Year Course Through Year Course, the Chance to Figure out Who I Am
Year Course 19-20 Graduation Speech by Sofia Feldman
Each and every one of us sitting here today are the people we are because of the choices we have made. This past year has consisted of decision making. Not just small decisions and choices of what to eat or what clothes to wear, but decisions determining our futures. I want to share with you some of the decisions I have made which have formed me into the person I am today, standing here in front of you.
After attending the Young Judaea summer program, Machon, I immediately knew that Year Course was something I needed to do. Four weeks on Machon did not satisfy my love and passion for Israel’s culture and everything that makes Israel Israel. It was my first time ever coming to Israel and I was positive I would be back. I knew that Year Course would be something I would regret not doing, but I was absolutely terrified. I was leaving behind everything I knew and loved. I would be going from the home of BBQ to the land of schnitzel and falafel. I’d be replacing Southern hospitality for Israel’s aggressive bus drivers. I would be leaving my friends for new ones and 14 random Israelis. I would also be leaving my family, not knowing that I would make a completely new one.
By the end of senior year, I had solidified the next five years of my life. Although I was breaking out of the classic mold of attending college directly out of high school, I was comforted by the fact that I would be returning to life back in America. I would be close again to my family, my high school friends, and everything that I had grown up with. I would be coming back to attend the University of Florida and be a part of the classic American college experience. I knew after I had made my college decision to attend University of Florida, I was not being completely honest with myself. I made the choice to go to the University of Florida for other people around me. I was trying to live up to what was expected from me, not necessarily what was right for me. I was more satisfied with the knowledge that I had a plan rather than the plan itself. I tried to suppress these emotions because I was scared of them. When they reappeared a few months ago in Israel, I was forced to confront them. While on Year Course, I surrendered to the tough realization that my decision to go to the University of Florida was not what was best for me. I could not fight it anymore, because being a college student in America felt wrong. I essentially had a crisis of where I wanted to be and where I belonged. Every time I thought about the next few years of my life in America, it wasn’t something that necessarily made me happy or something that I saw a future in. I was faced with a choice that I did not see coming. The choice to go home and resume life in America or to stay in Israel and continue my life here. And deep down, the decision for me to stay was a no brainer.
The week of Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut were the days where I realized exactly why I am continuing the next three years of my life in Israel. I long to belong. I desire to live in a place where there is more sense of unity. Despite divisions, Jews across Israel share an indescribable and indestructible connection with one another. The idea of being able to live in a country where there is more that unites us than divides us is something I never realized was so important to me. Throughout the whole coronavirus crisis, I had a feeling in my gut that told me to not go home. Whatever the situation was, whatever happened, I could not leave Israel because I could not leave my home. I feel safe here. These are the reasons why I could never voluntarily cut my time short in Israel. Whatever could have been thrown at me would never make me want to leave. It took nineteen years and a global pandemic to realize this is where I want to be and who I want to be. I am staying in Israel because of the love I feel here. I am staying in Israel because of the unbelievably genuine relationships I have created here. I am staying in Israel because of the sense of unity I feel in this country. I am staying in Israel because of how comforted and proud I am of my Judaism when I’m here.
How fortunate am I to have had the chance to spend these past nine months in Israel. Where I was able to travel to new places, try new things, eat new foods, meet new people, make incredible friendships, and find myself. My decision to come spend nine months in this country opened up a whole new window of opportunities and a chance to live the next three years of my life the way I want to. As we end Year Course tonight, each and everyone of us will go our separate ways, having thousands of decisions lying before us. In the meantime, I am beyond grateful that all of you made the decision along with me to be a part of Year Course. Thank you all for being such a significant part of my journey to realize where and who I am supposed to be.