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Young Judaea Program Expands Teens' Worlds

November 1, 2007 By:
Jared Shelly, JE Feature
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From left: Jess Scheer, Arielle Adler and Missy Goldstein in Israel
Stephen Karp is getting a firsthand look at the devastating effects of terrorism. Unlike most 19-year-olds, Karp, who's from Bala Cynwyd, is volunteering at an athletic rehabilitation center in Ramat Gan, Israel. He now routinely spends time with an 18-year-old terror victim who recently came out of a two-year coma after a suicide bomber detonated himself on a bus headed for Tel Aviv.

Karp now helps the wheelchair-bound teenager play ping-pong and exercise with a hand-powered bike.

"Your heart goes out to them, mainly because you think that they know that they had something taken away from them," said Karp. "It's a good feeling that you can help them help themselves to make a better life -- and even, on a lesser scale, just have fun for an afternoon."

Karp's volunteering is part of the Young Judaea Year Course, a program that sends recent high school graduates to various parts of Israel for nine months. Like Karp, the majority of participants defer their first year of college to enroll in the program from September to June.

Year Course is broken up into three parts.

Karp is currently on his "Israel Experience," meant to show him what it's like to live and work as an everyday Israeli. The program also includes "Community Volunteering," where participants will lend a hand to citizens in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam; and "Jerusalem Studies," where they will study Hebrew and Jewish topics, and even earn some college credit.

For the present cycle, Year Course has 500 participants from the United States and Great Britain, according to Neil Weidberg, director of Israel programs at Young Judaea. The 400 participants from America represent a 100-person increase over last year, he said. The number from Britain has remained the same.

'I Love What I'm Doing'

After graduating from Neshaminy High School in June, 18-year-old Arielle Adler decided that she, too, would postpone entering college and enroll in Year Course. The Langhorne native now lives in an apartment in Haifa and works at a hospital for disabled children.

Though she's just two months into it all, she said that it's having a profound effect on her life -- so much so that she hopes to work with disabled children after college.

"I love what I'm doing; it's such a challenge," said Adler. "Everyone always tells me, 'Year Course is the time when you decide what you want to do in life.' "

Adler is certainly not the first participant to get a firm handle on a career while abroad.

"Many of our volunteer opportunities allow kids to teach, and a good number of alumni have become teachers," reported Weidberg. "Others have become social workers or work in social-welfare issues. [The program] helps direct these kids to understand what they want to do and what they like."

Not only has Israel influenced Adler's possible career choice, it has made her think long and hard about where she wants to live as an adult, after she enrolls in Boston University next fall.

"I've spoken to my mom very seriously about moving here," said Adler. "Year Course isn't the same as living in Israel, and I understand that, but I'm working here, I'm taking the bus, I'm buying my own food every day."

Weidberg said that the vast majority of participants return home after the trip, though some do decide to make aliyah.

As for Karp, outside of his work at the athletic facility, he credits the immersion in Israeli culture with taking his Hebrew-language skills from average to fluent. "I use Hebrew on the bus or ordering food at a restaurant. I'm just talking and using Hebrew as much as possible."

While most of his peers will be a year ahead of him in college, Karp said that he doesn't think that he's missing anything: "I feel like I'm gaining so much that whatever I may be missing out on, in terms of getting a jump-start on my education, is not going to matter much."

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