Rachel Eckstein is studying at The Jeanie Schottenstein Center for Advanced Torah Studies for Women (Nishmat) in the Pat neighborhood of Jerusalem. She is originally from Passaic, NJ and attended Bruriah for high school.
Her plans for next year? Making aliyah in the summer and serving her country for a year or two.
Why did you choose to learn at Nishmat?
Honestly, I chose Nishmat from a gut feeling. It’s a place of tremendous Torah learning that I want to be a part of. Everyone here is so open to the future and yet so dedicated and committed to halacha. It’s so inspiring.
What kind of goals do you have for your year?
Learn, learn, learn. Learn it all. All types of subjects from all types of people.
How has being here been different from your expectations? Did you feel prepared for your experience or did you have culture shock, and how so?
I went in with the mindset that I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I think that really helped me adjust quickly because I didn’t have to fit reality into my own expectations. There’s definitely a different culture here, and it’s been very interesting seeing in what ways we’re all so different and yet the same.
What has been one of the biggest highlights of your year so far?
On our first tiyul, we went hiking in the Timna desert. Two of my new friends and I went ahead of the group and at one point we could no longer hear or see the rest of them. All we could see in every direction were mountains and mountains and stone and sky. It was so intensely silent that all we could hear was our own breathing. It felt like we could’ve been the last people alive on Earth. It was awe-inspiring in the most literal sense.
What kind of challenges have you faced coming to Israel?
Nishmat’s American program is mixed with their Israeli program, so a lot of my first month was spent just trying to understand what my roommates and teachers were saying. During my first week my non-English speaking roommate and I spent 10 minutes trying to have a conversation about setting an alarm for the morning. Thank God, my Hebrew has improved a lot since then and my roommate and I no longer have problems with alarm clocks.
Where are some of your favorite places to spend Shabbat?
Being in an Israeli midrasha does have its perks and one of my favorites is that nearly all of my classmates live here. It’s been really fun and eye-opening to go to all of their homes. I’ve started to really like getting on the bus Friday afternoon and feeling that sense of adventure creep up on me. I’m just trying to get out there and take it all in.
What are you most looking forward to for the rest of the year?
During our first week here, a friend remarked to me that this will be a whole year she’ll get to spend having amazing conversations with amazing people. Now that we’re almost halfway through the year, I’m realizing just how wise that was. The people here—my friends, teachers, bus drivers—all have so much to teach me. I’m so excited for all of those really great conversations.
By Tzvi Silver/JLNJ Israel