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Unexpected Opportunities

By Camille

As I’m journeying through my gap year, I’m realizing that in life, opportunities have a strange way of showing up when you least expect them. In March of last year, I remember closing my computer and being hit with the realization that this was my last ever meeting with Marin Teen Girl, an organization that I had volunteered with throughout high school. I had grown to love the group of girls I worked with and the perfect balance of business and fun we achieved at each meeting. Little did I know that I’d soon make the decision to take a year off from school, and the opportunity for me to take on a leadership role within the organization would arise.
Marin Teen Girl was formed a couple years ago, when the Marin Women’s Commission (a body of my county’s local government) began to envision a women’s empowerment conference, created by girls, for girls. The overarching goal was to connect girls from all over the county, while presenting them with informative workshops and providing powerful examples of successful women. Since its inception, the annual conference has grown in both scope and popularity, with women such as Pamela Hamamoto, former ambassador to the UN in Geneva, serving as speakers.Attendees gathered for the keynote address in March 2019.
In past years, I’ve served on the committee of ambassadors who are responsible for organizing the event for around three hundred teen girls. The group of ambassadors handles everything from brainstorming workshop topics and contacting potential speakers to advertising and recruiting donations from local businesses. This is done with the support of the Marin Women’s Commission, but ultimately it is up to the ambassadors to successfully execute the event.
While serving on this group for multiple years, I’ve learned the ins and outs of what goes into planning the conference. With the new found time and flexibility my gap year has provided, I have been able to step up as co-leader of the ambassador committee and help guide the ambassadors through the planning stages.
When I accepted the role, I knew that this year was going to look unlike any other in the history of the conference. The pandemic has not only caused us to shift our planning meetings completely online but has also forced us to completely rethink the structure of the conference. Many key conference day experiences-such as goody bags and group lunch hour-are simply not feasible this year.
However, in the face of these challenges there has also been an overwhelming number of positive results coming from our need to adapt. Because a zoom event requires much less logistical planning, we made the decision to create a monthly speaker series leading up to the conference, allowing girls to attend more workshops than they would have in just one weekend. This began in November, and so far, we’ve been able to offer a female empowerment themed yoga class, a body positivity workshop, and a workshop centered around mindset and goal setting for the new year. Because of the online format for these workshops, we’ve reached a much more diverse population of girls than ever before.
Working with a small group of our ambassadors at a planning meeting


A promotional flyer for one of our workshops
Looking forward to the conference in March, we are currently in the final stages of selecting and reaching out to speakers. While the event will certainly look and feel much different, I think that many of the adaptations we’ve made this year will be carried over into future years. Even when an in-person event becomes feasible, the monthly zoom speaker series has proved to be a fun way to engage prospective attendees leading up to the event. While I am disappointed that we won’t be able to offer the conference experience I am used to, it feels good to know that working through the challenges we were faced with has led to some unexpected positivity.

Here Goes Nothing!

By Zachary

It’s been an eventful couple weeks since you all heard from me! First of all, I quit my job at City Year, but I knew that I was going to have to do this for a while. My experience with City Year, despite not being ideal, was still impactful. I will miss the people I met there and wish them all the best.
After leaving City Year, I prepared for my trip with HMI, which is scheduled to last for about 80 days. I did this by going on long walks either alone or with my dog through Brooklyn Bridge Park. At some point the temperature made going through the park daily not a viable option, but we did continue to do what we could when my pup and I could bear it.


I am both very excited and nervous for the trip. Even though I have done similar trips, this time I will be doing it with a completely new group of people, unlike the other times when I did trips with some of my closest friends. Also, the contents of the trip being different contributes to my nervousness. Specifically, the skiing section. It is simultaneously the part I am most excited about and most skittish about. I have never really done anything like it, but it looks really fun.
I flew out to Phoenix to start the program this morning. I slept for most of the flight here so it “flew” by. After the flight, I met the other people who had also arrived today. Thus far the group seems friendly. It seems the people here have a wide spectrum of experience with doing trips like this, ranging from no experience at all to extremely experienced. We drove for two hours from the airport to the place we will be staying for the next few days. Once we all arrived, we did some icebreaker activities, had dinner, and talked a little bit. Everybody went to their rooms for the night and here I am writing this blog. Breakfast is at 8:00 AM tomorrow so I am going to go to bed now so I am ready for tomorrow. I won’t have my phone for about 80 days after tonight, so this will be my last blog for a little bit. See you all on the other side!

