The Opportunity Of A Lifetime
By Max Fruchter
When asked what is so incredible about spending a year in Israel, many people will respond with adulation about the ability to focus on one’s 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.
While it is true that a handful of students refrain from acting in a certain way for the sole purpose of gaining approval from their peers, a large number of students do act that way. A number so large that the aforementioned answer of Israel being a place where one can shut out diversions must be rethought. How, then, is the year in Israel filled with enriching, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities?
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, we scarcely have the ability to experience Israel as Israelis do. Sure, many of us may visit from the States on Sukkot or Pesach, but the difference between a vacation and a settlement is stark. 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: living in Israel for a year. When a student goes to yeshiva in Israel for a year, he or she settles there for an extensive period. A period which makes taking the bus or the lightrail, eating shwarma or falafel, or experiencing Shabbos in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv the norm. Cultural aspects of Israel which may be tourist attractions for those who visit from time to time serve as daily testaments to Israel’s greatness for those who are settled into the land, students in Israel for a year included.
For various reasons, a minority of Jews question the entire concept of going to yeshiva in Israel for a year. Some presume that as 18-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 small voice in the back of my head at this very moment: “If learning is what you wish to spend time doing, join a daily yeshiva in the tri-state 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 as the yeshivot in America may be, they will never acquire the one incomparable quality that Israeli yeshivot possess: being a yeshiva in Israel, the country where our forefathers walked, where some of the most brilliant minds have 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 (at least for ten months) in the holiest country in the world is unparalleled. Regardless of whether one is enrolled at a hesder yeshiva or an American one, a strict one or a lenient one, there is one thing they have in common, one central idea that trumps all other reasons for choosing a yeshiva—and that is being an Israeli for a year. To live and settle into the land which has inseverable ties to our religion, the 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. v