Eyal adds, “When I was checking out the different yeshivot hesder, I chose Otniel for its uncompromising high level of learning, yet with an emphasis on learning other subjects like chassidut and mussar. We also have throughout the year different chaburot (workshops). During our off times (like bein hasedarim), any older student who is talented in a certain area can form a chabura to teach those who are interested in his specialty, whether it be art, theater, music or photography. We also have a chabura called kelim l’bikoret tarbut. This is a chabura that gives us the tools to learn how to examine our surrounding culture critically. And on Fridays we have dancing. After lunch, boys will assemble in the dining room and we will dance. For fun, for the joy of it. It’s a vibrant place.”
Eyal describes the uniqueness of the rabbonim and the students, yet they are all together serving Hashem in harmony.
“We are also a big part of the Otniel settlement,” he continues. “Many of the residents are affiliated with the yeshiva. They are either the families of the rabbonim or in the management here. Some of the students are from the town as well, although most boys go away from home for yeshiva. Part of the yeshiva program is davka to have a connection with the people of the town. We go every Shabbat to our rosh yeshiva‘s house in Otniel. Sometimes we have classes in one of the family’s houses. These families see the yeshiva as a source of Torah. The fathers come some times to learn with their kids here. This is a beautiful thing in my eyes.”
I wonder why the yeshiva is located where it is, if it’s for Zionistic reasons.
Raanan explains, “I would say that it’s deeper than calling it simply a ‘Zionist’ reason. Otniel, in fact, is considered to be relatively moderate in its political views, and the atmosphere is certainly not in any way that of a stereotypical extremist right wing. The way I see it, the yeshiva is here because it is understood that as Jews in the land of Israel, there is a strong, deep connection with the actual land we live on, and that connection is expressed by living in places which may not be always the most comfortable areas to live in. Otniel, which by the way, is named after Otniel Ben Kenaz from Sefer Shoftim who is said to have lived here, is surrounded by Arab villages but we don’t feel that we need to be here in order to get on the nerves of our Palestinian neighbors. I also believe the yeshiva is here because it is a beautiful, secluded area in the Hebron hills and the roshei yeshiva wanted to create a space where the mind feels free and not closed in within crowded city borders.”
Eyal tells me he is not at all scared in Otniel. “In truth, I feel safer here than in my home in Givat Shmuel near Tel Aviv” he says.
As far as the students’ plans for the future, Eyal laughs and says,“ I am only 18, so my plans can change at any time. At this point, I see myself finishing hesder, then perhaps going to university for engineering. Hopefully, I’ll get married at one point.”
Ra’anan, on the other hand, is in his last year here. “I’m not 100% sure what I will be doing next year. This summer I will be going on shlichut with the Sochnut Yehudit to Australia. I will be teaching Jewish Identity and Zionism. Next year I might go to filming school. I’ve also taken one of the tests for the rabbanut haraishit in our kollel program here. So I always have the option of going into the rabbinate.
As we conclude, I reflect on the two young men I have interviewed. Staunch, believing, Torah true, mentchen who are ready to fight in all ways for what they believe in. he says. And I say, if Ra’anan and Eyal are examples of the kind of faith filled, authentic, idealistic, wholesome Jews Otniel produces then the yeshiva, and the Jewish nation, have much to be proud of.
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