Coping with COVID

By Sammy

COVID has been crashing world economies, demolishing daily routines, and most of all, causing deaths throughout the world. Israel has not been spared, with the country initiating multiple country-wide lockdowns to fight off the spread of the disease. However, Israel has also been leading the world in vaccinations per capita. After high cases per capita, the Israelis fought back resiliently, rapidly dealing out doses to its citizens. Recently, I volunteered at one of these vaccination centers, checking in on post-vaccinated people and giving them refreshments.


The center was a blur of efficiency, and I was delighted to see how fast Israel was administering vaccinations. I conversed in Hebrew with the people there. Since most of them were elderly and spoke slowly, I was able to understand almost everything. These conversations proved a great measure of how much my Hebrew improved in my time here. As I exchanged stories, part of me was thinking about the current situation in the US, where my own grandmas had been struggling for weeks to schedule a vaccination. It seemed so simple to implement quick distribution of the vaccine, and I was astounded after hearing how slow the process was in America. After personally seeing the efficiency and organization of Israel, my heart filled with pride. Not only are Israelis innovative and determined, but also so genuine and welcoming. As I volunteered, people pulled me aside to chat and asked me about my life, diving straight to deeper conversations without any superfluous chit-chat. I left the center feeling fulfilled and proud.
A couple weeks later, my friends and I did some research and found a place where we could personally receive vaccinations, since they had extra doses that they were just going to throw out at the end of the day. We rushed over, and in ten short minutes, I was through the line and given my first dose. I had received the vaccine before even my own grandparents in America.
It was also exciting to be able to search for the vaccine center ourselves, making our own appointments and deciding when to go. Doctor appointments, insurance, meals, laundry — we had officially been given responsibility over most aspects of our lives. In the middle of January, my friends and I moved into our own apartment. We soon started work, and began independent and fulfilling routines. I had my first day of my internship, taking a thirty-minute bus to an office in Herzliya. The company is called “VeloQuant,” a high-frequency trading firm that creates bots with algorithms to trade stocks by the microsecond. My job was to help code these investing strategies, and I started my day learning about their system and database. I shared an office space overlooking the sea, equipped with two massive desktop computers at my desk.

With only four other employees, who were extremely welcoming, I already felt part of the company family. As typical of Israeli culture, my boss conversed with me for an hour, asking about my family life, time in Israel, Jewish identity, and more. He proceeded to tell me about his life, his work, and even mentioned his eight-year service in the army. I had my theories that he was an elite undercover Mossad (Israeli’s secret intelligence) agent, but I didn’t press him with too many questions. I returned after my first day, feeling truly satisfied to finally have a routine along with a unique work experience. But it wouldn’t last long.
The next night, I sat down for Shabbat dinner that ten of my friends and I had been working on for the last couple hours. We had spicy chicken, schnitzel, salad, potatoes, and a variety of other dishes. I bit into the chicken, and found the food surprisingly tasteless. Same with the salad. Same with the potatoes. I had completely lost my taste. We heard later that someone on our program had tested positive for COVID, and a day after my own test, the health ministry informed me about my positive result. After some confusing conversations in Hebrew over the phone, I was asked about my recent contacts and then sent into a 10-day quarantine. I was whisked away to one of our program’s buildings with thirty other kids on the program who also tested positive. I had to contact my fellow employees and boss at work, telling them they had to get tested as well. Even though they tested negative, they still had to enter a ten-day confinement…not the best first impression.
Regardless, everyone is thankfully healthy. I’m working from my computer, studying Hebrew, and working out. While definitely a setback, I will be back out in a few days and ready to restart my routine. As of now, I’m still making the most of my time here and embodying the traits of Israelis: resiliency and efficiency.

My Trip to the Gaza Border

By Sami

As one of the most turbulent and dangerous areas in the world, the Gaza strip is certainly a place myself and most Jews have learned about, at least in the context of its relationship with Israel. Before writing more about my experience learning about the conflict between Israel and Gaza, though, I thought I’d give a brief summary of how today’s circumstances came to be. 

 During the War of 1948, in which Israel won its independence, thousands of Palestinian refugees fled the war and settled in the Gaza strip. The territory ended up under Egyptian rule and stayed that way until Israel took control after the 1967 Six Day War. Over time, a number of Israeli settlements were built within the Gaza strip, but growing violent opposition convinced Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that it was t

oo dangerous to continue the Israeli civilian presence within the territory. In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, forcibly removing the Israeli residents from the settlements. After an election and military coup, Hamas, an extremist militant group, took control of the strip. Since then, constant rocket fire targeting Israeli civilians has led to several more violent confrontations between Gaza and Israel, leaving much of Gaza destroyed and in extreme poverty. 

