The Better Version of Yourself

Much has been written concerning the Jewish calendar and the tapestry of meaning it weaves throughout the year, with the months and their festivals calling us to examine the relationships in our lives, each at the opportune time. We now find ourselves in between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, that moment of the year when our relationship with the self is brought to the fore. From the shofar blasts that ring out from the start of Elul, all the way until the end of Yom Kippur, we are urged to shake off the cobwebs of complacency and reset ourselves onto the path of self-actualization. Yet, often we can make resolutions that don’t stick and committing to personal changes that don’t last. There are of course several reasons for these missteps, with many books on how one can create combat.

Two aspects of my life give me the strength to continue on the path of self-improvement at this time of year. The first is living in a country that has shaped itself around the Jewish calendar and its overarching goals. From hearing radio hosts discussing what they felt during the Shofar to listening to two market sellers comparing their slichot service experience, I find myself immersed in a culture that values what this time of year is about. The second comes with my role on Year Course. During the year I have the absolute honor to provide educational experiences for young people who are also on some form of self-discovery. Not only does that journey present opportunities for students to question who they are and what they want to become, but it pushes me to ask myself the same questions.

The dual aspect of living in the Jewish homeland while engaging in a program that compels me to ask and answer the hard questions makes me a better version of me. I hope that by exploring the country and reflecting on the experiences you will have, propels you to become better versions of yourselves. Wishing you all a happy and sweet new year.

Shana Tovah,

Rabbi Adam

Getting to Know: Joel Srebrenick, YC Tel Aviv Experience Manager

Shalom! I’m Joel Srebrenick – lifelong Young Judaean and Tel Aviv Experience Manager for Year Course in Israel. As a Year Course alumnus and former Year Course madrich (counselor), as well as an expert in all things Tel Aviv, I get to employ all of the useful things I’ve learned over the years to make the Tel Aviv semester an amazing four months.

Year Course is divided into two semesters – one primarily volunteering in Tel Aviv, and one mainly educational in Jerusalem, and I’m responsible for the Tel Aviv experience: from overseeing the maintenance and upkeep of Beit Hillel, our dorm-style building in the Montefiore neighborhood, to making sure kids make the most of the city’s many different cultural opportunities, to helping them feel fulfilled in their volunteering and Israel experiences, and so many more things – some planned and even more on the spur of the moment. On an average day, I might visit a chanich at their volunteer placement, help the section’s madrichim plan an activity on Israeli politics in the afternoon, and connect the whole group to the world of social activism in Tel Aviv by facilitating a guest speaker in the evening.

As a longtime Judaean, I bring with me to Tel Aviv the values instilled in me first as a camper at CYJ Sprout Laker and both a camper and staff member at Camp Tel Yehudah, as a Machon summer trip participant, as National Mazkir of the Young Judaea movement, as a Year Courser, a Year Course madrich, and now for the last few years, as Tel Aviv Experience Manager.

Year Coursers’ experience in Tel Aviv is all the more important to me because I live here, too! Having made aliyah in 2016 and becoming a citizen, people often ask why I decided to move to Israel. Is it any surprise that the answer is Year Course? As a madrich, I saw just how incredibly meaningful the volunteering semester was for so many of my chanichim. Having the opportunity to be part of the relationship that young American Jews have with this country – becoming invested in its future, and contributing to the society by helping to build it alongside Israelis – inspired me to make the long-term commitment.

My best Year Course memory is from my year as a chanich, and I’m reminded of the experience every time I help chanichim plan a weekend trip camping or hiking in one of Israel’s many beautiful parks and reserves. It was late December of 2010, and I had traveled to Mizpe Ramon with a group of friends where we spent the weekend at a cool outdoor hostel – sleeping in tents, cooking our own food, and navigating our way around the crater. It was the first time in my life that that I felt truly independent, not only as a young adult, but as a Jewish American in Israel. I understood that in addition to making new friends, getting to know Israel, and having a ton of fun, Year Course was a journey of my own personal growth, one that that influences me even to this very day.

I consider myself truly lucky to make new Year Course memories, and even more lucky that I get to experience my favorite moment of the year not once, but twice. When each section arrives in Tel Aviv, there’s that excited, nervous energy bubbling in the group. If it’s the first semester, the chanichim are embarking upon their first big post-high school experience, stepping out of their comfort zones and becoming independent in a way they’ve never been before. If it’s second semester, the arrival in Tel Aviv, a non-stop, cosmopolitan city, can be a big change from Jerusalem’s quainter atmosphere. At some point in their first few weeks, we all go to the beach together on Saturday for Havdallah, the ceremony marking the end of Shabbat and beginning of a new week. It’s a beautiful and welcoming moment, when I get to see everyone suddenly feel part of the city together as one group, ready to grow and take advantage of all the things that Tel Aviv has to offer.

