Undertaking a religious journey all her own, Leila Tilem gains a closer connection to Judaism at Midreshet Lindenbaum. Hailing from Teaneck, she graduated from Frisch and is looking forward to attending Binghamton University following her year in Israel. Her family davens at Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck.
Why were you drawn to Lindenbaum, and what makes it different from the other midrashot you were considering?
Lindenbaum has a lot of learning, and I felt other seminaries were mostly focused on trips and chesed, which isn’t a bad thing; it just wasn’t what I wanted.
I also thought the style of learning would attract the types of girls I want to be friends with. So far I’m happy with my choice because the girls here are really nice.
What type of girl is attracted to the style of learning at Lindenbaum?
Lindenbaum attracts girls who are inclusive and willing to talk to everybody despite different backgrounds. They make friends with anybody who comes into their midst. It’s a beautiful thing.
What were your expectations going into Lindenbaum, and how did they differ from reality?
There’s this expectation when you come to seminary that suddenly a light is going to turn on within yourself and you’re going to immediately have this great religious experience. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. You have to actually put in effort to get where you want to be. It’s not magical. It takes work. It’s a slow and gradual transition.
What was one goal you had coming into Lindenbaum?
I wanted to improve my tefillah. At the beginning of the year I was telling my teacher I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to connect to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur davening because it was so long.
She recommended I buy a machzor with commentaries and highlight what stood out to me. It was transformative. I could look at my own notes while davening and relate it to past experiences and other things I’ve learned.
I’m currently doing that with the regular siddur. I’m able to take these texts I’ve been saying since I was in first grade and make them more meaningful.
What’s your favorite subject?
I’ve always loved Gemara since I started learning in middle school. It’s no different this year. The classes are definitely at a higher level, but I’m enjoying improving my Gemara skills.
There have also been a few things that have surprised me this year. I’m taking a class on Rav Kook, which is my favorite class at Lindenbaum.
That sounds exciting! Can you tell me more about your Rav Kook class?
We’ve been learning about Rav Kook’s ideas on Zionism, aliyah and the various halachot associated with serving in the Israeli army.
Israel is an amazing place to connect both religiously and spiritually. We’re among our brothers and sisters here. It makes you think deeply about the state of Israel.
Who’s a teacher that you connect with really well?
Definitely my Gemara teacher, Rabbanit Rachel. She’s very good at helping us develop our Gemara skills. She’s also my religious guidance counselor and was actually the one who recommended I go through my machzor. She’s helped me connect to things on a deeper level, and I really appreciate that.
Where do you go to relax after a long day of learning?
One of the incredible things about being in midrasha is my room is right above all my classrooms. Even in the middle of the day I can come here to unwind for a few minutes and relax in my bed or hang out with roommates. I’ve really made this place my own, and that feels great.
What are some things you enjoy outside of seminary?
I like eating at different restaurants. It’s amazing that all the food in Yerushalayim is kosher, so I’m able to do that and go on different food tours. The sufganiyot around Chanukah was also absolutely amazing.
I also like that every friend I’ve ever made is here. At home I had my friends at high school, but it was kind of limiting. In Israel, my friends from around the world are all within a 50-mile radius of me. I’m able to be there with them, and that just can’t be replicated in America.
Where has been your favorite place to go to for Shabbat?
I’ve spent a couple of Shabbatot in Nvei Daniel. It’s an incredible place to be. Everybody is so nice and welcoming. The people there are American and I appreciate that homey feeling. It made me feel a little less homesick.
What do you love most about being in Israel?
Living in Israel for the year feels religiously elevating. I can go to the Kotel any time I want and have a more meaningful tefillah. I get to connect to Hashem on a whole new level.
What’s been the highlight of the year so far?
I love the tiyulim. We did a hike in Mitzpe Ramon, which has been my favorite so far. It was very challenging, but a lot of fun. It was a great bonding experience. When it came to tough climbs, we were all able to help one another and be each other’s cheerleaders. I liked the challenge of it all.
We also went stargazing, which was absolutely ncredible.
How does Lindenbaum fit your own outlook and personality?
We have a lot of opportunity for open beit midrash time. I consider myself an independent person and I like having time in the week to learn on my own. I can read whatever book I’m feeling in the moment, whatever connects to my personality, and really relate to it.
That sounds great! What’s a book you’re reading right now?
I’m in the middle of this book called “God and Politics in Esther.” It’s a fantastic book that discusses the political and religious views of Megillat Esther. Each perek can be viewed in its own political and religious context. It sort of speaks to how Jews in the Diaspora can relate to politics today.
How do you think this year will prepare you for the rest of your life??
It’s a little cliche, but I think this year solidifies your religious experience. Next year will be the first time I won’t have Jewish learning set in my curriculum. I’ll have to make time for it myself.
I’m getting to the point where I actually want to put learning in my schedule. I’m learning what I like to learn, so that next year I can learn what I already know is going to keep me motivated and connected.
What advice would you give to incoming shana aleph?
Drop any preconceived notions you have about seminary or yeshiva and make it your own journey. You don’t have to go off what someone else said their experience was. Make it your own thing. Every seminary and yeshiva is different from each other. Every journey is different from each other. You make your own plan. You make your own journey
David Deutsch of Woodmere, New York, is a shana bet student currently studying at Migdal HaTorah in Modi’in.