My view of Gaza City from Sderot.

Until recently, my vision of the Gaza strip and its neighboring Israeli towns was largely abstract. Israelis have gotten so used to constant rocket fire from Gaza that it no longer seems unnatural, and because I had never actually met someone from Gaza, their reality to me felt like nothing more than a cautionary tale of what misunderstanding and unending conflict could do to a society. I felt almost numb to the fact that nearly 2 million civilians live in Gaza in some of the worst conditions on the planet and that the poverty and violence that exists there is so closely related to the reality I’ve been living for the past six months in Jerusalem.  

A closer view of Gaza through a telescope. Seeing real people on the other side of the border, and speaking to Ahmad on the phone, made the Gazan’s reality feel more tangible to me.

This past weekend, my program took us on a tour of the towns neighboring the Gaza strip and introduced us to a number of people who’ve experienced the conflict on a more personal level. First we arrived in Sderot, a small city less than a mile from the border with Gaza. We heard from a woman who had lived near the border for over thirty years and also spent many years in Egypt, interacting with Arabs and learning about their struggles. After speaking about the need to work towards peace, she put us on the phone with a man named Ahmad who had spent his entire life in Gaza, unable to leave, and who spoke about the living conditions his community is faced with. As an academic who regularly interacts with Israelis and who’s attempting to lessen the tensions in the area, he is seen as a traitor to Hamas and has been arrested multiple times. Just being able to hear the voice of this man who many people see as an enemy simply because of the place where he involuntarily lives helped me see the urgency with which the conflict needs to be solved. After speaking to Ahmad, we took a tour of Israel’s defensive infrastructure with a Jewish man whose settlement was destroyed by Israel during disengagement. Throughout the tour, he didn’t hide his anger towards the attempted peace process and the Hamas terrorists who launch rockets into Israel every month. I was able to see inside Gaza through a telescope, and in one frame I could see farmers on the other side of the wall, with buildings with Hamas posters on one side of them and heaps of rubble on the other, and directly above the farmers high up in the sky was an Israeli balloon with surveillance cameras attached.  

Apart from hearing about Gaza, we also visited a small kibbutz right on the border named Nahal Oz, and there we learned about the lives of the Israelis. Throughout our tour of the town, we saw tiny bomb shelters staggered around parks and sidewalks, and we learned about the PTSD almost all of the local children suffer from because of the frequent bomb sirens and the fear that at any moment their home could be hit. 

A local Israeli showed our group how an artist transformed a rocket made from a lamppost into a beautiful Hanukkiah.

After a two-hour bus ride, I returned to Jerusalem feeling incredibly privileged to have had the chance to visit this zone of conflict and to speak with people from all sides of the spectrum, and to have learned all that I did knowing I’m not in harm’s way. Spending this year in Israel has helped me make better sense of all that’s going on here, and it has pushed me to see the situation in Gaza as more tangible, as a conflict that today is impacting the lives of millions of innocent people, and as a conflict that is urgently personal and troubling.

An Unexpected Year

By Valerie

I knew that 2020 was going to be different. The respite from a grueling cycle of tests, projects and competitions was something I had anticipated since the start of high school, but I never expected it to be different in the way that it has been. 

I made plans– lots of them– most of which have fallen through.  


There were countless instances when I couldn’t help but lament, “Why, oh why now, of all times, when I am all ready to celebrate a major milestone in life and embark on the next and most exhilarating chapter?” The disappointment was palpable, much like being rewarded with a torrential downpour after an arduous ascent.  


It all seemed so unfair. 


In hindsight, I am glad that things turned out the way they did.  


Still languishing in the belated fatigue of preparing for “A” Levels and applying to colleges, I was in no condition to maximise my educational experience a few months ago. What a waste it would have been had I sprinted mindlessly through the gates of college in August!  


Notwithstanding the ample opportunities for exploration in college, researching and interning at institutions that sit squarely at the intersection of my dual interests of engineering and medicine has refined and reaffirmed my aspirations. Through interactions with professionals from various backgrounds, I have come to discover what truly excites me and learned about the diverse career pathways down which I could eventually venture .  


