May 20, 2024
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Avi Stern Thrives During Shana Bet at Yeshivat Shaalvim

Avi Stern of Springfield is currently enjoying his second year at Yeshivat Shaalvim, where he has been studying diligently since his graduation from the JEC High School in Elizabeth (’20). His hope is to study software engineering at Rutgers. His family davens at Congregation Israel of Springfield.

Let’s jump right into it. What made you choose Yeshivat Shaalvim?

I heard amazing things about the high level of learning at Shaalvim, and my rebbeim all recommended that I push to achieve more in my learning by coming here. Another thing I heard was that even though there’s a hands-off approach here, the chevra, particularly the Shana Bet, immediately absorbs the Shana Alef to create a more cohesive and welcoming environment.

What would you say is your favorite thing about the yeshiva?

Well, everything I heard was true. Not only are the shiurim high level, people here are motivated to do long sedarim and late sedarim. It really caused me to push myself and achieve more than I had been achieving before. It’s definitely true that this is a place for that. But if I had to pick one thing I would say it’s how approachable everyone is. My rebbeim and last year’s Shana Bet were so open. I really feel like I can speak to my rebbeim about anything. Whenever I have a halachic question, a hashkafic question, anything, I know I can speak to someone. I think it’s something unique, and I very much appreciate that.

How would you say your year has differed between Shana Alef and Bet so far, and why did you want to come back?

So, with Shana Alef, a lot of the year was spent getting used to yeshiva, getting into it. The way it worked out last year in particular was, we were in bidud for two weeks, and then even after that we were in capsules. The whole year was sort of like getting closer to being normal. At the same time, I was getting used to the fullness of the schedule and the intensity of the shiurim, so a lot of the year was spent getting used to things. By the end of the year I definitely was used to things, but it was just a buildup.

This year I was able to come to yeshiva and take everything I did last year, even though I fell back a little over the summer, and start off right away ready for yeshiva. It really has been helping me achieve a lot more. I also wanted to come back because I felt I had unfinished work and a lot more ground to cover. I won’t get another chance to have this much time to learn in yeshiva all day, so I want to cover the ground I need to while I can.

Another thing I wanted to accomplish in Shana Bet is becoming self-sufficient with regard to being able to learn a sugya, because I’m going to be in a secular college without the same level learning environment, and I want to keep learning throughout college.

That’s beautiful. What advice would you give to someone for their Shana Alef in Israel?

You only get to experience Shana Alef once, and you should really make the most of being introduced to these new things. Last year was so amazing for me because it was my introduction to this, to being in yeshiva and learning. It’s important to take note of everything new that’s happening. Being able to explore these amazing cities, to explore the country, the hikes, being able to meet all these new people, you should take note and appreciate all of these things, because you only get them once. I have amazing memories of shana alef, and I even wrote down some of the things I did and the places I went to because it’s so important to remember them fully.

In terms of yeshiva, it’s really important that you don’t just focus on Gemara. Even though, especially in Shaalvim, there’s a huge focus on Gemara, and that’s amazing because, without a huge focus on something, you don’t achieve a different level of learning in that thing. But you can’t just focus on it. There were other things I knew I wanted to improve on, things that I wanted to want to learn. I had never been someone who just sat there reading parsha sefarim and had good divrei Torah to tell on Shabbat, and my rebbe gave me advice that I wouldn’t get there if I didn’t learn parsha. So I started reading parsha sefarim and doing shneim mikra, and it’s just amazing. If there’s something you’re not interested in, and you want to be able to learn it and connect to it, sit down and cover that ground.

And what would you say you love the most about being in Eretz Yisrael?

I love being able to experience a wide range of different Jewish communities; I’ve never seen this before. Well, I’ve seen a little bit of a range—I lived in Brooklyn for half my life and in Modern Orthodox Springfield for half my life, but there’s nothing like going to a different community every Shabbat and seeing completely different types of people. I went to one Shabbat last year in Be’er Sheva to a mixed community—part Georgian, part Sephardic and part Ethiopian—so I had never experienced anything like that. A different week I went to Ramat Beit Shemesh to an American community; a different week I got to hang out with my cousins in Netanya I never get to see; I just get to experience a different thing every week. That’s one thing I love about being in Israel, the variety of experiences I get to have.

One last question. What are you learning right now?

We’re learning Kesubos in Bekiyos on the second perek, and Iyun on the first perek. I’m also learning Mesilas Yesharim during Mussar seder, I’m learning some Mishnayos at night, I’m learning Shneim Mikra on the parsha, I’m learning Meseches Sotah in a chavrusa with my friend, and I’m also reading “The Great Partnership” by Rav Jonathan Sacks—amazing book. I’m also reading “Kitzur Hilchos Shabbos.”


Yotam Berendt of Charlotte, North Carolina is currently at Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah in Modiin as a Shana Bet student. We welcome his first contribution to our Israel Spotlight column!

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