Seffi Kogen does not want parents who read The Jewish Standard’s March 12 cover story “Fast Times at ‘Gap Year’ High” to get the impression that their kids in post-high-school Israel programs are doing nothing but partying under lax supervision.
It’s not that alcohol isn’t available – in fact, the legal drinking age in Israel is 18, so students who buy liquor aren’t breaking rules aside from any imposed by their individual programs.
“When the American reader sees there’s a problem with unsupervised kids in Jerusalem, it may not register that at most colleges in America, alcohol is readily available to 18-year-olds, too. The big difference is that here, they’re not doing anything legally wrong,” he said.
Kogen, almost 19, added, “In most cases I’ve seen, parents know their kids may be drinking in Israel, and we haven’t had many instances of kids going overboard.”
Nativ Director Yossi Garr said it is to be expected that many kids leaving home for the first time, whether for Israel or college campuses, will exploit their newfound freedom in ways their parents might not appreciate.
Garr added, however, that the population he oversees differs from average college freshmen because the young people have decided to learn more about their Jewish identity in the Jewish homeland before going on to college.
“Kids in Nativ aren’t looking to take a year off, but a year on,” said Garr.
“Still, of course, this is the first time drinking is legal for them. So we offer a system that is supportive and structured, with clear guidelines in terms of what’s allowed. We also have staff on site so that if something does go wrong they deal with it immediately. And that usually helps solve the problem for the next time as well.”
Kogen’s older sister Navah, who completed Nativ a few years ago, told him that the ability to drink legally in Israel actually can have a positive effect later on. “Whether or not students choose to partake here, by the time they get to America, the lure of it has worn off,” related Kogen. “They feel more able to focus on their studies.”
For Kogen, and presumably for most of his peers, the “gap year” is not about partying but about maturing and preparing for the next stage of life. “Our staff are not shrinking violets,” he said. “They are willing to address problems and give us a little more structure so Nativ is a safe place for us.”