Jordan Cohen (Class of ’16) is a part-time columnist for The Warrior Word. Jordan is currently studying at Yeshiva Orayta in the Old City of Jerusalem. He will attend Johns Hopkins University this fall and will be majoring in aerospace engineering. For this week’s issue, Jordan shares his experience living and studying in Israel.
It was the night of Simchat Torah, and my yeshiva was in a frenzy. There we were in the Beit Midrash in the Old City of Jerusalem, singing and dancing with Sefer Torahs. The Rosh Yeshiva suddenly got up on a chair and everyone was quiet. He shouted, “We’re going to bring this Simcha outside so everyone can celebrate with us. If you see anyone, Jewish or not, invite them to dance with us.”
Right in the city square, we started going crazy with happiness. We approached curious tourists and encouraged them to join us in our celebration. A couple of bold Asians even got on some shoulders. And then we all danced down to the Kotel, arm in arm, students, Rabbis, soldiers, Jews and non-Jews, religious and secular. And in that moment, when we were one, and we were happy, I truly felt what this holiday is and what Judaism as a whole is all about.
Last year, most of my classmates from the get-go had their hearts set on either taking a gap year in Israel or going straight to college. While I was initially entrenched in the mindset of the latter group, I eventually changed my mind after finding a program that was perfect for me. Just like picking the right college, your specific gap year program is key to having a successful year abroad. Throughout this memoir, I’ll share with you what I love about the Israel experience as a whole and also what inspired me to come to a place I absolutely love, Yeshivat Orayta.
Yeshiva is very different from high school. For starters, while in school you have to study whatever the curriculum mandates and have to study in order to get good grades, Yeshiva is all about learning for the sake of learning. Every place is different, but at Orayta I take classes that particularly interest me and apply to my daily life. For example, my Rosh Yeshiva teaches a class in Rambam discussing how to live a productive lifestyle and have healthy relationships with others. There’s also a big emphasis on learning why we do Mitzvot and why they’re meaningful. As our Rosh Yeshiva likes to say, “I don’t keep Shabbos; I celebrate Shabbos!” Orayta has reinstilled the idea in me that Jewish life is meant to be enjoyable, thereby making myself more enthusiastic to practice our tradition. These ideologies complement our core classes of Gemara and Chumash, which are taught by great Rebbeim who are absolute geniuses and are also just simply good people.
That itself is another big reason I appreciate this year. The life guidance here is truly phenomenal. The Rebbeim are not only experts in varied aspects of Judaism, but are always down to “chop a shmooze” whether to check in on how you’re doing or to help you with whatever’s been bothering you recently or throughout your life.
But yeshiva is only part of the overall experience. Being in Israel has given me the opportunity to meet new kids from all over the world. I’ve made many close friends here, one of whom will be my college roommate next year.
Being here for four months, my homeland has really started to feel like my home. I know the ins and outs of Jerusalem, already establishing my go-to pizza place, pharamacy, and other necessities. I’ll spend Thursday nights hanging out with friends at Ben Yehuda and Friday mornings at the Shuk buying some goodies for Shabbos.
Speaking of Shabbos, that’s the time when you truly get to explore Israel. While we stay in the yeshiva for some Shabboses, most are spent outside the yeshiva in different places across Israel. So far, I’ve already explored the beautiful city of Tzfat, with its majestic sunset and mysterious caves, chilled on the gorgeous beaches of Tel Aviv, and joined thousands of Jews as we camped out in Chevron for Shabbat Chayei Sarah. In fact, that last experience could not have been possible had fellow RASGHA alumn and good friend Samson Schiff and I not met a friendly Jewish couple on our journeys in Tzfat, who offered to host us at their house in Chevron.
This has definitely been the best year of my life. I strongly encourage all of you to do the same and come spend a year here at home – your home, the Jewish homeland.
Whether you go to yeshiva, seminary, college, army, or any other gap year program, it’s guaranteed to be a year full of fun and growth that you’ll treasure for the rest of your life.
There’s a LOT more I’d love to share, so if anyone wants to talk with me about Israel, college, or life in general, feel free to contact me by phone, email, or Facebook.
By: Jordan Cohen (Class of 2016)