2013-student-interviews

Interview number 1:
*SH are not her real initials. This was an interview conducted between TLZ and a student studying in MMY for the year.

TLZ: What was your background, pre-Israel?
SH: I have been going to yeshiva all my life. I live on the Lower East Side, went to Manhattan Day School and then Yeshiva University High School for Girls. I attended Bnei Akiva’s Camp Moshava for many summers.

TLZ: What inspired you to want to go to Israel?
SH: I always knew that I wanted to spend a year in Israel. After attending Camp Moshava for so many summers, I gained a huge love for Israel and hope to live there one day. This year in Israel is a great step in that direction and besides the academic aspect of this year, I am learning a lot about Israel – the land and its culture. I have also seen how my siblings and friends came back changed from their year in Israel. I also wanted the experience of going away for a year, and learning to be independent thousands of miles from home.

TLZ: How did you hear of Torah Letzion?
SH: I wanted to go to Israel very badly, but unfortunately it was not possible due to financial considerations. An Israel guidance counselor in my school recommended applying to Torah Letzion; thankfully I did, because they helped make this year possible.

TLZ: What is your typical day in seminary?
SH: The majority of my classes are two hours long. The first hour is chavrusa learning and the second hour is class instruction. We prepare our sources during the first hour in the beit midrash, learn on our own the actual texts and analyze them. We then come back to class and discuss what we learned and take the information to the next level. We have two classes in the morning, a lunch break, and then have another two classes in the afternoon. After the afternoon classes, we usually have a shiur, dinner, and then return to the beit midrash for night seder.

TLZ: What is your favorite part of the day?
SH: My favorite part of the day would have to be the Beit Midrash chavrusa time. Your learning is at a whole new level when you can actually read sources and study them instead of just being spoon-fed information. Beit Midrash time is a great time to work with someone else and build up your textual skills. It’s one of the best feelings when you successfully tackle a source that you never thought possible!

TLZ: What has been the most inspiring experience in Israel?
SH: I decided to run in the Jerusalem Marathon this year. After many weeks of training, the big day finally arrived; it was a life-changing experience. My favorite part of the experience was feeling the unity of everyone involved. People from all over Israel, came together on the streets to cheer runners on and support their causes. As I was running, I tried to cheer on other runners next to me whom I did not know at all. There was this sense of achdut we felt as we ran the streets (and hills!) of Yerushalyim. All different types of people ran for causes they felt were important. The encouragement from people all around me gave me the energy to keep running and finish the race.

TLZ: Describe your relationships with the yeshiva staff and students.
SH: Our teachers and staff are all different from each other. Some of our teachers are more charedi while other are more modern. This gives me the opportunity to find teachers I connect to most. It’s great to have a diverse faculty because it allows each student to find that particular person they can relate to. With one of the teachers with whom I feel very close, I was able set up a weekly chavrusa during my lunch break. It’s great to be able to talk to someone who understands me, is a mentor, and who is still a friend to me all the same.

TLZ: How will the year in yeshiva affect your future?
SH: My year in Israel is definitely one of the foundations of my future. As much as I am learning this year, it really just teaches me the foundation of how to learn properly and give me the tools I need to be able to learn on my own. This year has also taught me much about other people. Living in a dormitory with roommates has taught me so much about respecting other peoples’ needs while understanding that we all come from different places and backgrounds. Accepting people who are different from you without looking down on them is a skill that I think is crucial for life.

TLZ: What is the most important message or lesson you will take back with you?
SH: I will take back with me the idea that I don’t need as much as I thought I did before coming to Israel. This has been a year full of making independent choices and trying to make the most mature decisions possible. I realize that I don’t need to go shopping during free time, or buy this or that item. I have been to so many places for Shabbat where people live simply, are not materialistic and are just so happy and content with their lives.

TLZ: How will the year in Israel help you become a better Jewish person?
SH: This year has helped me learn to accept other types of Judaism. I have gone all around the country for Shabbatot, seeing lifestyles that ran the gamut from charedi to modern. I have learned that no matter how different we all are, we Jews have the same desires in life and are all living for the same cause. I used to think sects of Judaism were extremely different from each other, but I have learned that we actually have more in common than not.

TLZ: How will the year in Israel help you become a better Jewish leader?
SH- I think a leader needs to accept all types of people. Being able to understand backgrounds and differences between people, while accepting them as they are, is a very important skill to have.

TLZ: What do you plan on doing post-Israel?
SH: I have not yet officially decided where I want to go next year, but I know I am choosing between great options, so either one should be hopefully the right decision.

