gap year in israel

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by Danielle

Dear Coronavirus,

When you abruptly took the world on by storm, unannounced with a complete disregard for the seemingly momentous and transitional period of life I was entering, I resented you. I have lost unquantifiable memories and experiences due to the global pandemic that succeeded in quieting the city that never sleeps, and in shattering everybody’s perception of a reliable, comfortable future. At the start of the pandemic, I only saw my losses. Being a senior in high school at the time, it was hard not to feel as though I had it worst; the classic senior year traditions I had admiringly watched the upperclassmen partake in year after year, building my anticipation for the day it would finally become my turn, were now at stake. The long-awaited three-month Israel trip with my high school, a right of passage for seniors at Golda Och Academy, lasted only three weeks before we were inevitably sent home on a charter flight due to you. In place of an exhilarating three-month trip filled with intensive grade bonding, travel, learning, and adventure, I had no choice but to settle for Netflix in bed and Zoom workout classes, constantly in denial of the drastic decline in the excitement trajectory of my year. During those five months at home of limited social interactions and ample time to think, I underwent my first heartbreak, felt loneliness like I had never experienced before, and was endlessly frustrated at the repetitive, unproductive routine of my days. I was not alone in my experience yet I felt that you, Covid-19, had singled me out, and made it your mission to infiltrate into my graduation plans, travel plans, and fester through my social life, making me question the weight and value of everything I had planned for my future.

If you have taught me anything, it is that as humans we like to believe we can foresee the future. We organize vacations and social outings, expecting our plans to always come to fruition and forgetting to account for the likelihood of life obstacles that could hinder our perfectly constructed plans. Unexpected misfortunes and hardships are not unique to Covid-19, what separates this unfortunate change in reality from the rest is the universal feeling of loss. Keeping this in mind, I had to ask myself what I could control in an uncontrollable reality. Although I am not responsible for the outcomes of Covid-19, I can manipulate the limitations of life during a global pandemic to my benefit. Set to attend the University of Maryland in the fall, I had realized there were alternate options to suffering through virtual classes and missing out on the typical freshman year college experience. Though I was unsure of how you would impact my college experience, I decided to better my odds and take advantage of an opportunity that would be more worthwhile during this time, a gap year in Israel. You might have cost me my Israel trip a few months ago and jeopardized the potential for a normal freshman college experience, but I still felt I had the power to steer my life in a better direction and compensate for the lost experiences.

I spent months researching and contemplating different Masa gap year programs, comparing all of my options through available resources. The indecision I felt during this process destroyed me. I was scared to reject the predictable path of attending college right after high school and do what was different. I was angry that you caused me to question everything I thought I knew about myself and my path, yet I decided to take a tip out of your book and stray from the predictable, ordinary path of life. After months of phone calls with Masa coordinators and applying to gap year after gap year, I finally decided on an internship and college credit based gap year program called Aardvark Israel. Without the abundance of time on my hands, you forced upon me to reevaluate my future; I would have never considered taking a gap year.

Before leaving for Israel, I was under the impression that I would be escaping you and the effects you left on the world; I was wrong. Cases in Israel have never been higher, upwards of 7,000 a day. I was about to embark on a gap year program located at the epicenter of your effects. Despite this, anything seemed better than the alternative of going to college with all online classes and single dorms. Because of you, I can now appreciate simple pleasures. When I heard I would have to quarantine for two weeks upon my arrival in Israel, I was unfazed. The excitement to be around new people and have a change in scenery overpowered the disappointment I could have allowed myself to feel over having to quarantine. I entered Israel expecting you to take away from my experience abroad, just as you had been robbing opportunities from people left and right. I recognized that simply the ability to fly to Israel was something to be grateful and excited about, and knew I had to make the most of the opportunity I was given.

Upon my arrival, I instantly entered quarantine with a positive mindset, and my five roommates shared the same eagerness to enjoy each other’s company and live independently in an apartment in Jerusalem. After living through 5 months of lockdowns in the States, the ability to be around people was all we needed to maintain our excitement throughout the two-week quarantine. My roommates and I instantly hit it off and had a blast cooking together, playing games, having dance parties, and simply getting to know each other during quarantine. We truly became family during those two weeks and quarantine allowed us to grow fully comfortable with each other and adjust to living independently. The process of getting to know each other on a deeper level might have been stunted had life been normal with the ability to leave the apartment and spend our days apart. During quarantine, we lived in a building with 35 other Aardvark participants, each split up into rooms of 5. From our balconies, we could communicate with other students on the program and even set up pulley systems using string and grocery bags to transport supplies from balcony to balcony. By the end of quarantine, I had gotten close to neighboring apartments and there were even romances formed between my roommates and boys from other balconies.

To our luck, three days after being released from quarantine Israel was set to enter a full 3-week lockdown because of how rapidly you had been spreading your disease. Once again, my roommates and I were completely unfazed by these new regulations and we only saw the bright side of the situation. During lockdown, we could walk in the park and finally step foot in our friends’ apartments, which were more freedoms than were available to us in quarantine. Thanks to you, I now appreciate the simple pleasures of life and am grateful to simply be in the company of others while not confined to the indoors. I once resented you for taking away so much from what was supposed to be the most exciting year of my life, but I have become more resilient and strong-minded because of you. I have learned to accept the situation I am in and make the most of my circumstances. I may not be able to control how long you will be immediately impacting everyday life, but my newfound ability to focus only on the positives will transcend your time. While I will never forgive you COVID-19 for the lives and livelihoods you have destroyed, I am in some ways thankful for all you have taught me. I am grateful for you, but I cannot say I will miss you when you leave us once and for all.