It was a couple of hours before Shabbat, a calm weekend in early November, and our seminary, Amudim, had brought us to southern Israel for Shabbat B’Tevah. Shabbat B’Tevah is an annual initiative to educate Amudim students on the halachot of keeping Shabbat “in the wilderness,” culminating in a camping trip to give us the chance to kasher our own meat, build and use an oven, prepare our Shabbat meals over a fire, build an eruv, and fall asleep under the stars.
The issue at hand, however, was much simpler than the tasks we’d attacked earlier in the day, yet somehow it presented its own little challenge: showering.
Two other dirt-covered Amudim students and I were crowded into a small room off the side of the bathroom with three showers in it, and we couldn’t figure out how to get hot water—didn’t even know if there was any.
For the five minutes it took to access hot water, the small stone room was filled with echoey shrieks of laughter as the three of us yelled and shouted at each other while the cold water hit our skin. The drains didn’t work properly, either, so as the water inched further up the floor, a shampoo bottle floated into view of each of the shower stalls as it bobbed all the way across the room. The curtains fluttered in the wind, never completely closing, and the door wouldn’t lock. But if anyone could be able to somehow thoroughly enjoy that kind of chaos, it was us.
Sometimes it’s easy to get lost worrying about the future, and then sometimes you’re with a couple of friends on a Friday afternoon and nothing is quite working properly and you’re cold and wet but just laughing your head off, so lost in the moment that you’re flooded with happiness, like all the colors in your life are turned on full intensity. When people say your teenage years should be spent “just living,” they mean this. The best, most bonding moments often happen when something goes a little bit wrong. Things are so chaotic, so nonsensical, that you just have to laugh.
In a way, this whole year has felt like that. Something starts going wrong and there’s this desperate moment when I scrabble at something I can’t hold, and then I just sort of sit back, throw my arms around those closest to me, and laugh.
As this year draws to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about that. In 2020, I’ve spent a total of three weeks outside Israel; the thought of leaving here, and especially of leaving Amudim, makes my heart ache. Because the truth is that I don’t just learn the most here; I also laugh the most. Many of my purest, most genuine laughs have happened right here at Amudim. Every single day, I remind myself how privileged I am to be able to spend my time here.
January 1, 2020, found me at Amudim, and December 31, 2020, will also find me at Amudim. I know, I will always know, that I didn’t just make a “good” decision, or an “impactful” one, or even a “life-changing” one. Simply put, I made the right one.
Brooke Schwartz is a former Jewish Link intern and resident of Englewood. She is studying at Midreshet Amudim in Modi’in, Israel, for her shana bet year.