Leading up to the BINA Gap Year "LEAP" trip to California in May, we have been spending more time together as a group.
We recently spent a morning at Charles Clore Beach, connecting and exploring our Jewish identities together.
One thing that being in BINA Gap Year has taught the international participants is that, even though Israel is a tiny country, and everyone in our group shares the identity of being Jewish, there are so many vastly different ways to live in Israel…
Different ways to live in Israel
After opening with fun bonding games and a picnic on the grass, we rotated between pairs, where we were given various questions to lead our conversations. We discussed our experiences of growing up, and I really felt a difference between my childhood abroad and those of the Israelis.
One thing that being in LEAP has taught the international participants is that, even though Israel is a tiny country, and everyone in our group shares the identity of being Jewish, there are so many vastly different ways to live in Israel. Some of our participants grew up on Kibbutzim or Moshavim, where they knew all the families who lived there, and all of their core memories are centered in one small neighborhood and community.
This feels a whole world away from those of us who grew up in big cities and didn’t have those naturally formed communities, and had to make them for ourselves.
Same religion is treated in such an array of ways within different communities
I think it will be a very unique experience for our group to travel to California and continue learning about Jewish Peoplehood and Tikkun Olam, but in a completely different environment that may resonate with the international participants much more so than the Israelis.
We then talked about our experiences of being Jewish and how this contributed to our identities.
Many of the Israelis felt as if being Jewish is a natural part of their lives and since they are surrounded by other Jews, they’ve never had to try hard to display or practice their Judaism.
A lot of the international participants reflected on the fact that, being a Jew in the diaspora, they felt the need to put more effort into crafting their Jewish identities because otherwise, it would get lost within the mainstream cultures they were growing up in.
This has been an interesting concept to grapple with, both for us as individuals and as a group: that the same religion is treated in such an array of ways within different communities.
The concept of “home”.
My final conversation with a partner that day was truly an eye-opening one. We discussed the concept of “home”.
Many of the Israelis seemed to have a strongly formed image of what “home” is to them, or, more correctly, where home is for them.
I realized that as an Israeli who grew up abroad, I never felt as if I fully belonged anywhere. Israel is my home since I’m a Jew, was born here, and have family here. I called myself Israeli when asked about my nationality abroad. But every time I visited Israel, and for the first several months of my gap year, I suddenly didn’t feel Israeli, or not Israeli enough.
I had very similar feelings about my Judaism, realizing that most of the international participants had much more religious (or halachic) upbringings than I did. But if being in such a diverse group has taught me anything, it’s that there is no right way to experience and embrace your identity. All our experiences of our Judaism are different, but it doesn’t make one any more valid than the other. And accepting this has allowed me to learn so much from the rest of the group on how they interpret Jewish teachings and incorporate them into their own lives, or which ones they choose to leave behind as they craft their own Jewish identities.
Nicole Khaimson, BINA Gap Year Participant
*LEAP (Leadership, Experience, Action, Peoplehood) is a special partnership between BINA Gap Year and the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center, through which Israeli and international gap year participants travel together to California to explore American Jewish life and together engage with questions of peoplehood, identity, and tikkun olam.