May 28, 2024
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Settling Into Seminary: Reflections on the First Week in Our Homeland

“I stepped off the plane in Ben Gurion, Israel,

The sun was shining brightly all the day.

It was 1 p.m. on a summer Tuesday afternoon,

Seminary was just an hour drive away…”

to the tune of Minyan Man (Shlock Rock/Maccabeats)

The first of my year’s adventures, however, began before I even stepped into the airport. Just 24 hours before my scheduled flight, my phone suddenly stopped working, resulting in an unusable phone and a trip to the Apple Store on the morning of my flight (talk about perfect timing!). In our last few moments together, my mom and I bonded by stressing over what may have to be done if my phone was permanently damaged and I did not have one to take with me or a way to contact her in another country, later that day. After a few hours of waiting and a phone warranty that provided coverage up until that very day—such hashgachat Hashem!—we were finally back on the right track.

Just a few short hours later, amidst a flurry of overweight luggage and tearful goodbyes, schools of seminary girls and yeshiva boys piled into the security check-in line, myself slightly overwhelmed by the harried activity and many parents craning their necks for “just one last look,” my own included.

Walking up to my aisle seat on the El Al airplane, I was surprised to discover that a broad, middle-aged man with long curly peyos and a stack of sefarim had been placed in the middle seat between myself and another girl my age, Sarah. Before I even had time to process how this may make for a slightly uncomfortable situation for an 11-hour flight, Sarah was up in a flash, offering him her window seat in place of his middle seat without hesitation. Her absolute willingness and zerizut to do this chesed, simply to make another Jew feel more comfortable, was simply incredible. I avoided the thought of whether or not I would do the same in her position, and instead allowed myself to be awed and inspired by the inherent selflessness of such a person. If these were the kind of people I would be spending seminary learning with and learning from, my year was off to a good start.

Three Days Later:

Every time I pass the stunning hills and cities of Eretz Yisrael, covered in the Jerusalem stone, I literally stop in my tracks and stare at the sight—it is unbelievable how the sight never ceases to amaze. Not only is the land simply beautiful, but the fact that we as Jews have Israel at all, available for us to live and experience, is something that I began to realize that I have always taken for granted. Davening outside daily, overlooking our homeland, has been incredible.

One unique aspect of this particular year is that we are catching the tail end of Shemitah as well as its after effects, and so I had the chance to learn the halachot of Shemitah in seminary and live through it for a few weeks, which was a fantastic opportunity and fascinating to learn about. I discovered on a tiyul to a moshav that though all of the fields and fruits in the land are hefker during the year, one is allowed only the amount of food to feed their family for three days. Despite that the Shemitah year is definitely a financial loss for farmers, not to mention the complicated halachot and hechsherim that require diligence by all, Israel has the outlook of “we would never question the importance of keeping Shabbat, and so keeping Shemitah is equally as important!”

This attitude well sums up my experience in Israel so far—a place where everyone is aware of the importance of Torah and mitzvot and does their best to increase the observance of themselves and of others—the only true place of belonging for us as a people.

Rachel Goldberg is a local resident and New Jersey yeshiva day school graduate who is studying in Israel for her gap year.

 

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