Year Course 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.