I’m attending two end-of-year banquets tonight, both to mark the end of my year at Machon Maayan in Israel. As I reflect on that odd fact, I can’t help but think about Robert Frost’s famous, somewhat overused poem, “The Road Not Taken.”
Indeed, in March two roads diverged in a (not so yellow) wood. I had the opportunity to join quite a number of my fellow students and head back to the United States. I could ride out the pandemic in the safety and security of my home with my family. It was certainly the road “more traveled”; indeed, hundreds of yeshiva and seminary students boarded planes in March, hoping to escape the clutches of the coronavirus in Israel, and expecting the opportunities in America to be better.
Not I. With 16 friends I took the road less traveled. And let me tell you, that has made all the difference.
Tonight, my first banquet will be on Zoom. We will celebrate the accomplishments of those who had to cut their year short. We will reflect on the experience, laugh and cry at the memories, and then will exit the meeting. I feel for my friends, from Machon Maayan and elsewhere, who had to close out their year of learning on a screen. They were heroic. Joining classes, even via the most up-to-date technology is a real challenge, as is maintaining one’s commitment to Torah learning, to Jewish practice and to the land of Israel.
For those of us who stayed, the experience was something else entirely. And that is what we will be marking at my second banquet. In person, on our beautiful, spacious campus, or shall I say home, we will gather with our teachers, mentors and friends to mark the end of a journey that I never could have predicted.
At home in Highland Park, my brother just celebrated his graduation on my front lawn. The teachers drove by and that officially marked the end of elementary school. My parents haven’t left the house except to purchase groceries. I imagine the same could be said about most families in the New York-New Jersey area. Sometimes, I think about what my last two months would have looked like had I taken the road back home.
Instead, I’ve lived on a sprawling college campus, surrounded by wonderful friends who became my family. Sure, we had to exhibit independence. I even drew the short straw and had to be the plumber and clear a blocked sink. But in doing so we developed relationships for a lifetime with peers and teachers. We had live classes with actual participation, and were able to learn more than we anticipated because we stopped taking it for granted. I started a student initiative where we all learned independently and taught each other in small groups, developing oratory, organizational and learning skills that will serve us in our next steps in life.
And last week we had our final tiyul in Israel. And as I hiked down the Gilboa mountain, surrounded by my Machon Maayan family, I felt victorious. Not only did I conquer the Gilboa, but I conquered my fears and a world of uncertainty. We conquered corona.
Sydney Beberman, former JSU president at Highland Park High School, recently completed Shanah Alef at Machon Maayan, and is planning to return next year for Shanah Bet.