by Rabbi Eddie Shostak, High School Israel Program Advisor
A primary role of the Jewish educator is to help his/her students to come home. Through engaging Jewish learning and meaningful Jewish experiences, students should be inspired to come home to who they are, connected to their past while looking forward to their future. Each one discovering their uniqueness and how their will uniquely contribute to bettering this world.
One of the most fulfilling roles in my work as a Jewish educator is serving as the Israel Program Advisor at our school. Part of my responsibilities is to open and guide the conversation with our seniors concerning spending their post-high school year studying in Israel. Together we discuss their hopes and their fears, their goals and their anxieties. We discuss what a year in Israel could look like, what obstacles they would need to overcome, and what type of preparation they would need in order to succeed.
Their decision, made together with their family, is never an easy one. There are a number of important considerations including: academic, emotional, financial, cultural, and more. For those who choose to go, their experience learning Torah in Eretz Yisrael, exploring the land, and interacting with its people proves to be a critical component to their day school education by solidifying, contexulalizing and completing it.
Every year I travel to visit with the students on their “turf” in their yeshiva, seminary or program. There we discuss how they are doing, whether they were adequately prepared, whether they are overcoming their anticipated obstacles, and whether they are on route to achieving their goals. We talk about their future plans and how they will reintegrate back in their home communities whether short term or long term.
I just came back from this year’s visit. It was incredible to see the students flourishing each in their own way – learning, experiencing and bringing out the best in themselves.
In addition, it is no secret that this year’s security situation has brought a new dimension to their experience. I witnessed firsthand, an inspiring and professional group of program Rabbis, educators and staff. Together with their students they have shown tremendous resilience and even more determination to make the most of their time in Israel, whether inside or outside the Beit Midrash.
I had the opportunity to visit Yeshivat Ashreinu, a wonderful and unique program, which sadly became more famous after the tragic murder of Ezra Schwartz, HY’D, earlier this year. The Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Gotch Yudin, is a model of principled leadership emanating from true Torah values. He has been guiding his students and staff valiantly through a most difficult of times.
Together with all the Montreal students, we went out to dinner for a mini reunion. There, in the heart of Israel, just outside Jerusalem’s Old City gates, we ate, schmoozed, laughed and reminisced. They were curious to know how the school was doing without them and how they can help with next year’s crop coming to Isreal. A few of the students shared meaningful divrei Torah and were all so grateful for this opportunity, for this gift.
Every year, my belief in the significance and importance of spending a year in Israel becomes strengthened, seeing our students at home with themselves in our nation’s home.