May 27, 2024
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Ruach HaNegev: Experiential Yeshiva Learning in Israel’s Stunning Negev

Where else in Israel can you find a yeshiva learning program in the calm and beautiful environment of the Negev desert, recognized by top universities in Israel and the U.S.?

The answer is the Mechinat Ruach HaNegev, which in the words of CEO Eitan Zivan, “strives to cultivate a new generation of strong and inspired religious Zionists.”

The integrative program at Ruach HaNegev is unique as it incorporates Beit Midrash and service learning, encouraging students to explore, clarify and strengthen their spiritual and personal self—regardless of their religious educational background. Students become very much part of their local Israeli community, and get to know the local population and culture.

The program, currently in its first year, is aimed at post-high school boys coming from a wide range of religious backgrounds.

Zivan explained that Ruach HeNegev “serves students that want to come to Israel, but are not interested/able—either because of concentration issues or lack of formal religious background—to be in a yeshiva program.

“Our beloved Torah is a living Torah that exists and manifests itself in all areas of life. The Torah is not limited to the four corners of the Beit Midrash or synagogue. It is for this reason that our program at Ruach Henegev implements a holistic approach to Torah.”

Students are from both North America and Israel. Their Israeli students come from English-speaking families and feel like they would benefit from a primarily English-speaking program.

First year students currently on the program shared their reflections on what they thought Ruach HaNegev gave them.

Dovid Solomon, from Alon Shvut in the Gush Etzion said, “Ruach haNegev is like a family to me. It has taught me so much and I have built many close friendships.”

Elchonon Brea, from Detroit said: “This has been for me one of the biggest years of growth in my life. I have gained so many lessons, from Torah learning to self-discipline, respect and teamwork.”

Josh Weissman, from Florida, said: “Ruach HaNegev for me is my safe place. It’s a home away from home, where I feel comfortable being who I am, and I feel accepted by my peers and teachers.”

The curriculum at Ruach HaNegev is neatly split into four sections to give students an all-around and broad Israel experience:

1. The Beit Midrash—which serves to both “comfort” and “inspire.” Their goal is to “provide a diverse and relevant curriculum, in order to allow our students to grow and develop on an individual basis.” The learning focuses on eye-to-eye, relatable, relevant, fundamental and practical learning, with a non-Gemara based curriculum focused on providing a strong and inspiring religious and spiritual base.

2. Service learning—a critical element in bringing the Torah to life. Students are immersed in local culture and contribute to important social impact projects that directly affect the community.

3. Seven week-long themed seminars—that dive deep into Israeli society will give our students an authentic Israeli experience.

4. Extra programming—including weekly night programs with our amazing madrichim, meetings with Israeli mechinot, night hikes, farming with local farmers, volunteering in local community projects and tiyulim (hikes) all around Israel.

Through tiyulim, students develop a deep love for the land and history of Israel. Zivan said. “Through our tiyulim in the Negev and natural springs we are literally walking through history and learning Tanach where it all happened.”

Another unique aspect of the Ruach HaNegev program is that it has a partnership with Ben-Gurion University. Students have the opportunity to attend University classes, once a week, in order to prepare for campus life and begin their university career with credits.

A key element of the curriculum at Ruach HaNegev is what Zivan described as “theme-based learning,” going on to explain: “Over the course of the year, our students focus on eight themes, each lasting one month. Students will be immersed in the specific themes with focused learning, both in and out of the beit midrash. This will include in-depth classes, trips to visit people and places and activities that are relevant to that theme.”

There is a strong emphasis on volunteering and chesed in the program. “Volunteering includes weekly farming with local farmers, volunteering with disabled kids at ADI NEGEV, running clubs and sports teams for the local community,” Zivan said. “Through integrating into Israeli society, students understand the accomplishments and challenges of Israel today and question their personal roles in the future of the state.”

Zivan explained why the program stands out from the other yeshiva gap-year programs. “We promote growth and high-level religious commitment through channels including, but not limited to, formal beit midrash learning. Our program allows our students to study in a formal beit midrash setting, in addition takes them out to the ‘real world’ through various volunteer projects that allow them to experience what it’s like to ‘Live Your Judaism’ [Ruach HaNegev’s slogan].”

There are more benefits to the course, Zivan explained. “We provide a trip to Poland as part of the year program here. We are the only religious program south of Beit Shemesh catering to English speakers, with a weight room, weekly workouts, independent living, kids cooking their own breakfast and dinner.”

Zivan concluded, “The down-to-earth, out-of-the-city location also encourages students to spend their time wisely, be part of the program and connect on a very deep and authentic level with the group and the local community. “

If you are looking into a yeshiva program in Israel that offers many other activities and experiences, too, contact Zivan:
[email protected]

By Benjy Singer

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