Now that the New Year is over, let’s talk about the “gap year” because it’s been on my mind. The gap year? Yes. The gap year.
Not what you were expecting after Yom Kippur, I know. But take a listen.
What’s a gap year, you say? Well, a gap year is the time between when a teenager finishes high school and starts college. Gap year consciousness and gap year programs are becoming increasingly popular in the US. In fact, Harvard actually recommends a gap year to all incoming students, Princeton has an entire gap year department, and Tufts now offers a stipend to students who do a social justice gap year.
A social justice gap year? Whaaaa!?
Here’s why it’s been on my mind.
1. Thinking About The Future.
The New Year just began. I’ve had lots of sitting in shul watching my boys sitting in shul, with Little Man rolling his big blue eyes a little bit…and also smiling and clapping along with songs. And Firstborn telling me he’s a “shul head” and asking if we can pretty please sit in the front row.
I wonder what my boys absorb of Judaism in general. And what will their identity be as teenagers? What will they keep with them? Will they value it as I did or as I do?
In addition, I wonder what they absorb from all of the social justice aspects of Judaism (tikkun olam–repairing the world) I nudge their way daily. I see them staring at homeless people the way I do: with tears forming and questions about how it happens that you become homeless. I watch them pick up trash when we take hikes and they express their father’s and my primal violent disdain for littering. I have seen them lose their faith in humanity just a little bit when they see injustice; when they see people hurting other people, it breaks their hearts.
What will my sweet boys be like as college applicants? What will motivate them? What will they want to pursue? (This is what happens when you are premenstrual at this time of year, apparently. You start thinking about all of this stuff very deeply and it keeps you up at night.)
Here’s another reason it’s on my mind: statistics.
One third of all college freshman drop out of college. For students who take a gap year, that number goes way down. Forty percent of college students take five to six years to finish college and the majority of college students who took a gap year take four years. Partially because they are so appreciative that their parents let them take a year off to decompress and thus want to save their parents’ tuition money… but also because they go into college knowing a bit more about what they want and thus are more ready to appreciate and take advantage of their college experience. I want this to be my children, and not just for the tuition reason…
There is a gap year program starting in LA next fall that has me so excited that I am ready to enroll my boys. Sure, they are eight and 11 years away from being eligible, but still. This is where I hope they will want to be in eight and 11 years.
Check it out.
It’s called Tzedek America. It’s a cross-denominational program which specifically focuses on social justice, Jewish identity, and leadership. It’s for young folks between the ages of 17-20. They get to choose how to spend their gap year decompressing, exploring their Jewish identity, and learning how they can think and act strategically to make the world a better place. I love it all.
The way it works is 20 people are chosen per year from across the US to live communally in LA (think kibbutz but with supervision!) while donating a collective 12,000 hours of service locally and nationally (think changing the world one person at a time! I’m all ferklempt!).
Before teenagers continue onto college and get swept off in the sea of academic demands and the pressure to “make money” upon graduation, Tzedek America is helping to create a generation of civic-minded, socially conscious, active Jewish young adults. I want my kids to be a part of that: personally, communally, nationally, globally.
This kind of program is the place to start. If you have teenagers, please check out their website. Spread the word.
This is how we change the world. It’s how we gather the scattered light that was dispersed at Creation and it’s how we put it back together, one broken fragment at a time.
Kol HaKavod to people brave and committed enough to spread their love of this world and our capacity to transform darkness into light.
Shana Tova, indeed. Sweet good change is coming our way. I can feel it.