Guest Column by Shani Weinmann

When June comes around and the gap-year kids slowly trickle back into life at home, many of the nonparticipants, parents and community members expect a certain change. Often this means a visible shift in skirt length or blue of the tzitzit.

For the gap-year students, it means the pressure to appear as if the change were as external as would be necessary for community standards.

We desire so badly to share our unique experience with those around us and desperately try to express our transformation through our actions. However, this method only works to a degree, and I think I speak for all students of this particular year when I say that right now it won’t suffice.

This year was probably one of the most difficult for the young teens in Israel as we suffered a personal loss and were subjected to danger around the places we lived. Residing in the Old City myself, a place where many of my friends were not even allowed to approach, I felt that danger as ambulances flew past me and the chaos was witnessed from just outside the gate.

No one took safety for granted.

“This was our year,” a friend said at the closing speeches of Midreshet Harova as she described the situation in which she was asked, “So, besides the loss and danger, how was your year?”

We want so desperately for our loved ones to understand, and yet, how can we explain ourselves without entering a taboo conversation? People often don’t want to discuss the personal side of these experiences because it shakes up the peace of mind of our standard of living.

The strongly opinionated on the subject don’t need much prompting to go on an “Arabs are evil” rant. We can’t seem to grasp the hard truth that Israel is a place constantly threatened by internal and external forces, yet we also share the land with other human beings who are not all out to get us.

So how do we share our year? How can this group of 1,000-plus teenagers begin to comprehend their own year as well as relate it to others?

Simply by being an example. When we stand up and continue to support Israel and visit and even make aliyah, we are showing what this year meant to us and what we gained from the endless hours of Torah learning.

Yes, we learned new laws and new concepts and made new friends. We separated from the familiar environment of high school to allow ourselves room to grow spiritually. We gained knowledge and understanding of Torah and its complexity.

However, we also gained a fierce sense of self and our position in this world. We acquired a mission all too important to ignore, and we insisted on holding on to that truth even if our own parents were arguing against our passion.

All we can do is know within ourselves that we must be strong in our purpose and our newfound realization of how to live meaningful lives. Judaism and our homeland are the top priorities, and if we can make that the lesson of our year, then we have succeeded in building a safer home for the Jewish people.

Atlanta native Shani Weinmann grew up in Toco Hills, attended Torah Day School of Atlanta and graduated from the Atlanta Jewish Academy Upper School in 2015. After her gap year at Midreshet Harova, she is joining the Israel Defense Forces in August.