Simon Family Passport: Yael Schranz spends gap year in Israel

by | Jun 23, 2022 | Other News

It’s been almost a month, and it feels like I just left yesterday. You know the experience was especially amazing when it is so difficult to move on from it.

I went to Israel on a gap year known as Young Judaea Year Course.

First, I lived in Jerusalem taking classes on Judaism, Zionism, Middle Eastern studies, and Leadership. We also took lots of educational trips to learn about all aspects of Israeli society.

Then, I lived in Tel Aviv where I learned how to code through a tech track and then interned at Nefesh B’Nefesh.

Between the two semesters, we all participated in a program called Sar-El, where we volunteered at army bases for two weeks. Throughout the year, I had a variety of unique experiences including Tuesday trips, road trips with the rabbi, and Shabbat B’Yachad. With the freedom this program provided, I also made my own travel plans to visit friends and family all around Israel. I had a variety of Shabbos experiences that I hold so close to my heart. I got to participate in Tikvah Overseas Scholars program where I took an additional class and listened to amazing speakers. And, I was a fellow of Nitzavim, where we learned how to be Jewish leaders on a college campus after our year in Israel.

I think I had the most broad and diverse Israel experience. I created the most amazing friends in my gap year and grew closer with the ones I already knew from other programs. I strengthened my Jewish observance because it simply felt right. This was also the hardest and best year of my life. I had so many difficult moments struggling with homesickness, friendships, and debating my religious practice. But all these rough moments allowed me to grow and experience all the beautiful things Israel had to offer.

Every single day, I want to go back. I felt an unbelievable connection to Israel, the land of our people. I felt like I was becoming the best and truest version of myself. At the airport crying my heart out that I was leaving this place and people, my rabbi said to me, “Your nefesh is here. You will be back soon.” I felt that with every inch of my body. I may have been leaving then, but I knew it wouldn’t be too long before I was back in the homeland of the Jewish people.

For more information, visit, or contact Ann Swindell, Tidewater Jewish Foundation donor relations and grant manager, at or 757-965-6106.

Yael Schranz