By Elisheva Gold | March 14, 2019
Two weeks ago I returned to Ohr Torah Stone’s Midreshet Lindenbaum, where I studied last year, to make a siyum on Masechet Brachot. I began learning Brachot after the chagim as a way of culminating my first year as an Israeli.
I made aliyah [from Teaneck] in the middle of my seminary year. It was something I knew I wanted well before the year began; I had actually decided I wanted to move to Israel when I was 15 years old. I did all the classic things you do as a junior and senior in high school in the States: I took the SATs, applied to college and accepted a college. But that was all “just in case.” My plan going in was to spend the year at Midreshet Lindenbaum, make aliyah at the end of the summer, and do Sherut Leumi the following year.
What I discovered early on in the year was that my perfect plan wasn’t actually practical. In order to begin Sherut Leumi, one needs a “ptur,” an exemption from mandatory IDF service. But only a citizen needs a ptur, which means one must first make aliyah to do Sherut, and the process of receiving the ptur can take a few months. This meant my dreams of a summer aliyah were simply unrealistic. I had to push up the timeline, and ended up making aliyah in February.
This difference changed the trajectory of both my year in Lindenbaum and my aliyah, presenting me with a unique set of challenges and opportunities.
My year in Lindenbaum was no longer a “gap year,” some weird in-between year cutting real life in half. It became the first step in my real, adult Israeli life. This meant that sometimes instead of running to morning seder I had to run to Misrad HaPnim (Interior Ministry), and instead of joining all my friends on a tiyul up north I had to go to Tel Aviv for a Sherut Leumi interview. The year spent in seminary is often described as a bubble, and mine was slowly leaking air. It hadn’t popped; I was still able to go to 99 percent of my classes, and I managed to join everyone for the second half of the tiyul. But it also wasn’t completely closed off.
The bubble popped, as it does for most people, when the next year began. Not in the classic “now that I’m in college, now what?” way, but rather with the sharp realization that I’m still here, but everything else is radically different. No longer were my friends with me every step of the way, no longer did I have the comforts of the long classes, dorm and three meals a day. What felt like very suddenly, I was thrust into a very different life: that of a bat Sherut bodedah – a lone bat Sherut. Suddenly I was with complete strangers, working in a predominately Israeli environment and living in an apartment in a part of Jerusalem I barely knew, along with six other girls I had just met.
It was a very hard adjustment, my ultimate klitah (absorption) experience that had arrived at a delay. Until I managed to find my place in this new environment, I had three main anchors. The first were my siblings; I’m the youngest of six, and my brother and I were the last two to make aliyah. We’re a very tight-knit family, and having them here provided—and still provides—support without which I wouldn’t have been able to succeed. I go to them almost every Shabbos and frequently pop in a few evenings a week.
The second anchor I had was Midreshet Lindenbaum. At the end of last year I made plans to go back two evenings a week to learn. This was, I think, one of the smartest choices I made. It’s given me the opportunity to continue my learning with some form of structure, as well as to continue relying on the support I received from my friends and the faculty at Lindenbaum.
The third anchor was my learning of Masechet Brachot. I began after the chagim, and in an effort to finish on time I took on a pretty rigorous schedule. A week didn’t pass without the learning of a few dapim (pages of Talmud). It came with me on the nights I went to Lindenbaum, but it was something I learned in other places as well, mostly in my apartment.
As I said in my siyum, learning Brachot gave me the opportunity to reorient myself. Rather than focusing on the small details—the struggles of learning Hebrew, or of living in a Sherut Leumi apartment, and the opportunities of being able to serve the country and experience different parts of Israeli life—it gave me the chance to look at the bigger picture. It gave me the chance to connect to the past, the history of the Jewish people and our connection to this land, but also to connect to the future. It was a way to remind myself that I didn’t leave something behind, but rather that I went toward something. I went toward building something new: my future in Israel.