Nativ facilitates once-in-a lifetime experiences
By Deb Silverthorn
Four Dallas students are returning home from Nativ, a post high-school experience in Israel. On May 23, Tia Einhorn, Ethan Fine, Tami Govrin and Gabriella Ohayon will bring back their memories and shared experiences of an upside-down year turned right side up.
“Nativ allows students the chance to realize what being Jewish means to them — not to their parents, teachers or clergy, but what does it mean to them,” said Nahum Binder, Nativ’s director. “Nine months after working, touching and living the land of Israel, they’re ready to be part of a Jewish community wherever they go.”
The Nativ College Leadership Program in Israel, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s college leadership program, is open to any Jewish high school graduate, and provides travel and study, volunteer opportunities and bonding with others from around the world.
“Nativ is about balance, studying and learning about oneself in the first semester,” said Binder, “and then looking outward to how we can help others, how to connect to our Jewish identity. When you come to give, you gain so much.”
A promising detour
Ethan Fine had planned to begin his freshman year at Indiana University after graduating from Plano West Senior High School. As much as a year in Israel might have sounded exciting pre-pandemic, what wasn’t a real prospect instead turned into an incredible reality.
“I can’t imagine not being in Israel right now,” he said. “There are no other opportunities to grow and find yourself in an informal setting like a gap year,” said Fine, the son of Eric and Suzy Fine. “While spending a year in Israel might be an adjustment and require stepping out of your comfort zone, it’s one of the best decisions you can make. My message to anyone on the fence is to go and not look back.”
Fine volunteered as a first responder with Magen David Adom, taking vital signs and applying bandages. He and friends found their way onto the set of the Israeli TV comedy “Shabadnikim.”
“My year volunteering and exploring in Israel has made me realize, in one way or another that I absolutely want to spend a lot more time here,” said Fine.
Nativ students can earn as many as 21 college credits at the Conservative Yeshiva or Hebrew University. In the spring, Nativers participate in service-oriented opportunities while living and working with at-risk and immigrant youth.
Tia Einhorn found holidays very moving, particularly Kol Nidre at Yom Kippur in Jerusalem, an “aura of holiness like nowhere else in the world.”
Tami Govrin recalled the singing of niggunim and other Jewish songs together as “powerful and emotional.” Post-vaccination Purim parties at Kibbutz Tzuba, where the group was staying, and a trip to the Machane Yehuda shuk also were special memories for the students.
The Nativ staff paid careful attention to safety measures related to COVID-19. All participants quarantined upon arrival and received vaccinations. Activities focused heavily on outdoor activities, such as a hike at Ein Gedi that ended up at a natural pool and waterfall, and Jeep rides in the desert.
“My parents made aliyah, from South Africa, when they were 18 and I wanted to follow in their footsteps to spend real time here. Nativ was recommended by a friend and it’s been absolutely perfect for me,” said Govrin, the daughter of Joyce and Yair Govrin, who was also accepted to Indiana University. “I have lots of family here, and I’ve visited almost every year, but this was so different and the incredible chance to not just explore the land, but to grow and mature as an adult, is something I recommend to every teen.”
Govrin’s studies at Hebrew University in the fall included classes on contemporary antisemitism and Islam, and she has been in Tiberias the last few months, volunteering at a preschool and, like Fine, with Magen David Adom. She was also accepted at Indiana University and will start there in the fall of 2021.
Einhorn, the daughter of Craig and Shuly Einhorn, was accepted to Tulane University and, like Govrin and Ohayon, had planned on a gap year between high school and college.
“There was no question about my going to Israel for a year and Nativ seemed like the perfect blend of everything I wanted,” said the Israel-born Einhorn, who moved to Dallas at age 5.
She studied at Hebrew University, where she took classes in Chasidism, Islamic religion, and contemporary antisemitism. This semester, Einhorn is volunteering at a preschool near Tiberias.
“My students are wonderful and I love the warm environment I get to be a part of each day,” she said. “I know a lot of people think that a gap year puts a delay in the college experience, but it truly has been nothing but beneficial with experiences you can get nowhere else, and it has let me meet other Jewish teens who’ve become my best friends for life.”
Echoing those sentiments is Ohayon, the daughter of Tara and Joey Ohayon. “The friends I have made this year are going to be lifelong friends. It really is about the people and, this year, I found my people.
“I always knew I wanted to work with children professionally, and my working with children in preschools during Nativ has solidified that,” said Ohayon, who studied at Hebrew University while on Nativ and was accepted to Rutgers University and starts in the fall. “I’d recommend a gap year to anyone. Living independently is definitely a challenge but spending the year across the world from my family and friends has helped me learn to live and grow by myself.”
For more information, or to register for Nativ 2021-2022, which begins Aug. 29, visit nativ.org.