There is a third way, according to Atlas, and this is what he and Rav Shapira emphasize and nurture in the boys who study at Yeud. They have the opportunity to, yes, of course, study Jewish texts, but also to learn how to live a full Jewish life, how to take care of others, to see the connection between all Jews, to take what they learn formally and show them how to continue that connection and love of the connection throughout their lives – that is the goal.
Some boys who come to Israel for a year to be in a yeshiva don’t have the “sitzfleish” or inclination to study within four walls all day. These boys end up going into Jerusalem and hang out on Ben Yehuda Street for hours, sometimes days on end. Rather than having a good Jewish learning experience, they turn off and do things that are destructive to themselves, to Judaism and to their connection to the Jewish world.
Jonathan Sulski was born and spent his early years in Johannesburg, South Africa, but went to high school in Dallas, Texas, where he attended the Yavneh Academy. Yavneh is a highly competitive school: 94% of its faculty having graduate degrees, it offers nearly a dozen AP courses and has a low student-faculty ratio. Sulski is now a mechanical engineering student at Drexel University. He was not interested in a “slouch year” program in Israel, but wanted the ability to get out of the classroom, and connect his Torah learning to the people and the land of Israel, as well.
Sulski told The Jewish Press, “Mechinat Yeud offered just what I was looking for. It provided the perfect balance between learning and exploring and getting to know the country. My year spent at Yeud was one of my greatest life experiences.”
By offering young men the opportunity to develop many different types of connections to Judaism and the Homeland of the Jewish people, to combine it with pure text learning, the Yeud staff and administration believes many more young Jewish men will have a Jewishly fulfilling experience, one that will last them their entire lifetimes.
The goal of Mechnat Yeud, according to Atlas, is to prepare the students religiously, spiritually, physically and emotionally for the next stages of their lives as proud Jews committed to Torah, to the State of Israel and to their future families and communities.
One of the best breaks Yeud has had was its ability to hire Josh Ettinger, originally from Detroit, Michigan, who made Aliyah in 2004. Ettinger studied for two years at the prestigious Yeshivat Har Etzion (known by most, simply, as “Gush”), served in the Israel Defense Forces in the Sayeret division of the Golani Brigade, and completed a BA in political science and army strategics from Bar Ilan University.
Ettinger’s brains, brawn, Zionist spirit and American Jewish beginnings makes him the perfect program director of Mechinat Yeud. Ettinger lives on the campus with his wife and two young children; Yeud barbecues are held outside their home on a regular basis.
Unlike Noah Lerner, Matan Geller always knew he would study in Israel after high school and before college. Geller is from Skokie, a Jewish suburb of Chicago. Geller’s parents are both strong Zionists and he has always loved the Israeli culture. For Geller, Mechina Yeud felt very natural, something he would have looked for if it had not existed. The one issue for Geller is that he really wanted a program that was not solely text learning, but where he would also have the opportunity to learn with Israelis as he was particularly interested in being immersed in Israeli culture.
Geller told The Jewish Press, “If I wanted to learn all day in a Beit Midrash, I might as well have stayed home in Chicago, but I wanted to be in Israel, the place G-d gave us, the whole thing, and not just what’s inside the books.” Because of his particular Hebrew aptitude and desire to learn with Israelis, Geller is able to learn with the students in the hesder yeshiva program Yeud partners with, so that his is a total immersion experience.
Of the dozen Mechina Yeud program participants thus far, the vast majority returned to the States to attend college. Only one has already made Aliyah, and is waiting for his call-up date from the IDF. Another current participant is thinking seriously about staying in Israel when the year ends.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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