Year Course When the End is a Beginning
Year Course 2018-2019
Reaching the end of our Year Course is an emotional time for all of us. It’s hard to think about leaving everything we’ve known for the past 9 months. Our homes, friends and routines.
Being at the end makes you think a lot about the beginning. I have a request for my fellow Year Coursers: take a second to think about your first day on Year Course – the first time you met the people that would become your best friends, the first time you slept next to your roommate, your first family dinner. Take a second to remember the person you were on that day, how scared and excited you were for the next 9 months.
All of us found Year Course differently. Some of us grew up knowing we would go because our parents or siblings did, some of us went to Young Judaea camp, and some of us thought we needed some time off after high school. For me, Year Course came in a completely random way.
I grew up in Kentucky. We’re a Jewish family, but it is not a Jewish environment at all. I was the only Jewish kid in my class, and I didn’t know anything about what it meant to be Jewish. I tried. I remember as a 10 year old Googling what it meant to be Jewish, but I never really got it. I started working at my local JCC in 2016, and two years later, my boss, who was also Jewish, invited me to join a March of the Living delegation. “Why not?” I thought – it seemed like one of my last chances to do something really Jewish. By the time I went on the trip, I had already committed to college, but that week I spent in Israel opened my eyes to something I’d never seen before. On the very last day, as I stood at the Kotel, I called my mom and told her I was postponing college and coming to Israel for a year. It didn’t go over well. I couldn’t explain why I made the choice I did, it was impulsive and irrational, but I knew I couldn’t leave behind something that made me so happy.
I’m leaving Year Course a different person than I started in one very specific way: when I arrived in Israel this past September, I wasn’t actually, legally, halachically Jewish. I had found this out while applying to other gap year programs after returning from March of the Living, and had been rejected because my mother is not Jewish. Even though I was raised Jewish, and even though it was a part of who I was, I was rejected from a Jewish gap year program. That rejection led me to Young Judaea Year Course, and to Rabbi Adam Drucker, Year Course’s Director of Jewish Life, who for the nine months of this program helped me study to convert so that a Jewish organization could never again tell me that I’m not Jewish. And so, as of May 19, 2019, under all the laws and rules, just like I always knew I was, I officially converted to Judaism.
I spent a lot of this year wondering what will happen when I leave the bubble of this gap year, but Year Course taught me that wherever you are, whether you’re going to college, or joining the IDF, or taking more time off, you can thrive if you have the right people behind you.
For the past nine months, I thought that finding Israel, finding Year Course, would be the thing that changed my life. I thought I had found what made me happy. There is nothing like living in Israel! We have all made memories for a lifetime. But what I have realized is that the reason this year was the best year of my life, was not only the place – it was the people. What really changed my life wasn’t moving across the world, it wasn’t living in the Middle East. My roommates changed my life. My (Garin Atid) scout, Adi, changed my life. Meeting Rabbi Adam, that changed my life.
I spent a lot of this year wondering what will happen when I leave the bubble of this gap year, but Year Course taught me that wherever you are, whether you’re going to college, or joining the IDF, or taking more time off, you can thrive if you have the right people behind you. I know that if next year I have people anything like the people I’ve met this year, I’ll be just fine.
During my life-changing moments and study sessions with Rabbi Adam, he taught me something that I will remember forever, that I believe gives me insight into how we move on from this year and still make sure it wasn’t just a set of isolated experiences that has no connection to the rest of our lives.
Rabbi Adam taught me that whenever we finish a chapter or section of Jewish learning, there is a tradition to say the Aramaic phrase Hadran Aluch, which translates to “we will return to you.” Usually when we complete a piece of learning or a significant chapter in our lives ends, we naturally wish to move on and begin to tackle the next challenge or explore the next adventure. What can sometimes happen is that although we may have gained from the learning we undertook and enjoyed it in the moment, our elation at its conclusion causes us to close it off and forget why we loved it while we were in the moment. Hadran Aluch comes to remind us that although one should be proud of their achievement, the course of study only means something if we internalize it, and consciously “return to it” as we continue with our lives.
This lesson is something which we can all reflect on Year Course 2018-19 comes to a close. Although the program is over, the experiences we had, the lessons we have learned, the real people we met, and the family we made will live on in us far beyond this year.