May 29, 2024
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Raphe Shankman: Appreciating Israel’s Hospitality and Beauty

Spotlight Israel columns are back and will continue to feature local residents studying in Israel. This year’s lead-off featuree is Raphe Shankman. Raphe is studying in Yeshivat Lev Hatorah in Ramat Bet Shemesh. He is from Teaneck and attended the Frisch School for all four years of high school. His shul in New Jersey is Congregation Rinat Yisrael.

His next stop? University of Maryland.

Why did you choose to attend Lev Hatorah?

I chose this yeshiva for many reasons. The rabbis at Lev Hatorah connect with their talmidim on the closest of levels. They all live right by the school, and the rabbis dedicate their lives to teaching their students and becoming role models. Yeshivat Lev Hatorah also offers diverse classes and shiurim. They range from Gemara, Mishnah and Tanach studies to Jewish philosophy, mysticism, classes dealing with the afterlife and inspirational stories of chessed.

What kind of goals do you have for your year?

The goals I have entering the year range from Talmudic studies to personal growth. Coming from Teaneck, almost all of my friends growing up were from the New York area. I wanted to spread out more, meeting new kids and befriending fellow students from all around the country. Another goal I had was that I wanted to become more independent in my learning. I didn’t want to depend on a teacher to be able to study Talmud anymore, I wanted to be able to pick up any Sefer and learn from it on my own.

What has been the biggest highlight of your year so far?

One of the most exciting moments I’ve experienced so far in Israel was when my friends and I were walking back from the beach in Tel Aviv during Chol Hamoed Sukkot. A Haredi Rabbi rolled up to us in roller skates and started dancing with us. He then urged us to come back to his shul to dance with all of his friends. We danced on the sidewalk, pulling in random people from the street. I thought it was incredible that, although we started off as complete strangers, everyone walking on that street in Tel Aviv joined in to dance and to share an experience that only the Jewish people could have together with total strangers.

Another inspiring moment that I experienced with Lev Hatorah was when we took a trip to Jerusalem to visit the Kotel for a Hanachat Sefer Torah. While I was walking towards the Shuk to get something to eat, we passed by the Light Rail that the passes through the heart of Jerusalem. As the train was coming in, a man on his bike collided with a woman who was crossing the street. They both hit their heads hard on the ground and needed help immediately. Instead of waiting on the side for someone else to help, almost 20 people rushed over, assisting them as well as they could to get them off the tracks as the train came rolling by. This story showed me that when people are struck with difficulties, Jews shine in these dark moments to lend them their light.

What kind of challenges have you faced coming to Israel?

The biggest difficulty going away for the year was coming into the country with a weak understanding of Hebrew. Although many people here speak English, there are many communities, including Ramat Beit Shemesh, that are filled with people who only speak Hebrew.

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?

After being here for 10 weeks, my previous expectations have been proven very wrong. I thought that it would be especially difficult to travel around using public transportation. Most of the drivers speak very little English, so I was scared that I would buy a ticket to a place I didn’t want to go to. But as I got used to using the busses, I learned that it wasn’t difficult at all — there is an app that you can download that will plan any trip out for you, telling you which busses or trains to take at which times, and shows maps to show you exactly where to go.

The culture shock hit me pretty hard. After landing in Israel, I quickly learned how friendly most of the people in Israel are. Everyone here shows the utmost hospitality to anyone they encounter. Strangers will invite you to their homes for Shabbat meals, and communities are so close knit that they are often closer to big families. When I was living at home, I kept hearing about the terrorist attacks and stabbings that took over the news just a year ago. I have experienced none of that, and the country is filled with an immeasurable happiness that I cannot express in words.

Where is your favorite place to go for weekends/Shabbat so far?

My favorite place to go for Shabbat has to be at my aunt’s house in Rechovot. The weather there is beautiful, and the town is so diverse. There are people there from Russia, Canada, the United States, Germany, as well as many South Americans.

What are you most looking forward to for the rest of the year?

What I’m looking forward to for the rest of the year are the Tiyulim, overnight trips that the Yeshiva takes us on — our next tiyul will include scuba diving in Eilat. I’m also looking forward to my school trip to Poland. Alumni have told me that the trip to Auschwitz and the rest of the death camps is, spiritually, the heaviest time of the year.

Thanksgiving is coming! How are you planning on celebrating so far from home?

This year, I will be spending Thanksgiving in Rechovot with my aunt. What I love about this time of year is that many Israelis celebrate the holiday too. Although the origins for this day are instinctively American, the heart and soul of the holiday is about coming together with friends and family, thanking God for everything that one is grateful for.

By Tzvi Silver/JLNJ Israel

 

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