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Jun 19, 2006

The Israel Experience

I brought my baby sister to the airport last night to see her off. She has completed her year in Israel and is now on her way back to the USA to start college and whatever else she will be doing.

She had a good year in Israel. I am a bit envious of her. She went on a program with none of her friends from back home. Her friends who came to Israel went to the standard seminary and yeshivot programs. While they experienced Israel to a certain extent and probably grew in their textual learning of Judaism and Tanach and other Judaic studies, they could have done the same back home in seminary in Chicago or New York or wherever they come from. Many of them hardly experience Israel. They are in school in a protected environment. For understandable reasons they are often not let out on their own. They only go away for shabbos occasionally to anybody other than immediate relatives. Often they are set up in pre-selected places that only allow them a very specific and limiting view of religious Judaism. When they go away as a group, they go to specific places that allow them to see a very limited view of Israel and Judaism. Basically they gain little from actually being in Israel.

True, I would not tell them not to come. Some do develop the love for Israel on their own. Some do go out on there own and see and experience Israel, and not just what the seminary wants them to see. Some grow not just in the book sense that can be done anywhere in the world, but also in the life experience sense. They are more adventurous and figure out how to get around and go back to America with a heightened sense of self and their position in the Jewish world and how to relate to Israel. However, the majority of the young men and women who come to study for the year in the yeshiva/seminary system do not experience this. The vast majority spend the year as I described above. A lot of classes that could be taken in a classroom anywhere in the world and limited and controlled experiences exposing them to a very select set of views.

My sister had the good fortune of ending up in an unusual program. It was not her first choice and I do not think she even knew about it originally, but that is where she ended up. The program was run by Bnei Akiva. Despite the fact that Bnei Akiva programs have been losing popularity among the American students and some of their programs have not been run well in recent years, this program, ,which was really more geared for Europeans, was very successful. The kids spent time on a religious kibbutz working. They worked in a development town with underprivileged kids. They spent time in the army and in Magen David Adom. They spent time traveling around the country on tiyulim. They spent shabbos in Mea Shearim for a different viewpoint. They experienced Israel in a way that most kids from America do not. They developed themselves as adults and people, not just as students in a rigid system.

I am envious because she experienced Israel in a way I never got to. Yes, I was one of those more adventurous types. I volunteered in Mishmar Ezrachi when I was in yeshiva and I traveled the country on tiyulim. Yes, I went around the country to people for shabbos and made my own arrangements. Yes, I worked on a kibbutz for part of one of my vacations from yeshiva. Yet, I see from my sister that doing all of that in an organized way can really enhance your experience. It is a shame that more programs like that do not exist and it is a shame that American students come to Israel for the year and do not really experience Israel.


  1. I went on one of those programs. It was great.
    But yes, they are geared towards Eurpoeans and us from the Southern Hemisphere. It's funny that you say it's unusual!

  2. it is unusual for an American, I guess...

  3. yeh, the americans seemed to go to "american style" seminaries or do other programs, birthright or whatever. but the sem we were at had our group combined with north americans/europeans and we had israeli roommates (from the israeli program) so it was a little different to the 'american style' seminaries.

  4. Wow good for her. I was like that. I went to a sem that was not traditional bais yakov and I went without good friends. It was the best choice of my life. I wanted a school that was very right wing but not stuffing things down my throat. We learned inside the sefer with the sources. I developed the love I wanted to develop for yiddishkeit that my hs did not give me.

  5. I don't think that "most" don't get that experience. Just about everyone I know - from the most 'modern' to the most 'yeshivish' had an incredible experience in Israel and grew to love it. Even those places that spend half the time in lockdown made sure to get to at least some important places.

    However, some definitely do better than others. Sounds like your sis really did it right.

  6. ezzie - I think I might not have been clear. Everybody does get some experience, adn they should all continue to come. I was ranting on the fact that lockdown mode prevalent in the sem/yeshiva programs is so restricting that the experience they get is very limited. I did not mean non-existent..

  7. I had an interesting conversation with a slightly younger yeshivah bo0cher. he went to a frummie black-hat yeshiva (not to be named here) and came home for Pesach. I said to him - why did you come home? He says "why should I stay there - there's nothing to see or do! I said - how about some tiyulim -go see the land that you are acroos the ocean studying in - why not just stay in chicago if you want to sit in a room and learn? he replied his yeshiva doesn't see the need for him to experience that sort of thing - learning in the "avir of eretz yisroel" is enough. I said - if you told me you are homesick - ok - you're a baby, but that's legit. But to have the chutzpah to say there's nothing to do?! I was absolutley floored.
    Talk about missing the whole boat.

  8. that's what I am talking about, though it is more extreme than what I said. Most people who go to Israel for the year do go on a certain amount of tiyulim and get sent around for shabbos to people in various places. Granted, the experience is limited, as the schools only let the students see a specific type of experience and not a range, but at least they are getting a minimal experience (at least) of eretz yisrael. The "frumimie yeshivas" as you put it are worse. They usually have guys staying for a few years and the issue is not necessarily the "one year Israel experience". These yeshivas do nto arrange tiyulim, nor do they send the guys around for shabbos. Most of the time the guys are staying in geula or whatever neighborhood their yeshiva is based in) and that is almost all they will see of Israel.

    Again, soome people, in whatever yeshiva or sem you are talkign about, whether the frummie type or the one year type, are more adventurous and do things on their own. But most just do what the school arranges.

  9. I'm glad there are still "Israeli" programs here. Cloistering the kids is a farce and waste.

    In my day... we were IN ISRAEL and learned Hebrew and experienced a whole new country, and leaned, too.

    Isn't that the whole point of it?

  10. that it is. For an American it is very difficult o find such a program. Bnei Akiva are really the only ones offering it (unless you are not religious and come for 2 weeks on Birthright) and they are so unorganized in big US cities that the kids just are not attracted to the BA programs. My sister got lucky from some crazy circumstances and fell into Bnei Akiva with a European group of kids.


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