Filling a gap in the Jewish gap year system


When the gap year program Tzedek America launched this year, it became the first program of its kind in Los Angeles for recent Jewish high school graduates and one of only two such programs in the United States.

“[It is a] social justice gap year program [for those] who care about making a difference in the world,” said Avram Mandell, founding director of Tzedek America, during an interview at the nonprofit organization’s house near the USC campus.

The program fills a need because all but one other Jewish gap year programs are based in Israel and not every Jewish high school graduate wants to go there, Mandell said. 

Emily Bakal, 18, a Tzedek America participant from the Chicago area, said the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, among other things, made her hesitant to do a gap year in Israel.

“I wanted to explore my own country and what needs to be done there before I am helping things on a global scale,” said Bakal, who is among the six residents of the Tzedek America house in downtown Los Angeles. She has deferred her acceptance to the engineering school at Purdue University to participate in the fledgling program.

During a gap year, a recent high school graduate postpones entering college, usually to spend a year traveling, working or engaging in some kind of productive experience. According to the American Gap Association (AGA), economic researchers in Australia and the United Kingdom “found that high school students who deferred their admission to college to take a gap year went to college (after their gap year) at the same rate as those who accepted an offer and intended to go straight there” and “were more likely to graduate with higher grade-point averages than observationally identical individuals who went straight to college.” In addition, a gap year “significantly improves job satisfaction post-college,” says the AGA, a nonprofit gap year advocacy organization.

Mandell said students who take gap years tend to enter college with a “stronger sense of purpose.”

Tzedek America provides a nine-month program for 18- to 20-year-olds, who are required to participate in two social-justice internships with nonprofits in Los Angeles.

Dec. 8, 10:15 a.m.: The piece was altered to reflect that Stanley Gold, not Stanley Black, is a supporter of Tzedek America.

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