With the pandemic in full force and college campuses radically altered, we looked at the gap year offered by Israel Lacrosse as a timely opportunity for our son, a rising college freshman, to continue to train and develop, while meeting new people and learning more about Israel. Had the program delivered just on this, we would have considered it a success. As it turned out, the eight months our son spent in Israel was so much more than we could have imagined and proved to be a transformational, once-in-a lifetime experience.

For sure, the program delivered on the lacrosse front, from on-field practices, skills sessions, and games (including an intense month of lacrosse in December with the “Winter Bubble”) and off-field training. The housing accommodations were magnificent, exceeding all expectations, and provided easy access to the training center as well as the beach and other amenities. But while the lacrosse component was the initial draw, it was the other elements of the program that proved magical. Living independently required teamwork, responsibility, and accountability. Through their coaching assignments, the participants formed unusually close bonds with their players and the cities they represented. Through Hebrew study, Jewish education and weekend journeys, lifetime friendships were formed, as well as a deeper perspective of Israel and the world as a whole. For example, our son never thought Purim was a “real” holiday until he danced in the streets until dawn, in costume, with teammates and city residents. He didn’t understand the significance of a Memorial Day until watching an entire country observing a two-minute “standstill” of traffic and daily activities twice during a 24 hour period during Yom HaZikharon, or following that with the joyous celebrations of Independence Day, Yom Ha-atzmauot.

Initially, we saw the Israel Lacrosse gap year as a potential “solution” to the challenges posed by the pandemic, especially to college players. It is not. It is a program for any young man or woman, at any time. They will learn about Israel, the world, and a lot about themselves. They will make friends for life. And they will come home a more mature, confident, well-rounded person with the perspective and tools to reach their potential in college and beyond.