Taking a gap year has also gifted me with additional time to rekindle bygone relationships and strengthen present ties. During my unexpected prolonged stay in Singapore, I have forged many memories with the people I love, all meticulously preserved in my camera roll so that I feel a bit less lonely when I am 9860 miles away from home.  


With 2021 looming on the horizon, I wonder what surprises the new year will bring, but if 2020 has taught me anything, it is better not to harbour any expectations. Let’s just wait and see.  



A List of Things I’ve Learned So Far This Fall

By Amelia

1. How to scrape frost off a car
2. What it feels like to have your ears pierced
3. The best recipe for baked oats
4. How to drive through a twice-a-century fire storm
5. How to use a Cryostat to cut 5-micrometer sections of mouse tissue
6. How to cancel plane tickets to and from Vietnam
7. What a “direct deposit” is
8. That four-wheel-drive doesn’t work on a beach
9. How to buy a stock
10. That apparently I’m a Gemini rising sign, whatever that means?
11. The definition of the word “orthogonal”
12. How to survive an afternoon with 12 crazy elementary school students
13. How to fill out a ballot
14. That I can apply a tourniquet to my own leg in under 30 seconds
15. How to drive a Subaru
16. How to make crème brûlée (and properly wield a blowtorch)
17. The perfect formula for iced coffee
18. How to proofread college essays (that aren’t mine, obviously)
19. That Whole Foods makes a great Thanksgiving dinner
20. How to climb outdoors
21. Where to find the best Indian food in Portland
22. That it’s possible to read a 1500-page medical textbook in five weeks
23. To appreciate time with family when I get the chance to see them in person
24. That naming Spotify playlists is basically a hobby
25. That double stuf golden Oreos are far superior to regular ones
26. What a crag dog is (a dog that hangs out at the base of outdoor climbing routes and
provides welcome distraction from tough climbs)
27. Why setting a goal to run at 7AM every morning is an awful idea in the Pacific Northwest
28. All the words to “Betty” and “Mind Over Matter” and approximately a thousand other
29. How to cope with cancelled holiday plans
30. That I actually enjoy perpetual rain
31. That “donuts” is a scientific term
32. That I love Alaskan malamutes
33. The number of votes in the electoral college
34. That videos (rather than pictures) are the best way for me to document my gap year
35. How to present a slideshow over Webex
36. The best way to decorate Christmas cookies (hint: it requires a toothpick)

