May 25, 2024
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May 25, 2024
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Atara Pietruszka Davens and Bonds at Darchei Binah

Atara Pietruszka is studying at Darchei Binah in Bayit V’Gan, Jerusalem. She was born in Brooklyn, grew up in Bergenfield and attended RYNJ for elementary school and Bruriah for high school. Her family davens at Ohr Hatorah in Bergenfield.

Her next stop? Stern College.

Why did you choose Darchei Binah? What’s unique about it? What kind of student do you think would attend your program?

I chose Darchei Binah because I felt it was the best option according to my hashkafa, and it also suited where I was academically and spiritually. Darchei Binah is unique because it’s a frum school while not being too restrictive, and it allows for students to build life skills. The type of girl that Darchei Binah attracts is someone who wants to work on reaching their full potential—someone who wants to make real connections and learn to use the tools Darchei Binah has to offer. For example, we don’t have a uniform, meaning we dress the way we want in accordance to Halachic standards, showing us how it will be in the real world once we leave seminary. We are also allowed to have smartphones, and we gain an understanding of the content which we should be looking at and which parts we shouldn’t be looking at. Every year, around Purim time, many students participate in the “vaad”—a 90-day cleanse from all internet, including movies, shows and news. This allows us to recognize how little we really need from the internet, and also what we will want to allow into our homes in the future.

What kind of goals do you have for your year?

My goals coming into Darchei Binah were to learn how to independently research a topic using sefarim; become more independent through cooking, shopping and getting around town; and create friendships and connections with teachers. I want to come out of this year with solid relationships for life, knowing I can turn towards the friends and teachers from this year forever.

What are you most excited to learn for your year? What is your favorite thing to learn?

In Darchei Binah, we can choose our own classes. One of my favorite classes is Nashim B’Ttanach, where we go through our imahot in Tanach and learn lessons that we can apply to our everyday life. I am excited to continue to learn various subjects that you can’t get anywhere else and will probably never learn again. We have classes in Hashkafa, Halacha, Mashiach, and how to build a frum home in the future. Our teachers don’t just teach their subject, and don’t just teach students; they live what they teach, get into it, make every part applicable into our life, and give over the mesorah to us, the next generation whom they care so deeply about. In our Mesillat Yesharim class, we had an assignment called “Why Be Frum?” Hearing each girl present why they are frum today gave us all incredible insight as to how lucky we are to be religious and studying in Israel this year. Every person has their own story to share, and told how they found Hashem in their life. This type of project won’t be found anywhere else. I try and take it all in, because I know that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

What has been the biggest highlight of your year so far?

One of my biggest highlights was going away for my first off-Shabbat with one of my friends to my cousins in Ramat Beit Shemesh; we really enjoyed spending Shabbat with family in a warm, homey atmosphere. One of the things I was most excited for this year was to go around Israel seeing all different types of Jews and how, although we may be different, we also have the same mindset—we are all Jews, all one family. So, after waiting a very long time to be allowed to go out for a Shabbat, I was very excited to start my adventures and spend Shabbat, a day of family time, with my cousins. I enjoyed watching how my aunt and uncle conducted their Shabbat meals, how the children played in the home, and noticing how beautiful living in Israel is.

Although there have been many restrictions this year, we are so lucky to have gone on tiyulim such as one down south hiking and camel riding, and a trip to Tzfat with water hiking and a walking tour of the Old City of Tzfat. It was so fun to take off some time from school to just be with our friends and touring Israel!

What kind of challenges have you faced coming to Israel?

I think one of my biggest challenges so far has been getting used to the dorm life and living with all types of girls. Living in a dorm setting means living with girls from different religious backgrounds, coming from different locations around America, Canada, England and Israel, and learning that not everyone has the same traditions and mannerisms as you do. It has taught me to be more considerate of others and accept what others have to offer. I love learning to cook and bake, playing instruments, and having dorm nights such as decorating picture frames and getting the dorms ready for Chanukah.

How has being here been different from your expectations? Did you feel prepared for your experience or did you have culture shock, and how so?

I kind of assumed everyone would speak English and I would be able to figure things out easily and quickly, but I’ve definitely been exercising my Hebrew skills, whether it be in the store or on a bus,and thankfully have made it with my broken Hebrew!

How do you think the pandemic has positively affected your year?

In my opinion, I actually think that the pandemic made us all much closer than other years. We can’t go out for Shabbat as often, and there is seger frequently, so we can’t leave, which allows us to really bond. Additionally, since we are in more, it helps us focus on learning and enjoying being in Israel.

What kind of effect do you think bidud (quarantine) had on the students?

I think being in bidud actually helped the transition into the seminary year, because we were able to meet girls and spend time with them without any distractions before classes started. Therefore, once we were out and about, we already knew people we wouldn’t have met otherwise.

What are you most looking forward to for the rest of the year?

I am looking forward to creating so many more memories with my friends here in Israel, inside the classroom and out. I am excited to continue going on crazy adventures with friends to Osher Ad, the Kotel, hikes and anywhere else we end up. I can’t wait to gain more knowledge through all of our conversations in class with our teachers and mechanchot and learning from the best of the best.

How do you think this year will prepare you for the rest of your life?

I have learned to be more independent by going shopping, cooking for the first time, doing laundry and just navigating the bus system. All the skills and information that we have been learning in our classes, such as the correct way to do mitzvot and how to build relationships with friends and family, are ones I will be able to apply to every aspect of my life.

Brooke Schwartz is a former Jewish Link intern and resident of Englewood studying at Midreshet Amudim in Modi’in, Israel for her shana bet year.

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