By: Max Fruchter –
When asked what is so “incredible” about spending a year in Israel, many people will respond in adulation over the ability to focus on ones self and “set aside all distractions”. Yet what most people tend to leave out is how commonplace social pressures are- whether you were seen on Ben Yehuda, wondering whether your previously “cool” image has been reshaped in the minds of your friends now that you spend more time learning etc. Is a year in Israel truly so invaluable due to the opportunity for self reflection? While it is true that a handful of people refrain from acting in a certain way for the sole purpose of gaining approval from their peers’, a large number of students do. A number so large, that the aforementioned answer of Israel being a place where one can shut out diversions must be rethought.
If we stand back and look at the big picture the answer will reveal itself in a simple yet enlightening way. Israel is the Jewish homeland, a home that has been and continues to be fought over by many aggressive and misinformed nations. As Americans, the ability to experience Israel through the eyes of an Israelis is a scarce one. Sure many of us may visit from the states on Sukkot or Pesach but the difference between a vacation and a settlement is a strident one. A vacation by definition entails taking a hiatus from the norm. A settlement, on the other hand, constitutes a shift in the norm. Where you once lived, what you once did on a daily basis, that all changes with a switch in environment. There is no more suitable example for this concept than spending a Year in Israel. Excuse me: (italics) living in Israel for a year. When a student goes to Yeshiva in Israel for a year, he/she settles in Israel for an extensive period of time. A period of time which makes taking the bus or the lightrail, eating shwarma or falafel, experiencing Shabbos in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, the norm. Cultural aspects of Israel which may act as tourist attractions for those who visit from time to time serve as daily testaments to Israels greatness for those who are settled into the land; those who study in Israel for a year being included in this group.
For various reasons, a minority of Jews unequivocally question the entire concept of going to Yeshiva in Israel for a year. Some presume that as eighteen year olds we are too young to embark on a “parent free” or “unsupervised” journey, while others argue that a year in Israel has a reputation for being something it isn’t. I have heard family friends speak extensively on the pointlessness of spending one’s year in such a frivolous manner. I can hear the shrill and adamant tone in my head at this very moment- “If learning is what you wish to spend time doing, join a daily Yeshiva in the tristate area! There are plenty to choose from, why would you be so foolish and fly to Israel only to waste your year and realize once it’s too late that you could have done the same learning here at home!?”. As intellectually challenging and reputable the Yeshivot in America may be, they will never acquire the same incomparable quality that Israeli Yeshivot possess; being a Yeshiva (italics) in Israel. In the country where our forefathers walked, where are some of the most brilliant minds have ever studied and where we pray to end up the following year each Yom Kippur.
This ability to experience Israel from the perspective of someone who has settled in, at least for ten months, the holiest country in the world is unparalleled by any other excursion. Regardless of whether one is enrolled at a Hesder Yeshiva or an America one, a strict one or a lenient one, there is one thing that makes them all identical. One central idea which trumps over all other reasons you were enticed into going to the specific Yeshiva of your choice. The idea, or answer, is being an Israeli for a year. To live and settle into the land which has such strong and impregnable ties to our religion, a land which was promised to us thousands of years ago and delivered only sixty six. That is what makes living in Israel for a year such an “incredible” and “invaluable” experience.