Josh Hyman is studying at YTVA in Katamon, a suburb in Jerusalem. He was born in Montreal but grew up in Scarsdale, NY, and attended SAR for both elementary and high school. His family davens at Young Israel of Scarsdale.
His next stop? The University of Michigan.
Why did you choose YTVA? What’s unique about it?
I asked each yeshiva I interviewed with: “What do you do if a student acts against the halachic paskening of the yeshiva?” They usually responded with something like, “It depends on how many times he does it,” and when I got to Rav Yair, he said, “Everything has a root. My job is to discover that root, to discover the depths within you. If you act out because you don’t know any better, we’re going to have a chavruta and I’m going to learn with you. If it’s because you hate God, I’m going to send you to Tzfat for three days. And if it’s because you hate the yeshiva, I’m going to change the yeshiva.” Rav Yair really emphasizes that it’s not his yeshiva; he’s willing to change it because it’s your yeshiva. That really stuck with me: It’s *my* yeshiva.
I also didn’t want to be stuck within the confines of a beit midrash, because you can sit and learn, but it’s not just what you’re learning; it’s what you get out of it, and how you shine that into the rest of the world.
What kind of student do you think would attend your program?
I’d say somebody with an open mind and an open heart, who’s coming to further his relationship with Judaism, Torah and the world around him. The Gemara teaches that if you want to live a truly happy life, the way to do that is through Judaism and mitzvot. YTVA really teaches the value of living a Jewish life built toward happiness and how to derive that happiness in your year in yeshiva.
What kind of goals do you have for your year?
Initially my goals were to create a closer connection with Hashem and the mitzvot so that when I go to secular college I’d be putting on tefillin and davening every day, and yeshiva would prepare me for living a basic halachic life on campus. However, I’d say I’ve reached that point, so my goal has adapted a bit, and it now is: What does it mean for me to live a Jewish life and fulfill my purpose?
What are you most excited to learn for your year?
I’d say halacha relating to daily life, and how I can take that with me into college and beyond. I’m not someone who’s been very intrigued by halacha, but it’s important to realize how it could impact your life, and the reason behind it.
What is your favorite thing to learn?
I’d say a mixture of chassidut, machshava, and intro to Kabbalah, because it’s something that really helps me with my understanding of Hashem and the world around me, which brings me closer to who I want to be, who I’m meant to be, and why God put me on this earth.
What has been the biggest highlight of your year so far?
I’d honestly say the highlight of my year was Simchat Torah night, when we were dancing around the Torah. My yeshiva is pretty unique because we only have 36 guys. As you could imagine, it wasn’t the loudest or craziest dancing, but the special part was what we did with our dancing: we went to a nursing home down the block and danced with the Torah outside. They were really lonely because of corona and hadn’t had visitors all year, and there were some patients there who were 90 years old and hadn’t missed a single year of dancing around the Torah. It wasn’t about the smiles we had on our faces, but the smiles we were able to create on the faces of others. I’d say that was something that was really special to be a part of.
What kind of challenges have you faced coming to Israel?
I lived in a very close-knit home where my siblings were my best friends and my parents were my greatest supports, and having to live so far away from them and not being able to hear their voices every day is something that’s really difficult.
How has being here been different from your expectations?
I’d say just my excitement to be in the beit midrash and trying to become familiar with as much Torah, as many books, as I could be—it wasn’t my primary goal for my year, to become fully immersed with Torah study, but it’s definitely something that I’ve grown into.
Did you feel prepared for your experience or did you have culture shock, and how so?
Just in terms of culture shock, when you come to yeshiva, everyone’s in for a bit of a change and it’s going to take everyone time to adapt to the learning schedule, but I think YTVA really eased us in and supported us through the process so it was as smooth as it could be.
How do you think the pandemic has positively affected your year?
I’d say it’s helped with the understanding that growth comes from within. Even though contributing to Israel is a major aspect to the year, growing into the person you wish to become takes constant work, and you need the stability of being in one spot.
What kind of effect do you think bidud (quarantine) had on the students?
I think that really varies on the kid. I actually just got out of quarantine today; that was, like, my four-and-a-halfth bidud of the year, so I’m used to it. I think it’s how you set yourself up; if you’re goal-oriented and motivated, the better you’ll be mentally, so if you’re willing to set those goals for yourself, it shouldn’t be too destructive and kill the momentum. You can use it as a positive tool to hone in on your studies and further relationships.
What are you most looking forward to for the rest of the year?
Acquiring knowledge that will help cultivate my ideas as I continue to write my sefer titled: “Torah of the Mind: A Teenager’s Daily Delve into Jewish Inspiration.”
How do you think this year will prepare you for the rest of your life?
It’s given me the foundations to living a meaningful Jewish life, and just like the relationships I’ve created with the rebbeim, the connection to learning is something that will always impact me as I move forward through my life.
Is there anything more you would like to add?
The Rebbe teaches that when it is very cold, there are two ways to warm yourself: a fur coat, and a fire. The difference is the fur coat warms only the person wearing it, while the fire warms anyone who comes near. My bracha to you is that you find a place to kindle your fire the way TVA has done for me.
Brooke Schwartz is a former Jewish Link intern and resident of Englewood studying at Midreshet Amudim in Modi’in, Israel, for her shana bet year.