Akiva Cooper is studying at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shevut. He grew up in Teaneck and attended MTA for high school. His family davens at Beth Aaron and the Teaneck Jewish Center.
His next stop? YU.
Why did you choose to study at the Gush?
I chose Gush because I wanted to go to a yeshiva dedicated to learning high-level Gemara with rebbeim who are serious talmidei chachamim, living in communities similar to the ones I see myself living in in the future.
What kind of goals do you have for the year?
I view my time in yeshiva as a first step in creating a life I want to live. My goal is to create foundations to build off for years to come.
What kind of challenges have you faced coming to Israel?
Gush is amazing in that it balances a warm avira (environment) with serious learning. That means that I have to try harder to understand shiur—spend extra time doing chazara. That’s probably the hardest part of the year: keeping up with all of the geniuses who surround me.
How has your year been different from your expectations?
No culture shock. My Israeli night seder chavruta speaks better English than me! I was tired at first, with the early mornings and late nights, but I got the hang of things. Did I feel prepared for my “experience”? That’s asking if I felt prepared to sit down for 10 hours every day. I didn’t feel prepared. And it was hard at first. But now I wish I had more time. Ten hours doesn’t seem nearly enough.
Where is your favorite place to go for weekends/Shabbat so far?
I’ve actually spent a large majority of my Shabbatot in yeshiva. I love the yeshiva vibe on Shabbat.
Who is a teacher at the Gush you connect to especially well?
Rabbi Eli Weber. I don’t think it’s just me, though. He runs an amazing overseas program and is super personable. He’s always there to talk to. Everyone loves him.
Which is one of your favorite classes at the Gush?
Personally, before this year, Tanach meant shnayim mikra and haftara. I’ve never sat down and taken a serious look at it. Rav Leibtag’s weekly Thursday night Chumash chug has really opened my eyes. There’s so much there that I’ve never noticed before. I love it!
What are you most looking forward to for the rest of the year?
Growing in both spiritual and textual skills. I’d be disappointed if I came out of yeshiva not knowing how to break down a sugya. But I’d be just as disappointed if I came out as the same person I was when I went in. I don’t want the year to pass me by. I now have time dedicated to developing my character in and outside the beit midrash. I look forward to taking advantage of it and am excited to see where I’ll grow to.
By JLNJ Staff