Record Number of Austinites to Experience Israel with Young Judaea Year Course
Micah Yoram, Maia Suez, William Wallock, Ari Robinson, and Lindsay Harmon (right to left) visiting Ouzi Hummus Ful in Netanya. Photo courtesy of William Wallock.
By Tonyia Cone
This year, 12 young adults are traveling from Austin to Israel with Young Judaea Year Course in Israel. A record number of Austin participants, they will be joining nearly 10,000 alumni, including almost 100 Austin alumni, of the nine-month gap year program for high school graduates.
Stuart Wallock, a Year Course alumnus and board member of Young Judaea and Camp Young Judaea, explained that this year’s Year Course group from Austin represents four congregations and high schools, and some went to Camp Young Judaea, Greene Family Camp and other camps.
“Personally, I think this is a notable achievement for Austin and how it can impact these kids and their parent’s future relationship with Israel and involvement within our community,” said the father of one of this year’s participants and a 2017-2018 Year Course alumnus. “This is also a result of everyone’s hard work over many years to teach our kids to value their Jewish identity and their kesher with Israel. Personally, I could not be more proud and excited to see how this will impact each one of these young adults as they go onward, becoming more impactful Jewish leaders.”
Wallock said he is glad participants are thinking of Israel, Zionism, pluralism and tikkun olam, and believes they will have one of the best growth opportunities of their lives while on Year Course.
Austinite Jerry Webberman with Stephanie Butow during their 1976-1977 Year Course in Israel. Photo courtesy of Jerry Webberman.
“Hopefully they will each come back a stronger, more confident, mature person who saw communities outside Austin, which we’re so privileged to live in,” he said.
While on Year Course in 1986, Wallock formed a bond with Israel that he believes can never be broken.
“There have never been more opinions than there are people when you’re in Israel. I learned a lot about the importance of tolerance,” he said.
Wallock also learned to love the land of Israel; his favorite part of the program was living on a kibbutz.
“It changed my work ethic dramatically. It really taught me what it takes to work very hard and to make the desert bloom. I saw the fruits of my labor, actual things growing in the desert. It’s all sand, a desert oasis,” he added.
With semesters in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Year Course gives participants an opportunity to intern or volunteer, and to take courses for college credit while learning Hebrew and getting to know Israel’s diverse society, history, culture and geography. Optional add-on global travel destinations include Poland, Morocco and Rwanda.
“You will appreciate Israel as a local rather than as tourist, and your experiences are fostered by volunteering, learning and speaking Hebrew, traveling around the country, and living with fellow participants from North America, the UK, and Israel,” explains Young Judaea’s website.
Stuart Wallock during his Year Course in 1986, in a tree on Kibbutz Ketura, while working in the date orchard. Photo courtesy of Stuart Wallock.
Mitchell Susswein, one of the young adults leaving for Year Course this September, said he originally planned to go on the program because he had been involved in Young Judaea since first going to Camp Young Judaea in third grade.
“As the beginning got closer, I did become worried about taking a year off, but since the beginning of COVID, I knew that I didn’t want to pay the same price for online classes, and that Year Course was the best option,” he said.
Susswein explained that he hopes for a closer connection to Israel, a set of new friends, and a year to grow as a person through Year Course before heading off to college.
William Wallock, a 2017-2018 Year Course alumnus, said taking time off from the life path most of his friends pursued after graduation gave him the opportunity to — like Stuart, his dad — form friendships he expects to last the rest of his life.
“Year Course was pretty fundamental to who I am as a person today,” William said, “especially in the values and ideals that I hold. Specifically, one of the things I think Year Course instilled in me is understanding and acknowledging the importance of community, and knowing how community can play in my life and how it should play in my life.”
William attributes much of the success he has since experienced to taking the time off to reflect, see different ways of life and do things he would not have done otherwise, like volunteering for about a month at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda as part of a Year Course trip.
“It allowed me to see something that I wouldn’t have traditionally seen,” said the University of Texas student. “I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to travel and I’d never been to place as different as Rwanda in terms of its culture, in terms of its history. Seeing that gave me a lot of necessary perspective.”
Volunteering with Magen David Adom in Tel Aviv, Israel’s organization responsible for emergency pre–hospital medical care and blood services, was another transformative part of William’s experience. While his interests are in law and policy rather than medicine, working with MDA in Israel was important.
“A lot of people who go on Year Course and a lot of different experiences that are facilitated in Israel lead to really dramatic changes in who a person is for the rest of their life,” he said.
Former Austin Jewish Academy Head of School and 1977-1978 Year Course alumna Cheryl Hersh did not realize the impact of her Year Course trip until she returned home.
“During the year, I missed my friends at home so much. Very soon after I returned, I quickly realized that I was not the one who had missed out. I had had an incredible experience, and their lives hadn’t changed much. I appreciated my year more than ever and wanted to kick myself for not realizing it while I was there,” she said.
Young Judaea Year Course changed the trajectory of her life, Hersh said.
“Being a volunteer on kibbutz for six months as part of the program taught me hard physical work, resiliency in doing work that I didn’t enjoy or find rewarding, and how important it was to contribute and do your part for the benefit of the community,” she added.
Year Course gave Hersh the opportunity to make lifelong friends and see the entire country. Experiencing Israel in an authentic way ignited her love for Israel’s land, people and language in a way that has never diminished.
“I specifically remember being on the bus during one of our tiyulim [journeys], and looking out the window and seeing the green fields in the desert. I thought this is what I had learned about – literally making the desert bloom. I felt such pride and admiration,” she added.
For more information on Year Course, visit youngjudaea.org/programs/yearcourse. ■
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