Simon Family Passport: Yael Schranz spends gap year in Israel

It’s been almost a month now and it feels like I just left yesterday. You know the experience was amazing especially when it is so difficult to move on from it.   
I went to Israel on a gap year known as Young Judaea Year Course. I lived in Jerusalem taking classes on Judaism, Zionism, Middle Eastern studies, and Leadership. During that time, we also took lots of educational trips to learn about all the aspects of Israeli society. Then, I lived in Tel Aviv where I first learned how to code through a tech track and then interned at Nefesh B’Nefesh. In between these 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 from Tuesday trips to road trips with the rabbi to Shabbat B’yachad. With the freedom that this program provided me, I took the opportunity to make 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 of 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 just felt right. This was 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 true version of myself. At the airport crying my heart out that I was leaving this place and the 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.

By Yael Schranz

For more information, visit our Simon Family Passport webpage, contact Ann Swindell, TJF Donor Relations and Grant Manager, at or 757-965-6106.