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Phyllis Folb: “Believing you can do something is the key to any task you take on”

Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention. The pandemic hit and life as we know it changed for all of us. I saw the information that was stored in my head and heart was something that people needed. Suddenly, I was inspired to put it on paper. I literally sat down and didn’t get up […]

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Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention. The pandemic hit and life as we know it changed for all of us. I saw the information that was stored in my head and heart was something that people needed. Suddenly, I was inspired to put it on paper. I literally sat down and didn’t get up for six weeks until I was finished! Being motivated by the urgency of the situation made me realize I had something to offer and I could do it!!!


As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Phyllis Folb, the Founder/Executive Director of the American Israel Gap Year Association.

Phyllis is a leading expert on gap year programs in Israel with over 30 years of professional experience in the Jewish community.

She is also the author of Find Your Right Direction: The Israel Gap Year Guide, Redwood Publishing.

Phyllis does college and gap year advising through a firm specializing in both secular and religious Jewish programming. Founding AIGYA in 2013, she has dedicated herself to advocating for the Israel Gap Year as a post-secondary educational necessity across the denominational spectrum. She is committed to finding the right direction for students’ Gap Year in Israel through counseling and Gap Year events that will bring them closer to this life changing experience.

Folb has previously published articles in The Jerusalem Post and the Jewish Journal, where she was a recipient of the Journal’s “Mensch” honor. She is a sought-after guest for TV and radio and has appeared on shows such as Israel Today and Sunny Side Up.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

My book, Find Your Right Direction: The Israel Gap Year Guide, is the culmination of working as a college/gap year counselor. But the catalyst to this career was being a mother. My own daughter’s experience during her Gap Year in Israel didn’t just inspire her but me as well.

It made me think this year of self-exploration that is popularly called the Gap Year, is really a bridge year, where a student takes that foundation laid from family and school experiences and uses it as a launching pad to what will shape them into who they are as a person.

I saw that this need for self-exploration is a time to develop one’s own personal passion. It was not unique to my daughter. As a college counselor I was able to educate my students regarding the importance of this time. To see it as an opportunity and desired option to their post-secondary education that should be embraced.

It became my life’s work and my passion.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author?

Believing you can do something is the key to any task you take on. To be honest, my route to becoming an author was not a straight line, and not one I anticipated or planned. I wrote in my other work, as a publicist and creative writer on subjects that interested me but I didn’t see it as a career.

Many people had said that I should write a book about my experience as a counselor in the Gap Year field. However, I was mired in the everyday tasks and really did not take these suggestions seriously. Truthfully, I didn’t think I could do it. That’s where believing in yourself, your story and desire to tell it comes in to play.

How did you overcome it?

Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention. The pandemic hit and life as we know it changed for all of us. I saw the information that was stored in my head and heart was something that people needed. Suddenly, I was inspired to put it on paper. I literally sat down and didn’t get up for six weeks until I was finished! Being motivated by the urgency of the situation made me realize I had something to offer and I could do it!!!

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Find Your Right Direction: The Israel Gap Year Guide, my new book, is my most interesting project now and I am devoting all my energy into getting it into the hands of the students and counselors around the country. There is a renewed and growing interest in the Gap Year and especially in Israel. Israel is one of the only countries open to US students who want to do long-term learning/internships. With colleges essentially confined to online, knowing about the opportunity to do more hands on learning and something for the greater good is very intriguing to students. To be able to expose more people to this opportunity is very exciting to me.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

I love teens! So hearing their thoughts and how they view the world is very interesting to me. This period of time is when my students transform themselves into young adults. Seeing and hearing their stories from the mundane of learning to budget and cook for themselves to deep explorations of faith are so inspiriting. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from a student.

“While I knew I wanted to ‘grow’ as a person, I didn’t completely understand what that meant for me and my life to spend a year doing so. I now know what it means:

  • It means creating special connections with mentors who can inspire me.
  • It means meeting and learning from people every day with completely different opinions.
  • It means being given unlimited means and opportunities to do good in the community.”

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

That the world is theirs to explore but learning about yourself and your heritage will make you stronger and a more confident person in your own right and a better global citizen for the world at large. The gap year is an investment in your soul.

These are the 5 Things that are most important to me and I think help in anything that you might tackle.

  • Believe that your story/idea is important and unique and people will be interested in it.
  • Be observant of the world around you and get excited about the miracle of everyday living.
  • Work Hard — Don’t be afraid of that — the fact that things don’t come easy, doesn’t mean it is not worth doing. You have to contribute time and effort and that is a good thing.
  • Persistence — The key to every success story is just sticking with it.
  • Faith — This can be in a higher power or it can be in yourself and your self-worth. When you have it, it will carry you to great places.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

My movement is what I am doing now through my non-profit organization, the American Israel Gap Year Association (AIGYA). We champion for the Gap Year to be seen as the integral part of the post-secondary experience and we advocate for Israel to be the place of destination across the Jewish denominational spectrum as well as a place of inspiration for all.

My hope is the funding organizations who see the importance of this for creating better global citizens will create Gap Year specific scholarships for students to consider and encourage more participation in the Gap Year as a post-secondary option.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

www.aigya.org or [email protected]

Follow our students on [email protected] and reach out for more information at [email protected]

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!

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