Rabbi Zierler’s excellent letter ("Pull The Plug on Gap Year In Israel," Nov. 26) brought to mind the forums on the post-high school year in Israel held at Mount Airy Lodge (in the Poconos) during the years when there was a Passover program at that hotel. Although my daughter was at the time too young to spend a year in Israel, I attended these forums because I observed that the "gap year" had become de rigueur, and I questioned whether, for a variety of reasons, all Jewish teens should devote a year to intensive study in Israel.
Many panelists at the forums on the gap year said that they "learned how to learn" in Israel. I asked, "Didn’t you acquire this skill in your yeshivas in America?" "No," was the shocking response.
This is a far more serious issue than the recruitment techniques of Israeli yeshivas. What is wrong with American day school education that its graduates have not even learned how to learn? I suggest that we send our Jewish Studies teachers to Israel to observe the pedagogical methods of the gap-year yeshivas.
There should be an analogy between the pre-Holocaust Kollel system of Europe and the selection of American students for the gap year in Israel. In Europe, only the most brilliant and diligent students were supported in Kollel, while in contemporary haredi circles in Israel and the U.S., nearly every young man is pressured to learn full-time, even if he would prefer to work. The girls’ seminaries in Israel encourage their students to marry and support Kollel-boys.
Motivation for intensive study should be the primary criterion for the gap year. Modern Orthodox students who prefer to attend college right after high school, and haredi men who enter the business world after secondary education should not be criticized or looked down upon.
As the Book of Proverbs (22:6) advises, “Train the youth according to his way.”
Professor, St. John’s University, New York