Read this story in Fresh Ink for Teens
by: Mika Stein
As our high school careers come to a close, my friends and I find ourselves constantly daydreaming about next year. For most of them the visions are about college — they’re thinking about football games, Greek life and Hillel. For a few of them, their thoughts are about a gap year in the Holy Land: hummus, history and self-discovery. All of them are worrying about roommates and anticipating new freedoms. However, I’m picturing a more unique experience.
In February I was elected international president of the Aleph Zadik Aleph (AZA), the male division of BBYO. I am the 89th Grand Aleph Godol (GAG) and was chosen by more than 600 of my brother Alephs at BBYO’s International Convention in Washington, D.C. BBYO is the world’s leading pluralistic Jewish youth movement.
The international president defers freshman year of college to travel the world visiting BBYO communities. I will work alongside my counterpart, Michaela Brown, the international president of the B’nai B’rith Girls (BBG), the female division of BBYO. Together we will further BBYO’s mission of “more Jewish teens, more meaningful Jewish experiences.”
Gap years are growing in popularity in the United States. In my hometown of Dallas, it is not unusual for someone to enroll in a gap-year program in Israel; however, it is still not the norm.
It’s hard for some of my peers to wrap their brains around the notion of waiting a year to go to college. We have been striving for this scholastic goal our entire lives, and it can feel like a failure to delay receiving our “prize” of attending college.
I feel a lot like Bruce Wayne before he became Batman. He knew he wanted to settle in Gotham and do something with his life, so he spent years traveling the world and studying everything from deductive reasoning to martial arts. When he returned to Gotham, he was prepared to be the best superhero he could be.
That is what I think my GAG year will do for me. I’ll spend a year gaining real-world experience, learning crucial leadership skills and serving as a Jewish teen leader so that I can step onto my college campus and continue to be one of the top leaders in the global Jewish community.
Ever since I was 11 I wanted to attend New York University (NYU). After being accepted to my dream school I was hesitant about deferring for a year. The best advice I received when considering this option was from a friend of mine who, ironically, did not go on a gap year. He told me that college is not going anywhere — and he is totally right.
My network of BBYO friends is still amazed, as I am, that I’m about to embark on such a journey. Whether it’s the shake of a head in disbelief or a jaw dropped in awe, the collective response from my peers has been, “This is crazy.”
The honor of being elected GAG is amazing, but the opportunities involved are remarkable. In these few months leading up to my term, which begins in August, it is already clear that this gap year is unlike any other. As GAG, I will become a mentor and role model to thousands of Jewish teens across the world.
Throughout my travels to BBYO’s various regions, I’ll be meeting with teens and providing advice or support. It is an extremely hands-on job. I will work directly with our teen leaders on chapter and regional levels to further the international order of BBYO.
I will also serve on BBYO’s board of directors, attend Jewish community gatherings worldwide and work with influential leaders in the Jewish world. My predecessors visited more than 60 U.S. cities and four Jewish communities in Canada. I’ll visit BBYO programs and partners in seven to 10 countries including stops in Europe, South America, Turkey and Israel.
I have been told that stepping onto a college campus as a freshman can be intimidating — you don’t know everyone, you’re new and you’re uncomfortable. That feeling is going to be there no matter when I go to college. In fact, this experience will probably make my college start easier.
Most people are not sure of who they are, what they want to do or who they want to be. While I may not know what my future holds, I do know that I want to make a positive impact on the Jewish community — now and forever. As GAG, I get to spend a whole year doing just that.
I’m not exactly sure what I want to do for the rest of my life. My major at NYU will be media culture and communication and I’d like a career in the entertainment business, but who knows what I might end up doing?
What I do know is that a year of traveling the world can only enhance my college experience and, more importantly, it will remind me of why I want to stay dedicated to the Jewish people, forever.