Sincere Happiness

By Sammy
Self-confidence. Gratitude. Think beyond yourself. Don’t worry. Don’t be a victim. Master your mind. Over the last 5 weeks, Rabbi Dov Ber taught us these integral steps to happiness as part of his seminars. Through Seidel’s Jewish Information Center in Jerusalem, our program has had the opportunity to listen to the venerated Rabbi Dov Ber’s teachings once a week for free.
While half of our lessons with the Rabbi consist of topics like God and the Torah, the Rabbi fills the other segment with lessons to achieve authentic happiness. In our first lesson, Rabbi Dov Ber explained to us the idea of feeling good about ourselves for the right reasons. We went around the room, sharing one quality of which we were proud, and we were sent back with homework. We had to list more everyday, as well as qualities that we wanted to refine. In doing this, Dov Ber started us on the path of truly loving ourselves.
This last Saturday, the Seidel Jewish Information Center set up my friends and I with a Shabbat lunch at an Orthodox family’s household. While eating a spicy dish, our hostess taught us a valuable lesson: “Whenever I eat spicy or sour foods, I initially feel displeasure, but I am able to eventually enjoy the taste. This makes me think of the negative qualities that HaShem (God) gave us. Instead of hating ourselves for these qualities, we work to transform and overcome them, and in doing so, we improve ourselves and please God even more than we would have otherwise.” Despite never meeting Dov Ber, this mother had taught me the exact same lesson: focus on improving each individual trait and learn to fully love oneself.
In the second week, Dov Ber taught us the integral lesson of gratitude, focusing on what we have instead of what we do not. Looking over at the city of Tiberias, across the Sea of Galilee, my friends and I shared our immense gratitude to be in Israel.
In the third week, Dov Ber taught us about thinking beyond ourselves. However, to my surprise, he did not ask everyone to immediately begin thinking about others. Rather, he asked each of us to first focus on ourselves, explaining that we are not able to help others if we have not already helped ourselves. Once we have accomplished that, we can focus on others.
In the fourth week, Dov Ber told us not to worry, to realize that we can always overcome a challenge. He told us about his father being diagnosed with cancer, and while having compassion, he did not worry. This appeared somewhat cold to me, but the logic of the reason made sense: if it does not help the situation, why worry?
In the fifth week, he taught us never to play the victim and always to be a winner. Even if we are the clear victim, we should never act like it. In the last session, Dov Ber told us about mastering our mind. He gave us an analogy about taking the bus. If a bus is not going in the direction we want, why get on that bus? We as humans have the tendency to ride with our negative thoughts, letting regrets, what ifs, and depressing ideas take us to darker places. By mentally refusing each of these “buses,” and instead traveling to where we want to go, we can become more positive people.
I took these ideas with me when I stayed with our dear family friend David Coleman for Shabbat. My dad and I first met David in America when we did a magic show/balloon animals for his son’s birthday party. For the first time, I was able to come visit him in his hometown Neve Yaakov. Neve Yaakov is the largest Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in all of Jerusalem — an especially special place to be on the Jewish day of rest. I knew even before arriving that I would be inspired after staying over at David’s. Despite his family suffering a great tragedy, he is still one of the most positive people I know. Throughout the Shabbos, we spent the time studying at the dinner table, playing with his son and the neighbors, praying, and keeping the Sabbath.
We shared stories, and David explained his mindset on life. In his words, I heard the teachings of Dov Ber, noticing the similar methods of staying positive.
It was also extremely interesting to hear him speak about his lifestyle and the role of gender in his society. He told me of the classes he and his wife both had to take before marriage. These classes detailed the specific roles the husband and wife each need to take on for a successful Orthodox marriage. While someone may hear David and think of his society as sexist, David explained how they simply acknowledge different roles of men and women. It appeared as though the Orthodox community was not saying that men and women were not equal or do not deserve the same rights, but rather thought that men and women were different in their thinking and needs. It was fascinating that every individual took specific classes to outline how to successfully partner with the opposite sex. We talked for hours about our societies, and despite our different lifestyles, David still employed the same techniques that we were exercising to stay positive.
Throughout my time in Jerusalem, studying happiness as well as Jewish values and Jewish wisdom has been truly inspiring. I hope to be transformed by the end of the year into someone that can easily accomplish each of Dov Ber’s steps, achieving long-lasting and deep happiness while benefiting the world around me at the same time.

Pandemic Adventures: The Great Outdoors

By Sara

I live in South Carolina, where we have 47 state parks throughout the mountains, the midlands, and the coast, and visiting them is one of my mom’s and my favorite pastimes. During the pandemic, we have been visiting more frequently because this is one of the few ways to get out of the house, have fun, and still stay safe. Most recently, we visited Chimney Rock State Park in North Carolina and the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area in South Carolina, which includes Caesar’s Head and Jones Gap State Parks.  

On our last trip, we had finished looking around Caesar’s Head and hiking a trail across the road, and we decided to hike a trail that was further down the mountain on the side of the road called Wildcat Wayside. It’s a quick and easy trail with beautiful waterfalls and an interesting backstory. Wildcat Wayside, originally called Greenville Wayside Park, is one of a series of six Wayside Parks built in SC in the 1930’s by the CCC and the National Park Service. They were meant to serve as rest sites for those driving motor vehicles along the roads of the state. At the turnoff, you can climb up past the first waterfall to the ruins of one of the original buildings, which is missing its walls but still has its foundation, a working fireplace, and the remnants of a few drinking fountains. If you’re ever in the Greenville, SC area, it’s definitely worth the drive.  

Not only have these trips been a lot of fun, but they are also a great way for me to prepare for the program I will be doing starting at the end of February. I’ll be heading up to New Hampshire for Gap at Glen Brook, where we will be learning about and experiencing a variety of different activities, including orienteering, canoeing, and more. Over the next couple months, my mom and I will hopefully be trying out some more challenging trails and exploring more parks and wilderness areas before I head up north! 

The Silence of the Desert

By Sami

The silence of the desert was so powerful that I could hear the blood rushing through my head. Only a single fly would occasionally steal my attention away

With zero light pollution, the only light for miles came from our truck and, eventually, just a campfire.

from the awe-inspiring sunset over the canyon. Once finished with my accustomed ritual of squatting like an animal to relieve myself, I turned to walk up the hill from where I came. The purple orange sky faded behind me as ascended, my footsteps crunching softly over the untouched soil. 


