Understanding the Journey – Shnat Netzer

“Let me walk oh let me walk, to the place that my heart loves. Open my heart to love the place that my feet take me to.” For the past year, these words have been my anthem. I have used them to guide me in the decisions that I have made. I think that on some level, I am in Israel because of this song. I never thought that I would ever be on a gap year in Israel, yet here I am and I honestly could not imagine doing anything else. I like to use this song as a perfect example to express what this Shnat year means to me. I think that I am following my heart and at the same time accepting wherever it takes me.

For years I watched Shnatties return from their year in Israel, wiser and more confident, and of course, full of incredible stories about the journey they had been on that year. And now it’s my turn. I have only been in Israel for 4 months (I have another 6 to go) but I am confident and proud to say that I can feel how much I have learnt, gained and grown in this short time. There are so many issues surrounding us in Israel that cause us to ask questions and to challenge our beliefs and views on the world. I guess that the best way to explain this to you is to tell you a little bit about my personal experiences and the journey that I’ve experienced thus far.

I arrived on the program lacking a bit in confidence (a bit unusual for me). I felt insecure about the fact that I was in Israel, away from family, friends and the comforts of home. I was intimidated by the Australians and how smart they sound when they speak. I felt lacking in Jewish knowledge and knowledge of my movement. “How can I be on this program if I don’t know anything?” I would ask myself. And then it dawned on me: that is the very reason why I came here. To learn. To experience the world. To grow. To open my mind. To become a better Jewish leader. So I changed my attitude a bit, gave myself a confidence booster and opened my mind to just about everything. I must be honest and say that I still don’t have all the answers. If anything, I’m more confused than I’ve ever been. I’m confused about my Judaism and whether or not I feel connected, I’m confused about my definition of Zionism and where I fit in, I’m confused about how to solve the Middle East crisis.

But that is the beauty of Shnat. As much as it sucks to be confused, I believe that the clarity that comes after that is what this is all about. We are being challenged in so many ways to shape our minds into the best and most well informed minds that we could have as young informal educators. Every day we are gaining more educational tools to bring back to our movements

So what exactly is the point that I’m trying to make? Shnat is an incredible opportunity for personal growth and development. It is invaluable for the very reason that it forces us to think critically about everything. One of Netzer South Africa’s key beliefs is the idea of informed decision making, and that is why Shnat is such an important year. By asking questions and not blindly accepting what we are taught as truth, by meeting people from all walks of society, by experiencing new things every day, by being exposed to some of the challenges that the Jewish world faces and by learning so much every day, we are being empowered to make that informed decision. This year gives us so much understanding within a Jewish context that I don’t think can be found in many other ways. It is an invaluable year in terms of personal growth, development and understanding

Already I can feel how much I have grown. I am more independent, open minded, passionate, knowledgeable and eager to find a meaningful connection to my Judaism than I have ever been before.

Despite the big issues that we face every day, the small things, the small encounters, offer us so much growth too… Today, for example, a few friends and I were followed by a dog and ended up looking after it for a couple of hours whilst searching for its owners. I learnt about persistence, resourcefulness, parenthood and how frustrating it is that EVERYTHING is closed on Shabbat… But I won’t get into that now.

Looking back on my journey thus far, I could not think of anything else I’d rather be doing this year. It’s not without its difficulties, but overcoming these is in itself a form of growth and what makes the year that much more meaningful. Every day I’m learning, growing and living a bit more. I really am having the journey of a lifetime. A journey across the Holy Land of our forefathers and mothers. A journey of self –discovery. A journey of understanding.

Sofia Zway