Unlike many of her peers, after her graduation from high school, Michal Goldstein, 18, did not go off to college. Instead, she is spending the year in Jerusalem — learning, having fun, and enriching her life and the lives of others through working with mentally and physically disabled children and young adults.
The experience, she said, has allowed her “to get close to these severely challenged individuals.”
Michal, of Ocean Township — the daughter of Rabbi Michael Goldstein, religious leader of Temple Beth Torah in Wanamassa, and Annette Goldstein, a teacher — is among the 300 American and British teens taking part in Hadassah’s Young Judaea Year Course in Israel.
The volunteer component of the first part of the year has been spent at the Aleh Center in Jerusalem, where she was trained by therapists to work with individuals with severe physical and mental disabilities, who require intensive support to perform such daily activities as eating, bathing, sitting, and basic hygiene.
“I appreciate working here and having the opportunity to get close to these severely challenged peers,” Michal wrote in an e-mail to NJJN. “We become attached to the children quickly by working individually with them.”
“I’ve gotten close with them, playing games, singing songs. Just blowing bubbles can give a severely challenged person a lot of pleasure, and that makes me feel good.”
The morning routine, she said, includes singing prayers and saying “boker tov” (“good morning”). “Then we have either an art or physical activity with them, and during the last hour we play with them individually, either on the computer, or reading books…simple games that bring them joy.”
After a morning of volunteer work, Michal returns to Beit Ar-El, Hadassah’s Young Judaea study center, which was rededicated in October, for classes in Hebrew, Judaism, and the Middle East.
Michal will spend a total of nine months in Israel and plans to begin SUNY Binghamton next fall.
A graduate of Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union in West Orange, Michal has been connected to Israel her whole life. Born there, she left when she was not quite a year old but has returned with her family on numerous trips. In her teens, she was an officer with her local United Synagogue Youth chapter and was a member of the Young Judaea Dance Troupe.
Michal is also immersed in the other facets of the program, including studying Hebrew, Zionism, and Holocaust film and taking weekly tours in Jerusalem or other places — the group has been to Tiberias on the Kineret. Michal is on the course’s arts track, so she also takes part in a weekly Art Nights Out, she said. One evening was spent going to Jaffa to see Mayumana, the Israeli version of the Broadway show Stomp, which, she said, “was really exciting.”
Because Michal’s focus is fashion design, after her time in Jerusalem she will have an internship with a designer and attend classes at a school in Tel Aviv. When the group is based in Arad later in the year, she will be part of Garin Tzedek, a volunteer service helping refugees from Darfur who have moved to Israel as they struggle to adjust. “We will play with the children, help teach them, renovate a place for them to learn, raise money for them through different fund-raisers, and more,” said Michal. “It is a great opportunity to really be able to help these families and make a difference.”
“The freedom and independence on Year Course allows the students to explore the surroundings and beauty of Israel and teaches you an immense amount,” said Michal. “I have had to learn to live in an apartment with six other people and buy and cook our own food, along with keeping the apartment clean — or at least sanitary.
“But it is a great learning experience and I feel that going into college after this gap year makes you so much more prepared and mature.”