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Golding Spends a Year in Israel Before College

[by Phyllis Shaikun, Special to Community]

Most American students go from high school to college with nary a break between the two, while students in many other parts of the world take a year off (a “gap” year) before entering college to help them grow up a bit. They frequently take advantage of academic and non-academic opportunities such as travel, voluntarism or internships to improve themselves before going to college.

Eighteen-year-old Louisvillian Rivka Golding, who will be a freshman at the University of Maryland in the fall, chose to spend a gap year studying in Israel at Midreshet Harova, a post-high school program for girls in Jerusalem.

This was not her first time living away from home. Golding and her family are members of Louisville’s Orthodox community, and although she was able to attend Torah Academy for primary school, the lack of a Jewish high school here meant she had to leave town to continue her education. In her case, Golding lived with an aunt in New York City while she attended and graduated from an Orthodox high school in Teaneck, NJ.

Midreshet Harova was not a carefree coming-of-age experience. Classes ran from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. Rivka spent her time studying Torah, Talmud, Jewish law, and Jewish philosophy. Her favorite class was a class on the weekly Torah portion.

She says, “It gave me a new perspective on what it means to be Jewish.” Celebrating the holidays with the rest of the country and having the opportunity to pray at the Western Wall every day were among the experiences she will miss most. Along with her time at Midreshet Harova, Golding was accepted into a rigorous fellowship at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, where she explored the Israel-Arab conflict.
The fellowship was an integral part of her year.

As a religious Zionist, Golding believes Israel is God’s answer to the promise made to Abraham that Israel would be an inheritance for his descendants. She is “consumed” with the knowledge that Israel is the land her forebears dreamt about – having their own country in which to create a moral and just society that serves God and shows the way for the rest of the world. Although the Jews were exiled from the area countless times, she cites the Book of Jeremiah that states Jews will ultimately come back to the Promised Land within Israel.

Golding hoped the non-credit public affairs course would provide the information she needed about the issues involved to enable her to defend, advocate for and promote Israel on the college campus. The class featured a variety of speakers from Palestinian students to people living in the disputed territories to professors, rabbis and members of the Knesset who presented their perspectives and then left it up to participants to form their own opinions.

While she believes it is the Jewish people’s internationally recognized right to reestablish their homeland in Israel, the class made her question some of the practices taking place there.

On an organized trip to Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem, she was conflicted over how the Palestinians are treated. Originally, the area was owned by two Jewish organizations, but in 1948 the Jewish residents were ordered to leave by the Hagana and the British Authority. In 1956, Jordan, in cooperation with the United Nations, housed 28 Palestinian refugee families in those vacant houses.

After Jerusalem’s liberation in 1967, the Israeli Custodian General ordered the properties be released to the Jewish groups that owned them in 1948, with the understanding that Palestinian refugees living there could remain in their homes provided they continued paying a symbolic rent. Since the 1990s, however, these Jewish organizations have been filing legal petitions to evict the families, most often due to non-payment of rent.

As Palestinian families leave, they see Jews occupying their former homes. Prior to the establishment of the state, much of West Jerusalem was owned by Palestinians, but they do not have the right to take back these homes. “It just seems completely biased,” she says. Golding finds it hard to understand how a country in which morality is supposed to guide every decision could allow this to happen. She asks: Does a Jewish country mean that Israel is a country only for the Jews?

By the same token, she is adamant that the Palestinians must stop terrorizing Israeli citizens. “Peace can only be achieved,” she concludes, “through tolerance and compromise. Israel is not going anywhere, but neither are the Palestinians.” The course helped her realize that she can still strongly support Israel, without supporting all of its policies.

After the trip, Golding wrote a final paper, which she shared with Community. It can be read in its entirety at www.jewishlouisville.org.

Another highlight of her year was a 10-day trip to Poland. For Golding, whose grandparents are Holocaust survivors, the trip was mentally and emotionally challenging.

“There were times when I doubted God and had trouble understanding how He could let this take place.” She found standing in the gas chambers tremendously overwhelming, but says all in all the trip to Poland was ironically uplifting. “We saw Israel’s strength by realizing how much was taken from us and how much we have been able to rebuild.”

She declared it an “amazing year,” one that gave her so much more than anything else could have. Golding returned home with a different perspective – one full of shared experiences that could not have happened elsewhere. She gained a deep respect for her teachers, an enhanced connection to the Jewish people, and the Jewish homeland. When asked if she could see herself living in Israel, she was quick to respond, “After my year, I could not see myself living anywhere else.”

Editor’s note: See Golding’s final essay on Zionism.

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