Just shy of two weeks ago, recent Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy Barrack graduate Ben Bernstein was prepared to attend Indiana University. Despite news of changing campus life, he was still deter- mined to have his ideal college experience.
But once Bernstein came to terms with the reality of his situation — a limited social life with minimal peer interaction — he changed his mind, taking a gap year instead.
High School graduates across the country face the same decision: to attend college in the age of COVID-19 or take a gap year in order to have a traditional freshman experience next fall.
Like Bernstein, former Barrack classmate Devora Solomon chose the latter.
“I knew that going to college this fall would not provide me with the experience that I wanted and, as a freshman, most of my classes would be online which to me was not worth it,” Solomon said.
Solomon, who deferred her acceptance to the University of Pennsylvania, made her decision after the college released possible scenarios for the upcoming semester.
“I spoke to a professor at Penn who recommended a gap year because he said the academic experience would likely not be up to its normal standards with many classes online, professors not having office hours and lack of research opportunities,” she added.
Instead, Solomon will participate in the Young Judea Year Course in Israel.
“I’ll spend four months learning in Jerusalem and four months volunteering in Tel Aviv with some travel in between,” she said.
While Bernstein wishes he could have gone to Israel, he aims to live at home and work. He does not have a concrete plan but hopes to find full-time employment and take a calculus class online.
“Most kids don’t have the opportunity to work full time before college,” Bernstein said. “With a job, I would be able to mature and face everyday problems I wouldn’t experience until after I got out of college.”
The opportunity for new life experiences also played a part in Mickey Lieberman-Burak’s decision to take a gap year before attending American University in 2021.
Lieberman-Burak, who recently graduated from Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, starts the nine-month Tivnu Gap Year program on Sept. 1.
Portland, Oregon-based Tivnu is a Jewish gap-year program with a focus in social justice.
“The entire aspect of social justice is very appealing to me considering volunteering has been one of my passions for a while,” Lieberman-Burak said.
In the past, they have volunteered in Philadelphia for Street Tails Animal Rescue and The Franklin Institute. Lieberman- Burak has also worked as a teacher’s assistant at synagogue Hebrew school Mishkan Shalom.
Participants in the Tivnu program are placed into the local community through internships.
“My goal is to work with Habitat for Humanity three or four days a week and do something related to LGBTQ+ rights for the other few days,” Lieberman-Burak said.
An important Jewish value for Lieberman-Burak is tikkun olam.
“Through Tivnu I want to connect more with my Jewish identity, especially through the lens of making a positive contribution to the world through volunteering,” they said.
Tivnu will require participants to self-quarantine for two weeks beforehand, as well as quarantine in groups throughout the program. They will not forgo the in-person aspect of the gap year.
Lieberman-Burak stressed how valuable an in-person program is due to the pandemic and current civil unrest.
“There is so much separation between people,” they said. “There is a lack of in-person contact and also a disconnect that is created as all of these destructed schedules and interactions take place.”
Lieberman-Burak is not the only one missing a traditional social scene.
“By the time I get to college, it will be the first time in almost a full year that I am able to go out, seeing and meeting whoever I want without worrying about safety precautions,” Bernstein said.
All three graduates highlighted how their gap years will help them grow on their own.
“I’m hoping to mature and learn more about being independent which I believe will be achieved in Tel Aviv where we will live in apartments, budget and cook for ourselves,” Solomon said. “One of the main reasons I love Penn is the Jewish community and I can’t wait to see how that experience is enhanced by taking a gap year.”
Similarly, Lieberman-Burak concluded, “I want to learn more about who I am and how I can help others. I am grateful to have any experience that can help further that goal.”