July 21, 2024
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Simon Goldberg Experiences Spiritual Growth at Yeshivat Orayta

Simon Goldberg is currently on a spiritual journey at Yeshivat Orayta. Born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, he attended Berman Hebrew Academy for both elementary and high school. Following his year in Israel, he plans to continue his studies at the University of Maryland. His family davens at Kemp Mill Synagogue in Silver Spring. His grandparents live in Hudson County, New Jersey.

Why were you drawn to Yeshivat Orayta and what makes it different from all the other Yeshivot you were considering?

To start off, the location. I don’t know if you know, but Yeshivat Orayta is in the heart of the Old City. It’s really nice to be in a central location and to see the Kotel every morning. I feel a lot more spiritual being so close to where I’m supposed to be.

The rebbeim here are also amazing! I’ve heard so many things from other people and from my brother—who attended Yeshivat Orayta five years ago—about how great the rebbeim are. I’ve only been here a couple of months and I can already tell that everything they said was true.

Is there any particular rabbi that you personally connect with?

Rav Judah Dardik. He’s not my morning seder rebbe, but I have him for Mussar and Personal Growth. I really connect with that class and with him. We’ve built a relationship and have one-on-one meetings, where we can talk and shmooze about whatever we want to talk about. It’s really nice.

What were your expectations going into yeshiva and how have they differed from yur actual experience at Yeshivat Orayta?

I didn’t have much to begin with. I was just going in with what I knew, but I wasn’t going in expecting anything of it. Now that I’m here, I’d like to become more religious, accept more Torah and mitzvot. I’d like to daven more often than I used to in high school. So far, I feel like I have been doing that in the yeshiva setting.

On that point, what’s a goal you had coming into the year?

A big goal of mine was to wear tzitzit every day, which I started doing right around Rosh Hashanah time—about a couple of weeks into yeshiva. So far I’ve been going strong and have been wearing them everyday.

What are your favorite shiurim that you attend in yeshiva?

The one that I really like, besides the Mussar one that I already told you about, is Philosophy of Halacha. That’s taught by my morning seder rebbe, Rav Dovid Silverstein. He’s very into philosophy and he gives a shiur about where mitzvot come from and why we should do them. It’s a really interesting class.

Outside of learning, what else do you enjoy doing in Israel?

The country is very beautiful. We go on tiyulim with the yeshiva, which is amazing. Next week we’re doing a tiyul in the Negev. It’s a three-day trip with no phones—totally off the grid. It’s a great bonding opportunity for me and the other guys here.

Over Bein HaZmanin, I met with a couple of friends and we went up to Tveria and the Kinneret. It’s just beautiful up there. We went on the water and did some hikes on the mountains in the north. The landscape in Israel is amazing. To be here for the year and to be able to do all that is really an unbelievable experience.

What does a typical Shabbat look like for you?

It depends on the week. Every Shabbat, there’s one rabbi who stays in the yeshiva and if there’s a rabbi who I like, I’ll stay in and really bond with him just because there’s plenty of time to shmooze, learn from him and grow.

But, [other times] it’s nice to go out. I don’t really have a lot of family in Israel, but the friends I’ve made here do. So I’ve been going out with them to all different parts of Israel for different Shabbat experiences every single time.

Which one of those places has been your favorite to go to?

I would say Nvei Daniel in the Gush. You walk on the streets and the kids are playing around and everyone knows each other. It felt like a really nice community and it kind of reminded me of home a little bit.

You recently returned from a Jewish outreach trip in Italy. Can you tell me more about that?

It’s actually a pretty cool story. There used to be this shul in Sicily, Catania specifically, where the Jews were exiled in the 1400s and the building was abandoned. They rediscovered the building a couple of years ago, and a Jew in Catania decided to buy part of the building to re-establish it as a shul. So he reached out to my rabbi from America to help re-establish the synagogue and to bring a Torah [for the shul]. So my rebbe hopped on that opportunity and later invited us to Italy for the Hachnasat Torah parade.

It was a really, really cool experience to be there celebrating the new Torah and the new shul. Everyone was so happy. During the parade, there were news and paparazzi taking pictures of us. The townspeople were looking at us dancing with the Torah and I really experienced something super special there.

That sounds incredible! Would you say that’s been the highlight of your year so far or has there been something else?

That was definitely one of the highlights of the year. Another highlight was actually the first day we got to yeshiva. At Orayta, they took us to Nahal Kibbutzim, which is a river up north where you kind of just walk along the water.

I didn’t know many of the other people going to Orayta, so it was really special to be able to meet the kids before we started learning. We did team-building exercises and got to bond with one another. This was my first time really experiencing Israel, so to bond with those kids and to do a fun hike all on the first day meant a lot. I still think about it until this day.

How do you think Yeshivat Orayta fits your personality and your own philosophical outlook?

I’m big into asking questions. If I don’t understand something I want to know an answer and I want the reason behind it. Orayta loves those kinds of kids. They love kids who challenge and ask questions. Hashkafically, it’s not so right wing. It’s not like every rebbe is telling you to go to YU and to wear a white shirt every day.

Orayta was just the place for me and I’ve really been fitting in nicely with the other guys and the rebbeim.

How do you think this year will prepare you for the rest of your life?

What’s nice about Orayta is that they know a lot of kids go to secular college. So, some of the classes actually prepare you for being a leader and keeping your Jewish identity in secular college. Because of that, I know I’ll learn the skills to be successful in a secular college.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I highly recommend Yeshivat Orayta for the reasons I mentioned. Great guys, great rebbeim and a great atmosphere. What makes the atmosphere so great is the ruach. We sing things I never sang in high school. On Thursday nights we do a tisch with the rosh yeshiva, which is really amazing.


David Deutsch of Woodmere, New York, is a Shana Bet student currently studying at Migdal HaTorah in Modi’in.

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