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MTA’s Makor Chaim Exchange Program Enjoys Another Successful Year

The last wave, the final hug and then it was over; the 2017 MTA-Makor Chaim Exchange Program had drawn to a close. Speaking for myself as madrich (counselor) of the Israeli wing of the program, I can say that my life will never be the same.

For the past nine years, a group of 10th graders from MTA has taken leave of their familiar surroundings in Teaneck, Queens, Manhattan, Philadelphia and other places and travelled to the quiet hilltop kibbutz of Kfar Etzion to study for a few weeks at Yeshivat Makor Chaim, an elite Israeli yeshiva founded by the noted educator and scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. These students immerse themselves fully in the culture and Judaic studies of the yeshiva. They effectively become “Mako chnikim,” a term that has real cultural weight in the Israeli dati (religious) community. Makor Chaim is an institution that places the students in the center and believes in their right and their power to determine their own direction. The students are given the freedom to choose between various academic paths which can be combined with extra-curricular activities outside of the school’s framework. The focus is on finding the right fit for every student: not just a schedule that works, but a track with which the student connects on an individual level. This holds true on both an academic and a spiritual level. The staff, led by Rosh Yeshiva Rav Dov Zinger, guides the students as they find their own derech to serve God within the framework of the yeshiva.

So, on January 2, the first leg of the exchange program began and 11 MTA students traveled to Yeshivat Makor Chaim. Their journey began with a visit to the Kotel, which was followed by a tour of Kibbutz Kfar Etzion and an in-depth explanation of its important role in the history of Israel. The students joined their Israeli peers for shiurim, dorm-living and other activities, as friendships with the Israelis were woven that will last for years to come. Whether it was a scavenger hunt in the kibbutz, a kumzitz in the yeshiva, a hike on the Patriarch’s Path (the road that Avraham traveled to Be’er Sheva after Akeidat Yitzchak) or just playing dodgeball between classes, the Americans were quickly indistinguishable from the rest of the 10th grade. Balancing out that aspect of the program were visits to the Latrun Tank Museum, The Blind Museum, the holy city of Tzfat and Yad VaShem. Of course, the program would not be complete without interspersing it with spontaneous dancing, visits to Yerushalayim and time for real introspection.

When the MTA students returned in early February, they came back with four 11th graders from Makor Chaim; these exchange students are now living in the dorms of MTA and livening up the atmosphere in the school. In addition, three Shabbatot took place with the Makor Chaim boys in different communities. Their first Shabbat was in Teaneck hosted by families of the MTA 10th grade students who had been in Israel. The oneg Shabbat was hosted by MTA Head of School Rabbi Kahn. The second Shabbat was a wonderful weekend in Lower Merion with MTA’s 11th grade students who had been on the program, as well as members of the community. On Sunday, the students visited important sites relevant to the history of the Jewish community and the founding of the United States. They spent last Shabbat in Brooklyn with their rebbe, Rabbi Baruch Pesach Mendelson.

By the end of the program, they will have spent five weeks spreading the Makor Chaim spirit in MTA. They will return home bearing a gift for their yeshiva – a little bit of the uniqueness of MTA.

Tova Fish-Rosenberg, the director of the program, tells all the students every year, “The Makor Chaim Program is a life-changing experience.” As a proud “Mako chnik” I can say that my life would look a lot different today had I not listened to Mrs. Rosenberg and gone to Makor Chaim nine years ago. Now, having seen the program from the opposite perspective, I can truly say that this is a remarkable experience. Looking at our newest inductees, there is not one of them who has left the same as he came. They have all learned to embrace what makes each and every one of them unique and to express that uniqueness externally. They have no need to act a part, because the only role that they are playing is themselves.

By Shmuel Mirsky

 

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