By Rina Haller
At various junctures in our life, it becomes natural to look how far we’ve come. As we leave our youth behind, our opinions evolve and gracefully mature into our next stage of life. Often it is comical to recall our former selves, as a new persona or a more developed individual has taken its same place. Leaving “teenhood” to become an adult is a central activity seminary students, myself included, struggle with as we slowly enter the “real world.”
Our community considers shanah aleph for boys and girls acceptable, perhaps even strongly encouraged. Those same boys are socially permitted at times to return for a second year, which they frequently need. But when it comes to a few more months of learning in Eretz Yisrael for the girls, there is judgment and misconceptions. Until I entered seminary a few months ago, I was one of those who did not understand the whole seminary process to begin with, let alone a second year. Yet as I walk the streets of Yerushalayim after I attended classes for weeks, doors seemed to open in my mind. This has become a point in my life where I feel the growth—spirituality, intellectually, and emotionally.
As I long said I would not attend seminary, shanah bet never entered my radar. Yet once I was immersed in the land, in the holiness, I saw reasons to never leave. I have seen the changes adults my age make, and I have made differences to my life as well.
Staying a few months longer would seem to strengthen an individual already afraid of losing gained ground. It affords these changed people additional time to further their resolve and continue to advance in areas long darkened for them. Alas, there is much scorn and mockery for these “flipped-out” seminary students. We are “brainwashed.”
Yes, this year apart from my family, in the holiest of lands, has allowed me to clear my head. For seventeen or eighteen years, our environments are our lives, our realities. The challenge of a year in Eretz Yisrael is to see who you are without your parents, siblings, friends, and overall community leading you in a specific direction.
Considering more time learning Torah here is not an affront to parents or how one was raised. It is an affirmation that my parents helped get me on the right path. Such a student is choosing to continue where they have seen success thus far. A first year is made possible by parents’ permission and belief in their child. A second year is the child’s choice.
However, more time away seems to frighten these parents. They worry about college, careers, and shidduchim. The community itself judges these individuals for seemingly not caring about their future. This is a misconception! I will, with G‑d’s help, graduate the same date as a student who only went to shanah aleph. The Jewish colleges in New York accept full credits for half of a second year, essentially September to January. And with modern travel, you are back in Manhattan or Brooklyn for the spring semester.
People think I was told to want this. In actuality, I decided to want this before it became a timely matter of discussion. Yes, there are schools that seem to push their students into this decision. Granted, I attend a seminary, Darchei Binah, which statistically has a high shanah bet rate. I cannot deny the comments teachers jokingly make about staying; many are made. Yet I truly believe, along with my peers, that these jests are made from our teachers’ hearts. They truly care about us and do know how helpful and crucial shanah bet can be for a young woman’s spiritual growth.
I have no desire to convince the masses; rather I long for an open discussion. As Jews, we do not believe everyone should follow one path. Some of us will choose to stay; others may depart a bit earlier. All are accepted and loved. I merely desire people to ask for an explanation before they judge.
While at times through this year I have felt that I left my toes in Krakow and my ankles on Har Carmel, Yerushalayim has my heart and here I plan to stay. v
Rina Haller is the 5TJT Israel Bureau intern.