Then, in the very instant that I reached the summit, the canvas shifted. The sound of a training Israeli fighter jet breaking the sound barrier above me shook the earth beneath me. I noticed that the ground was now firmer, having been compacted by hundreds of feet before mine. The sky no longer seemed so illuminating, as the artificial lights from the truck at the center of our campsite penetrated the dimming atmosphere.  

The following sunrise at six in the morning.

The laughter of my fellow campmates echoed through the desert valley. My sense of smell returned to me as I descended the hill; the chicken stir fry was almost ready. Soon after my hunger returned as well. The remaining tents were up and I saw everyone lining up to serve themselves, so I turned my saunter into a scurry and quickly rejoined the group. 

When I planned this three-night hiking trip to the Negev for my program, I hoped it would allow us all to catch our breath and to explore a new part of Israel. Yet I had no idea how impactful a transition from pandemic city life to open nature would be. Finding myself alone, with no sounds, no lights, no mask, in a vast open desert gave me the change of perspective I needed to appreciate both the wild and the civilization from which I came. Leaving my isolation in the desert, I felt a sincere loss of peace that I had not found for many months in Jerusalem. At the same time, however, I felt comfort in reentering the semi-civilization of my campsite and was reminded of how brutal and indifferent the wild can

be. I returned from my trip understanding the need for balance. The fast-pace lifestyles many of us live can be invigorating and full of purpose, but we also need to create time for ourselves to be unplugged from such chaotic routines and to appreciate the beautiful world we call home. 

Our final day of hiking through Ein Avdat National Park.

Structure, Flexibility, and Spontaneity 

By Maia

 For the first two months of being in Israel, each week felt like a new adventure. My time in Israel wasn’t like my life back home where I had a daily routine. Instead, I spent two weeks in quarantine, one week living at a hostel near the old city in Jerusalem, and a few weeks learning remotely due to the nationwide lockdown. 

The program I am on has finally landed on a steady routine that will likely last the rest of the year. I volunteer at a daycare for children from low-income backgrounds on Sunday. I spend Monday and Tuesday taking classes on ancient Jewish texts, philosophy, and US-Israeli relations. I intern at a Jerusalem-based think tank based on Wednesday. On Thursday I spend the day taking classes and wrapping up the week. Friday and Saturday are my favorite days because I get to celebrate Shabbat with the rest of my group. I now know that Monday and Tuesday are my most busy days and that Wednesday is fun but requires a lot of focus for me to be productive. 

Having a routine reminds me of life in high school. Back in high school, I learned to dread Monday, love Friday, and spend my weeks looking forward to the weekend. Being so far from home, my new routine has given me stability and a sense of normalcy, but it’s also been a challenge learning to view routine as a guideline and not a restriction.   

To ensure that we don’t have to keep to a restrictive routine, my program allows us to plan day trips, encourages the Americans to spend the weekend at the homes of Israeli participants, and lets us spend time in different parts of the country for a few days each month. It has been a wonderful way to understand Israeli society and come back to the program excited to learn and think more freely. 

 During the first weekend I spent away from the program, I traveled to my Israeli friend’s house in Ramat Hasharon, a suburb of Tel Aviv. After living in a dominantly religious city for almost two months, it was a bit shocking to experience a weekend visiting a city where people drive on Shabbat and the beach is lively with young people enjoying the sun. 


The next weekend, I traveled to my roommates’ house in Kfar Adumim, a town in the West Bank. It was a wildly different experience. I decided to observe Shabbat experience it the way her family does, without using electronics and without creating anything, in order to truly rest. For one of the few times in my life, I spent a day without turning the lights on, writing, and texting my friends in the United States. After each weekend away from my apartment in Jerusalem, I felt more relaxed than I used to in high school after a weekend spent relaxing at home. 


Although it’s important to have a routine in order to be productive and maintain a sense of stability, I’ve found a lot of value in switching up my routine while on my gap year. This is a year where I am striving to live each moment intentionally and understand the meaning behind how I choose to spend my time. Choosing to wake up earlier to go for a run and see Jerusalem early in the morning or even going to spend a weekend in the West Bank has allowed me to experience Israel in an authentic way. Each time I push myself outside of my routine I feel more engaged in my classes and my daily experiences. So far, my gap year has given me a balance between structure and flexibility while allowing room for spontaneity. I now know that this balance is important for me and something for which I will strive once at Duke.