt slightly outdated, but despite this, I was able to appreciate its quirks through the help of my teachers, educators, and other Year Course staff.
In December, we moved to Tel Aviv to prepare for the second semester, which felt like a complete 180 degrees from Jerusalem. Being completely independent, commuting to an internship every day, cooking for myself every night, and doing all the things I would if I was an adult in the working world was a welcomed taste of adulthood. It was a little rocky at first, and living in the most expensive city in the world isn’t exactly fun for my wallet. However, after I got the hang of it, the sense of true independence was a breath of fresh air. Learning to live communally and sharing my space with others was nothing new for me, however, it was a great bonding experience and helped me discover a new appreciation for cooking with my friends and being able to sit down together and eat.
My internship is with Magen David Adom, the ambulance service in Israel. Every day, I am interacting with the Israeli public, observing the differences in the medical systems, practicing my Hebrew, and learning how to save lives. Although I have only been working for 2 weeks, I have already learned so much and gained a lot of professional knowledge from this experience. Living in Tel Aviv, seeing and talking to the people who live in this city, and observing firsthand the political turmoil and the manifestation of it in the most lively city has been a crucial learning experience for me.
As I reflect on the past seven months and look forward to the next 2 ½ months, I am amazed at how much I have grown as a person and as a Jew. I have learned so much about Israel, the Middle East, and myself. I have challenged my own beliefs and the beliefs of my peers through conversations not only with each other but with people that I never thought I would have the opportunity to speak with. I am so grateful to Young Judaea Year Course for giving me the best year of my life. I am excited to return to CYJ-Texas as Rikud Specialist and to bring my passion and love for Israel to the campers along with my many stories from my time spent here. See y’all this summer!