As we start a new Year Course year, there are all kinds of things to manage: schedules, room assignments, volunteer placements, guest speakers, excursions, educational activities, and, well, everything that goes on behind the scenes. But alongside all of the logistics, I’m also getting ready to share one of the most important values instilled me as a Judaean: to create a better understanding of Israeli society, inviting young and engaged American Jews to be part of the conversation about the future of Israel and what this land will look like in the years to come, to feel empowered with the knowledge and experience gained this year, and maybe, like me, to one day call this country home.

Get to Know: Dr. Avi Rose, Director of Academics and Education

Hi YJ world, my name is Dr. Avi Rose and I am the Director of Academics and Education. Why the double title you ask? Because we at Year Course are doubly committed to learning. On the one hand, many students on YC seek academic credit to get their college careers off to a great start. So, we work with the American Jewish University to give those credits at the highest possible standard, with instructors who are trained and experienced in their field of expertise. On the other hand, we are a movement program, dedicated to our ideals of Judaism, Zionism, Leadership, Social Action and Pluralism. It is my job to create learning  that includes all these elements in a way that is interesting and meaningful. It’s a job I love!

I’m a relative latecomer to YJ, I joined the movement when I joined the YJ team in 2003. I’m pleased to say that ever since, I’ve done my best to bring out the best in our movement. I’ve taught hundreds of students in all those years and I couldn’t be more proud of them and their accomplishments. They are part of a huge network of Judaeans who are doing their part to change the world in large and small ways. Everywhere I go in my professional life, I always end up meeting one of those Judean alumni, they seem to be in almost every field. The one thing they all have in common is a sense of mission and purpose. Almost all of them will tell you that they got this from their YJ upbringing.

I even bought my treasured Mah Jonng set from a Year Course grad who was on the program before I was born. She answered an ad I placed online and we ended up chatting for hours about her YC and how it changed her life. I think of her and her journey every time I play.

I’ve lived in Israel since 2002, after many years of going back and forth between Jerusalem and Canada. After completing my Phd, I decided that it was time to ‘take the plunge’ and fulfill my dream of making Israel my home. A few years later, I met a great British guy and he agreed to build a home with me here in Israel. Today, we live in the capital where we are raising our twin children. Our kids love to meet “Abba’s students” so don’t be surprised if they show up on campus and ask you to play.

In my years at YJ, I’ve loved nothing more than watching students face their challenges. I’ve worked with students who dreamed of achieving educational or professional goals, overcome personal obstacles, or simply try out new directions in life. My greatest joy is meeting these students as they progress through life after YC, in college, as young professionals, parents and sometimes as colleagues.

Year Course is something that sticks with you. It’s a year that really lasts a lifetime, with experiences, learning and friendships that remain part of who you are. It’s a launch pad to a life of independence, community, commitment and exploration. It may sound a bit cliche, but I am truly proud and honored  to play a small role in this very big adventure.

 I look forward to meeting you and having join our unique community, I know you will make it even better!

Get to Know: Kate Nachman, Director of Year Course

My Young Judaea pedigree goes back to age 13, when my older sister tricked me into attending a YJ club meeting in Nashua, NH. I was hooked from the start and became active in my club, my region, camp and eventually Israel. After loving my Year Course experience despite a war in the middle of it, I knew I had to get back. Junior year abroad at Hebrew University and then my year as a Year Course madricha solidified my conviction that #ycneverends and I have been on a path towards never leaving ever since.

After making Aliya to Israel, I ran the theatre program at Merkaz Hamagshimim for 9 years, worked at Hebrew College in Boston for 3 and a half years, and found my way back to Year Course in 2009 where I have been happily working my way up to director ever since. As Director of Year Course, I get to navigate the intersection between education and administration of the program and see our students through a 9-month journey of personal growth, grappling with identity, and Israel adventure. My favorite part of the job is that it is always changing. Local, national and international weather, politics, culture and more (of multiple countries), can divert us from our regularly scheduled program and make for exciting challenges of how we stay dynamic and able to react to the world around us without missing out on the things we’ve already planned. It is never boring!

I hope our students are learning how to balance our history with our future. I hope they are allowing the “boring stuff that happened a long time ago” to be relevant as a lens through which they understand who and how they want to contribute to the world around them.