Year Course Year Course Closing Speech: Arieh Robinson

By Young Judaea

Closing Ceremony Speech of Arieh Robinson, Year Course 2023-2024 Participant

Good evening everyone. As Canaan and Maggie so kindly introduced me, my name is Arieh, and I have the great pleasure of being the Yama representative to share with you all a speech for this closing ceremony. I appreciate you all coming, as I understand it’s difficult to be awake and show up before 6 pm. 

As a proud Yama Year-Courser, it may come as a surprise to some of you, but I’m actually a camp kid, having attended a Young Judaea camp since age ten. Growing up in the Young Judaea eco-system, I had always heard from my counselors about the best year of their life on Year Course and how I 100% have to do it when I’m old enough.

I heard of the famous reputation of freedom in Israel with all your best friends, and truthfully for most of my life up until a few months before we came here, I was sure Year Course would not be the program for me. But towards the end of my senior year, I knew I didn’t want to go to college quite yet and I looked for a gap year in Israel. Eventually, I narrowed it down to a few, but between getting to live with my camp friends for a year, having classes in Jerusalem, and the opportunity to do MDA in Tel Aviv, it seemed like Year Course would be my best option.

Much to my surprise, Year Course completely defied my expectations. I was put on the other section than all my camp friends, classes in Jerusalem, happened, and I only got as far as the MDA ulpan test before the war messed everything up.

I generally consider myself a pretty positive person so I don’t want to be too negative, but everything that could go wrong in a Year Course experience had, and yet here I am in front of you being asked to speak about what I loved about the time we shared on Year Course, and it comes so easy. 

Not that long ago (at the beginning of Year Course), we were sitting on the Leni, and Hillel roofs, eating greasy pizza hut, and looking around asking ourselves, will these people really be my new best friends? We hit the ground running and took full advantage of this newfound freedom, learning how to navigate Tel Aviv, cook, do laundry, go to the doctor and grocery shop, all on our own. Oh and did I say grocery shop all on our own! Before we knew it everyone was working for their internships for tech companies or various non-profits, and volunteering with shelter puppies or special needs children or exploring Tel Aviv and going on siyurs to new places like Beit She’an.

Things were good socially, but also still a challenge as I know for myself but also for a lot of others, we were still feeling things out. We all met so many new people and made new friends but there was a certain level of intimacy and depth I was still craving. But then things gradually changed and we grew. Actually, I can think of a specific place in my Year Course experience when everything just kind of clicked. In fact I would like to share a little excerpt from my journal from that day: “I really feel like I’m finally finding my groove. Socially I know everything’s gonna work out. Maybe best day yet, fulfilled in all regards.” I wrote that in Tzfat the night of October 6th. Obviously October 7th changed everything. It threw Israel into a new world of chaos and brought us along with it. With the onset of the war some chose to leave while others including myself went down to Kibbutz Keturah. This was a blessing in disguise, and while some call it trauma bonding, the situation drew Year Course closer than it had been at any time before.

After the attacks from Iran, my parents pulled me out and I had to go home. I had to go home and it sucked. I was sad lonely and on top of all that I somehow got Covid meaning I couldn’t even see my own family. After much heated discussion with my parents, ie. me bugging them until they finally let me back, I was able to return. But I was worried that since I was returning so late, everyone would have gotten super close with each other and I would have missed out on so much, that it would be like starting over again.

I vividly remember getting off the train at HaShalom seeing the Azrieli Towers and the sounds of Tel Aviv and felt like I was home. Then I walked to Hillel opened the side door, and remembered being greeted with the biggest hugs I could fathom. Everyone I saw I was so happy to see, and what reaffirmed my confidence and warmed my heart, was so many of you were just as happy to see me as well! It was like riding a bike, these friendships were not forgotten and broken as I’d feared, but instead strengthened by our commitment to return back to each other and our acute awareness of how much it sucked when we were apart.

See, we all made a choice to come on Year Course for our own various reasons and for some it was easy and for others not as much but we didn’t know exactly what we were getting into and who we would be with. Then we were presented with a second unique choice that a traditional year of Year Course would not encounter. The second choice to return knowing what to expect and who we would be with. Now going back to a war zone isn’t easy but the reason I and so many of you here made this challenging choice is because of the friendships and connection we built together and the desire to grasp on and further these relationships. It’s a crazy idea which I know for a lot of us, not all our family and friends back home understand, but the desire to be with those you care about is so strong as it was for us.

When we got back, I for one and from talking to a bunch of you know this is also the case for you, was ever aware of time because we were cognizant of the time we lost and of how much we had left. This time flew by on our Jerusalem semester and through our Poland trip and I know they say time flies when you’re having fun but our time felt like it was going supersonic. The war broke out 227 days ago which sounds so much farther than it feels. We swapped semesters 119 days ago. Zman beyachad started 19 days ago. Now, we less than an hour before we say our goodbyes and that is crazy. In this relatively short amount of time we’ve spent together we made friendships so strong that others have asked if they are childhood friendships. We’ve built a strong community of people who whenever anyone need a hug or someone to talk to many are ready to be there. We’ve all only known a life before and with each other, but we’ve never lived in the afterwards of knowing each other but not being with one another. We’re going to go home and wake up in our own bed again, but without a friend sleeping 5 feet away and we’ll go eat dinner in a clean kitchen, but one that doesn’t have a couple friends sitting inside cracking jokes and inviting you to hang out. We don’t yet know how to live without the ever present physical presence of each other and it’s definitely going to be hard to adjust, but we’ll all be adjusting together. And thanks to our technological world, despite whatever the physical distance may be, our emotional distance will be close as we will still have our relationships to continue to build, only a text or call away.

Now I would like to end with this, thank you for all the parents and staff who allowed for this wonderful program to happen. Thank you all for being my friend and for being friends with each other. And this is why we say l’hitraot not a goodbye, but a see you later, because I know for a fact when you care about someone this much, it won’t be a matter of if we see each other again, but a matter of when.

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