May 23, 2024
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May 23, 2024
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Meira Shapiro Pursues Torah at Migdal Oz

Meira Shapiro (Ma’ayanot ’21) of Bergenfield has tapped into a wellspring of limud at Migdal Oz this year. Feeling right at home here in Israel, her plan is to make aliyah. Meira’s family davens at Bais Medrash of Bergenfield.

Tell me a little about Migdal Oz. What makes it unique, and what drew you in?

Migdal Oz isn’t a traditional seminary, it’s an Israeli midrasha, and the Americans here are completely integrated into the Israeli classes. We’re in morning seder with them, we’re in afternoon classes with them, everything’s completely in Hebrew, so it’s definitely unique. Morning seder is from 8:30 to 1, learning Gemara, which is also unique to a women’s institution of learning. We’re also in the Gush, right next to Efrat, which is unique as well. It’s wonderful.

I think the reasons that I came and the reasons that I love it are two different things, and the reasons that I love it aren’t the reasons I expected. It’s so warm here. All the staff and all the students make me feel like I want to be their best friend. They’re all people I look up to; everyone wants to translate for you; everyone wants to make sure you’re doing OK; everyone wants you to come to their house for Shabbat. It’s incredible and I’ve never been with so many amazing people in one place.

And there’s such a love and passion for Torah and Judaism here. I think there’s a stereotype that it’s agenda-driven, but it’s not that at all. Everyone here just wants to learn Torah, everyone’s happy, and we just want to learn in peace. We’re really happy with it. I was definitely attracted by the Gemara, and having Israelis in my classes helped me because I wanted to make aliyah and it would force me to jump right into learning Hebrew. I also wanted to create a network of people I could go to for Shabbat and that I can rely on. I really didn’t know that much about Migdal Oz coming in, since the interviews were on Zoom and the girls last year were in capsules. I really came in quite blind, but I’m very happy with what has come out of it.

That all sounds excellent. Can you tell me some of the goals you had for your time here and how they’ve been going so far?

I definitely wanted to learn Torah and sharpen my skills in Torah learning, and I knew I wanted to make aliyah as well. I got to build on the ruchniyut that I already had, but all these are really just starting points. My growth here has mostly been in ways I wasn’t even expecting or trying for. Our schedule is packed, we’re learning from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. everyday, and during Elul we had extra classes throughout the evening, and we had Selichot from midnight to 3 a.m., with class again in the morning. No one could actually do all of it, so the staff was very useful in terms of recognizing that and encouraging people to take breaks. That’s definitely something I got better at, recognizing that I’m no longer serving Hashem or doing anything productive when I’m falling asleep in class, and the more productive thing is to go take a nap. I know that’s not directly related to Judaism, but it’s an important part of growing up and being an adult, and I’m achieving it through a religious lens.

There’s also the aspect of learning in Hebrew. It’s challenging, and I could probably give you a bigger list of things I’ve learned had I learned them in English, but it’s still an incredibly humbling experience. I’ve gained so much from it, and even though it’s challenging, every week I see that I’m learning and understanding more. Nothing’s perfect, but things are definitely going well, and I have a lot more to be thankful for and look forward to than to complain about.

Wonderful. How does Migdal Oz fit your own outlook and personality?

In some ways very well, in other ways, I’m like, “What are these Israelis doing right now?!” But I think that I’ve always been somebody who loves learning Torah in depth, and it’s always been very important to me. I started learning Gemara in ninth grade, I do Daf Yomi, so I wanted to be somewhere where that wasn’t weird. I’m not interested in an agenda; I don’t want to become elitist; I don’t want to push my feelings on other people; and I was pleasantly surprised to see that’s not what this place is like at all.

I just feel very comfortable here. I do think in a lot of ways it fits me very well, and It’s very much chilled out. I don’t do well with hardline rules, and I benefit much more from people trusting me and being there when I need them. Culturally, there still are some things I just don’t get, like, “Why are you not wearing shoes in the beit midrash?” but overall it’s been great. I’m very thankful to have had this experience.

I know there’s still a lot of time left in the year, but what’s been your highlight so far?

My first thought immediately went to Yom Kippur. Literally if Moshiach had come I wouldn’t have been surprised. It was insane. Over 400 women davening shacharis at 6:30 in the morning—I was not there at 6:30 in the morning—until the fast went out, there was a 40-minute break. It was insane—jumping, singing like I’ve never seen before. The sad parts were sad, but the happy parts had such simcha, such achdut, it was incredible. I have no words to describe it. Everyone was there for one goal, and it was just really amazing. So that was definitely a highlight.

Sounds like it left a huge impact. I don’t know if anything can top that, but what’s something you’re looking forward to?

I think this answer is a little more broad, but I would just say continuing to grow, continuing to have more experiences of heightened ruchniyut, continuing to grow in my Hebrew, continuing to grow in my friendships with everyone here, continuing to feel more confident in my learning. The longer I’m here the more I’m like, “Oh my God, Torah is gigantic and I’ll never learn all of it,” but I’m continuing to try and get a little further.

One last thing. What are you currently learning?

In morning seder we’re learning Sanhedrin, and for night seder we’re doing about five perakim a night with the goal of completing Tanach this year. We’re in Yeshayahu right now and he’s very interesting. It’s kind of a mess and I don’t really know what he’s up to, but it’s interesting stuff.

I’ve wanted to do Nach Yomi for a while and I’ve never been able to get myself to do it, but having the structure of a night seder and my chavruta have been very good for me. I also do Daf Yomi, we’re in Ta’anit and we’re going to finish that in about two weeks, and then the afternoon classes are different everyday. I’m learning a bunch of machshavas, halachas, and some Tanach, and it’s been great. Everything here is very much a build-your-own-schedule type of thing, so I ended up finding the classes and teachers I really enjoy.

Yotam Berendt of Charlotte, North Carolina is currently at Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah in Modiin as a Shana Bet student.

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