When Eden Rosenblum decided to take a gap year in Israel, she wished to discover a program that would immerse her in Israeli culture. She found BINA, which provides international participants with the unique opportunity to integrate into a fully Israeli Mechina.
Eden had been to Israel before to visit family as her father is an Israeli. Her visits were for two to three weeks at a time, but she doesn’t recall much from these stays. “I always wished to come to Israel to experience it and to learn Hebrew. I wanted to be in Israel without my family to guide that experience,” she says.
She started looking into gap year programs in her last year of high school. However, when she graduated in June 2020, the COVID-19 lockdown prevented the possibility of going overseas. Instead, Eden applied to the University of Alberta and began her post-secondary education in isolation. When online classes ended, Eden was at a crossroads. She could continue or pursue her goal of a gap year. “I wanted a shift. I was living my life in online school and it was very isolated. And it was really pushing me to a very, very big change,” says Eden.
The number of gap year programs to choose from can be overwhelming. The MASA Israel Journey website has 38 programs listed. Eden found BINA through a Google search with her specifications in mind. “When I was searching for a gap year program, I needed something that would teach me Hebrew. I wished to be mixed with Israelis and very integrated into Israel. I preferred something that was more social action focused on volunteering and working in the community. The bottom line was I wanted an authentic experience in Israel,” she says. “I didn’t wish to spend 10 months feeling like a tourist. It’s very individualized trying to find a gap year program, but I think it helps to go into looking knowing roughly what you require.”
Her application process included filling out a form, taking part in a video interview, and paying a deposit once she was accepted. She wasn’t familiar with what a Mechina was until she became fully immersed in it. A Mechina is a pre-army program Israeli teens can join directly after graduating high school. Eden describes the BINA Mechina specifically as a secular yeshiva in Tel Aviv that is focused on personal growth, social action within the local south Tel Aviv community, and the exploration of intersecting Jewish and Israeli identity.
There are 70 young adults in her program who are divided into two locations. Her group comprises 50 people based in Tel Aviv and they live in an apartment building. Eden has seven international roommates in her apartment and she shares a room with two others. She also splits the bathroom with her roommates. “It can be hard at times to like constantly be sharing your space, and not really having any alone time or privacy. But it reminds me of Camp BB Riback so you get used to it,” she says.
Since starting the program in September, her days and evenings have been full. Eden can be found either in a seminar, camping, volunteering in the community, or completing physical training. All participants have to take turns in the kitchen duty schedule, which can include cooking for up to 50 people at a time.
BINA has been a very rewarding program for Eden. She’s proud that she can navigate the Israeli public transportation system, overcome the language barrier, and has adapted to being pushed out of her comfort zone. “It’s just been very challenging. That being said, all the challenges that I’ve faced this year such as exhaustion and taking care of myself, have been incredible life skills and may not have been easy to learn,” says Eden. “It’s honestly helped me thicken my skin in what I’m able to handle. Sometimes it hasn’t been comfortable. I’ve missed home and I’ve been overwhelmed. But I really wouldn’t take the experience back because it’s all part of the growing-up process.”
She encourages those considering a gap year in Israel to reach out to her for any advice. One of her top tips is to be kind to yourself during the time away from home. Otherwise, she highly recommends the experience. Once Eden wraps up BINA in June, she plans to return to university to study psychology.
If you are interested in a gap year program, please contact the Jewish Federation of Edmonton who can help guide you through the process. Bursaries are available and inquire with the Federation if you need support.