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Elul 5763 – Going to Sem and the Matzav

Lichvod Rabbi Orlofsky,

I am trying to convince my friend who is 12th grade to spend next year in Israel in seminary. I wanted to know if you could give me some tips on what to tell her. her parents are concerned about the security situation and the financial concern.

Thanks, Name withheld

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Dear Friend,

Since this is, after all, JEMSEM, I don’t need to remind my readers about the advantages of a year of study in a seminary in Israel. However, we don’t all have the eloquence to express our thoughts to others who haven’t shared our experience. So here are as few “talking points” when discussing seminary in Israel.

Some people suggest that a year of seminary is unnecessary. After all, I already had twelve years of yeshiva education. That’s true, but you also had twelve years of secular education. Nonetheless, you want to go to university, because you know that the education you receive through high school is insufficient to allow you to be successful in life.

If you need four years of post high school study to complete your secular education, then don’t you need at least one year of full time Jewish studies to complete your Jewish education? (I have also found this argument effective when discussing shana bet as well).

In the US, a person can almost always receive a year of college credit when attending seminary. One doesn’t even need to suggest that they are “wasting valuable time” by studying in Israel. Depending on the university you’re attending, the year in Israel can even work out to be a less expensive way of acquiring college credits. Obviously, if you live in Canada, Europe or are attending a university that doesn’t accept credits, this answer won’t work. Instead, as I mentioned previously, stress what a person stands to gain in their own life.

When I was on my way to Eretz Yisroel to learn in yeshiva back in the 1970’s, it wasn’t widely accepted to study in Israel after high school. People were encouraged to go straight to college. I remember speaking to a classmate of mine about going to Eretz Yisroel. He said he couldn’t because “he was in a rush”. What was the rush, I wondered.

“I have to hurry up and get my B.A.” he said.

“Why? What happens then?”

“Then I get my M.A.”

“And then?”

“And then I get a job and make a lot of money and buy a house and a boat and a condo and get married and have a few kids.”

“And then,” I pressed.

“Then I become a pillar of my community and get honored at dinners.”

“And then?”

“And then I get old.”

“And then?”

“And then I die.”

It’s a great plan, I observed, covers just about everything. But how different would it be if you took off a year to learn in Israel? So you would graduate a year later? And you’d make your fortune a year later. Get married a year later and who knows, maybe die a year later? (I have since taken to guaranteeing this. I figure, what are they going to do, sue me if I’m wrong? How can they prove it?)

But if learning in Israel is such a good, worthwhile thing, then it will change the way the rest of your life runs. It will add deeper meaning and substance to your work, your marriage, your family your community. It is an investment for a more meaningful life.

Some people say I can study in America. The fact is however that the seminaries in Israel have a unique pool of resources to draw upon. The staff in Israeli seminaries often consist of some of the biggest names in the Jewish world. Additionally there is the idea that chazal teach us: “Ain Torah kiToras Eretz Yisroel”. The learning here is on a different level.

There is also the effect of a year living in Israel. Sunday is a regular day in the whole country, a siren goes off at lichtbenching, menorahs shine from all the windows on Chanukah, the makalot in even secular neighborhoods paper over their chometz aisles on Pesach. The list goes on and on. You also get to spend Shabbos with families who have made real sacrifices to make Eretz Yisroel their home. That is something inspiring in and of itself. Spending one year living in Eretz Yisroel gives us a love for the land that you can’t get on a ten day stay in the Sheraton.

The security situation is always a concern. Boruch Hashem, all the seminaries I am familiar with take the situation very seriously. Certain areas are considered out of bounds at all times and other areas at times of danger. I would feel safer sending a girl to a seminary in Eretz Yisroel then to Columbia University in Spanish Harlem. Yet many girls don’t think twice about going there.

These are a few points to consider. For the sake of this young lady, I hope you are successful. I know for myself, that anything good I have become in my life or anything good that I have accomplished, can be traced to the inspiration I received from my first year learning in Eretz Yisroel.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky