Gabrielle Buch is studying during her shana bet year at Migdal Oz Seminary in the Kibbutz Migdal Oz of Gush Etzion. She was born in Staten Island, but grew up in Hillside, and attended Kushner in Livingston for elementary and high school. Her family davens at Congregation Adath Israel (AI) in Hillside.
Her next stop: Shana gimmel?
@mom and dad
Why did you choose Migdal Oz?
I chose Migdal Oz because of its serious learning, warm spiritual environment, and Israeli immersion. Migdal Oz imbues its learning with spirituality by complementing the texts we study, through song and chasidut. Living in the Gush is very special, and hashkafically (regarding world outlook), I was looking for a seminary that is halachic, but open and also celebrates women’s learning. Migdal Oz has been at the forefront of women’s learning and I was eager to join this family of motivated young women.
What made you decide to come back for shana bet?
I decided that I wanted to stay for shana bet in February, so before coronavirus, because I wanted to pashut (simply) sit and learn more.
What kind of goals do you have for your year?
I want to better understand Avodat Hashem and what that means for me. I also want to לחדד (pinpoint) my hashkafa more by diving deeper into the ים של תורה (sea of Torah). There’s a whole world of Torah out there that I want to explore; I want to expand my horizons of knowledge.
What are you most excited to learn for your year? What is your favorite thing to learn?
Wow, I’m excited for everything and I don’t have a favorite thing to learn, so I’ll answer both questions together. Three things I’m most excited for/favorites—Masechet Bava Metzia with my Ra”m, Rav Meir Nehorai; Peninei Halacha; and chasidut, specifically Rav Shagar and Rav Tzadok.
What has been the biggest highlight of your year so far?
Simchat Torah. Since all the Israelis went home during the lockdown, the physical beit midrash has comprised just the bnot chul. I was nervous that the small number of people would make for a boring chag experience, but it was the opposite. Dancing with the Torah was special, intimate and empowering, knowing that we had organized the entire chag for ourselves (including hakafot, dancing, singing, chaburot, etc.). Each one of us had ample time to hold the Torah and play an active role in the celebration. The most powerful moment of Simchat Torah for me was when I took the Torah out of the aron and danced with it, surrounded by my bnot chul family. I burst into tears, overcome by emotion that here I was, learning Torah in Eretz Yisrael, on the one hand reflecting on shana alef, feeling like I’ve committed to this and acquired so much knowledge, and on the other hand, knowing that I don’t know a thing and will spend a lifetime not knowing a thing.
What kind of challenges have you faced coming to Israel?
Most of the challenges have been related to the shana bet adjustment. Is this the shana bet I envisioned for myself? I’m adjusting to a new beit midrash that’s in capsules, and also being the only American in my capsule, so that was difficult at the beginning of the zman, but has been highly rewarding. It’s also hard knowing we are in lockdown and travel is highly restricted, so I don’t know when I’ll see family next.
How has being here been different from your expectations? Did you feel prepared for your experience?
The day before we flew, Israel changed the rules regarding quarantine for Canadians, so instead of being put with my shana bet friends for quarantine, I was put alone in a room with shana alef girls. Having the opportunity to become close with girls in shana alef has been really special. Usually there’s a larger gap between the shana alef and bet girls, but this year we’re closer than ever.
Additionally, my friend decided to switch into the other shana bet shiur, so I remained the only American in my kvutza (learning group), and due to capsules, seeing friends is more difficult. Fortunately, I am fluent in Hebrew, thanks in part to my Hebrew education in school and picking up more of the language last year. Although at first it was tough and lonely being the only bat chul amongst Israelis, it has been so positive, strengthening not only my Hebrew, but also my resilience and self-reliance.
How do you think the pandemic has positively affected your year?
First of all, bidud (quarantine) was a really fun, camp-like experience, and I got close to girls in shana alef. There’s a strong feeling of togetherness among the Americans—we’re all away from home, adjusting to this new coronavirus reality in Israel, not being able to visit friends and family.
Besides bolstering the social connection, I have felt an added level of seriousness take over the beit midrash. Dedicating a year or two of your life to focus on learning and spiritual growth is already impressive, but going or returning to the beit midrash during a pandemic says so much more about who you are. You aren’t here to hang out with your friends on Ben Yehudah; you are here to learn in Migdal Oz. Although I miss seeing friends and exploring Israel, I enjoy not making Shabbat plans and other stresses, and being able to just focus on my learning.
What are you most looking forward to for the rest of the year?
I’m just really excited to dive into zman choref (post-Sukkot until Pesach, the largest block of time of uninterrupted learning) and for the lockdown to end and the beit midrash to return to normal, non-Zoom learning.
How do you think this year will prepare you for the rest of your life?
Living with the unknown. Not just questions regarding the future such as when will this lockdown end, but more importantly living with questions about Judaism and in my own life. Migdal Oz has prepared me for leading a religious life, full of complexity and meaning, guiding me in my avodat Hashem and valuing Torah, and strengthening my desire to learn Torah for the rest of my life. The friendships I’ve formed and my relationships with my teachers, all of that will stay with me forever.
Brooke Schwartz is a former Jewish Link intern and resident of Englewood. She is studying at Midreshet Amudim in Modi’in, Israel, for her shana bet year.