July 18, 2024
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Spotlight Israel: Jonathan Pedoeem

This month’s Israel Spotlight interviewee is Jonathan Pedoeem. Jonathan grew up in West Orange and attended the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy and Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School from kindergarten to 12th grade. He and his family daven at the Sephardic minyan at Congregation Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob & David (AABJ&D). Jonathan is now studying in Yeshivat Hesder Ma’alei Adumim, and is planning on going back to America at the end of the year to attend college.

Why did you choose Ma’aleh Adumim?

I chose to come to Ma’aleh Adumim’s chutznik program because I liked the fact that I would be basically fully integrated with Israelis. I was also attracted to this school because of the level of learning. This yeshiva is a well-known place with important rabbis, so it is a great experience to learn under them. Also, I chose this yeshiva because I am given a lot of independence here. The program is self-selecting for serious students. As a result, the yeshiva is not on my back as it may have been at another program.

What kind of goals did you have for your year?

I have many goals for this year, but they all fall under three main categories: Understanding myself (Who am I? What do I stand for? What does life want from me? How do I become a better person?), understanding Judaism (What is this religion all about? What does it believe in? What are its ideals?), and gaining more “practical” Jewish knowledge (learning more Halacha, Gemara and Jewish thought).

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

One of the most inspiring moments I have here at yeshiva is continuously learning how deep and full of meaning our religion is. I have learned that a lot of the pre-existing ideas of Judaism I have come in with are simple and/or misconceptions.

Another great experience was going with one of my Israeli friends to the Golan during Chol Hamoed Sukkot and getting to experience Israel, from the side of an Israeli.

What kind of challenges have you faced coming to Israel?

One of the biggest difficulties was getting used to the intense schedule. Already the first day I got here, learning had already started. The learning is also for a good part of the day (6:45 a.m.-11 p.m. with an extended lunch break). In addition, the fact that I was mainly with Israelis who have been brought up differently and have a different language and culture, made it quite difficult at first.

Honestly, another difficulty has been the small things. I miss the weather in America; I miss the different types of trees and the layouts of the towns; however, most of those longings have faded with time.

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 did not come in with many expectations. In fact, my biggest concern coming in was that I wouldn’t be ready for full-day learning of Jewish studies, which was partly true. Another expectation that I had was that the year would be very laid back and relaxed. While on one hand there is that aspect, I’m in a very intense program.

There has been some aspect of a culture shock. I am in a different country, after all. However, I do not feel the tourist feeling I have when I go on vacation with my family. The Israelis at my program and the Israelis all throughout this country make me feel like I am at home.

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

Catching up with my friends from America has been a fun way to get out a little and have a good time.

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

Achieving my goals. I really feel that I am gaining and getting closer to understanding and finding answers to my questions.

By Tzvi Silver, JLNJ Israel

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