Interview Number 2:
*JH are not her real initials. JH spent the first half of the year studying in Machon Maayan, and the second half of the year, she has been studying in Nishmat.

TLZ: What was your background, pre-Israel?
JH: Before coming to Israel I went to a Modern-Orthodox Jewish day school in Queens, and went to a public magnet school in the Bronx for high school. In high school, I became more observant through NCSY and served on its regional board. I also became president of my school’s Jewish Student Union club and participated in the Write On For Israel journalism and Israel advocacy program. Neither of my parents grew up observant, and my family is on a journey of becoming more observant and finding our niche in the Orthdoox world.

TLZ: What inspired you to want to go to Israel?
JH: After spending my high school career discovering what Judaism meant to me and what role I wanted Judaism to play in my life, I decided I needed to learn more. I had already started taking on many of the mitzvot but I hadn’t been in a formal Torah learning environment since middle school. I felt it was necessary to have an understanding of Torah and mitzvot on an adult level to be a more efficient contributing member of Jewish society.

TLZ: How did you hear of Torah Letzion?
JH: One of my advisors from NCSY told me about Torah Letzion.

TLZ: What is your typical day in seminary?
JH: We typically start class at 8:30 a.m. I try to daven and eat breakfast before then. We have a class until 9:45 on either Parshat HaShavua, given by the Rabbanit, Tefilla, or Women in Mitzvot. From 10:00 to 1:00 we have a 3-hour class on either Chumash or Gemara depending on the day, which is usually broken up into 1.5-2 hours of chavruta learning and then a shiur by the teacher for the remaining class time. At 1:00 p.m. we have a dvar halacha, announcements and mincha until about 1:30. From 1:30-2:30 we have a lunch break with optional chaburot. At 2:30 we usually have a halacha survey class until 3:00, except on Tuesdays, when we have a 1-hour class on Rav Kook until 3:30. At 3:00 we have either Halacha or Navi depending on the day, for 3 hours. At 6:00 we are free for the night. Sometimes I choose to go to classes offered by the other programs and sometimes I spend my time exploring Jerusalem. Every so often we have a group activity, usually a cultural experience in Jerusalem.

TLZ: What is your favorite part of the day?
JH: My favorite part of the day is going to my Chumash and Halacha classes. My teachers are brilliant and I learn so much about different commentators’ methodologies and how the halachic process functions.

TLZ: What has been the most inspiring experience in Israel?
JH- I am constantly finding things to be inspired by since I’ve been here. The bigger things tend to be experiencing the holidays, especially in Jerusalem, as a country and with my midrasha. The Shabbat hospitality and all the interesting people and their stories are also quite uplifting. I am also inspired by little “only in Israel” moments, like how the buses and candy wrappers wish you a chag sameach.

TLZ: How will the year in midrasha affect your future?
JH: First and foremost, the education I am receiving in midrasha will pave the way for all my future Torah learning which, in turn, will influence many of my life decisions. Secondly, I have had a glimpse into what living in Israel is like and the different types of communities and ideologies that exist here. Lastly, the year will enable me to encourage Jewish education in youth and share with them what I have learned this year.

TLZ: What is the most important message or lesson you will take back with you?
JH: I think the most important message I will take back with me is that observant Judaism is not “One Size Fits All.” Every biological ecosystem has a niche, and I think the different niches in observant Judaism should be a point of celebration and not of dissension.

TLZ: How will the year in Israel help you in being a better Jewish person?
JH: Dedicating time before university studies to develop as a person was something I valued when choosing to come to Israel for the year. I think I am learning to be a better Jewish person by learning from the good middot of my friends here. I also think giving back to Israeli society through chesed has that effect. I think the biggest test, however, is living with so many girls and learning to respect and be considerate of each others’ spaces and wishes.

TLZ: How will the year in Israel help you become a better Jewish leader?
JH: Learning more about Judaism and having the textual skills to explore halachic Judaism will enable me to aid the next generation of Jews. My education and experience are two important leadership qualities that I think have grown significantly since being here.

TLZ: What do you plan on doing post Israel?
JH: I plan on returning to New York and attending Stern College for Women in the autumn. After earning my degree, I hope to make Aliyah to return to Israel.

TLZ: Is there any other comments you would like to share?
JH: Education is the single most important thing you can do for yourself. If Judaism is of any importance to you, a Jewish education is of premium importance. If financing that education is the only thing stopping you, know there are resources to turn to for assistance.