Why do a gap year? It’s a question I hear asked more and more. There seems to be a trend to not see the value in a gap year. I strongly disagree.15 op ed PICS issue 879 Tom Francies (2)

Now, you may scream bias, you might say that, as a movement worker for Liberal Judaism’s youth movement LJY-Netzer, I have an agenda. And it is true that LJY-Netzer does run its own gap year programme.

It is also true that I think Shnat-Netzer is an amazing opportunity and experience, but that is not the focus of this article. A gap year gives you the opportunity to grow and develop your independence. Whether you are trekking through South America, volunteering in a kibbutz or teaching English in India, you are forced to look after yourself.

Up until you are 18, you are looked after – by parents, by teachers and even occasionally by youth movement volunteers, but what happens when you reach that mystical age that is meant to represent adulthood? There is no course on how to be an adult, no handbook or guide. This is where gap years come in – they can act as a place to grow and make mistakes, in a generally less-pressured environment than at university.

They are a formative period in your life where you are exploring not only a new environment, whether that be travelling or working, but also looking inside yourself. Gap years are more than just fun – although they are definitely that also – they help you in the next stage of your life as well.

They are a space to grow as a person, and also a place to make friends, develop socially and just have fun. Rabbi Aaron Goldstein of Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue said this of how his gap year helped him at university: “Being a year more mature meant that I was well placed to make the most of my university experience and especially to value extra-curricular activities, including involvement with Jewish youth movements both nationally and locally.”

All this is why my colleagues at LJY-Netzer and I think gap years are a vital part of personal development. We see the value in almost any gap year. So take a gap year, or encourage your children to go on one… you won’t regret it!

• Tom Francies is a movement worker for LJY-Netzer