After graduating from Bruriah High School, Gila Allen, from Edison, is now learning at MMY (Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim) as part of her gap year. During her first semester at seminary, she has fostered new connections with both her fellow students and attentive faculty and has delved deep into the teachings of Rav Soloveitchik, all while continuing to carve her spiritual niche. She looks forward to another fulfilling semester as she reflects on her first few months at school so far.
Why did you choose MMY?
One thing that stood out about MMY was the learning style. There is a lot of chavruta learning, which I found appealing because I can learn on my own before going into the classroom and it’s also a good way for me to retain information and gain research skills. I also really like the independence I have here. They don’t coddle you. They let you experience Israel for yourself. The teachers are also very Zionistic and so am I, and I’ve heard of girls who have attended school here in the past make aliyah. They have such a diverse faculty––there’s a teacher for everyone, and I knew coming here that I would find mentors and people I could connect with.
What goals did you have for your year?
I really want to expand on what I already know and gain skills with text so that down the line I can look up something I’m curious about. I know teachers won’t always be there to help me navigate the mefarshim, but I’ll have the skills to know what sefer I need to look into to answer any question that might come up. I also think that people get very boxed into a certain label or hashkafa, and in America it is hard for me to say that I am modern Orthodox but that I’m stricter with this or that custom, or that I am more Zionistic. But here, there are people who follow Halacha strictly while they also believe in the state of Israel and the Israeli army. That was something I never saw in role models back home, but I’m exposed to them here at MMY. The teachers here are living their lives like that––they are Halachic, but also Zionistic and they have a desire to send their children to the army. Before this, I never knew how to blend those two ideas.
What has been the biggest highlight of your year so far?
A couple of Shabbosim ago, MMY took us on a shabbaton to Beit El, which is a yishuv in the Shomron. We stayed with and ate meals with Israelis who lived there. I was in a fully Hebrew speaking home. On Friday night we heard from a panel of people who live in Beit El, and they talked about the importance of the town. One of the founding families of Best El told us the story of how the people, who were living in caravans at the time, were being forced by the government to move out of the area. They knew that if they left, the Arabs would just take over the land, and they knew that the land was theirs from the time of the Tanach. Instead of giving up their homes, they moved their caravans further up over the hills to conquer more of Beit El. Eventually, they were able to work out a negotiation with the government and were able to stay. It’s now a beautiful community with beautiful homes. Beit El also has a lot of historical significance in the Tanach. We were there for the parsha of Yaakov’s dream, and it was so cool to see where they thought the rock that he slept on was located. We saw the pesukim really come to life.
What kind of challenges have you faced coming to Israel?
Hebrew would be the biggest thing. We all have those funny stories where we say the wrong word, or use a word that you learned in biblical Hebrew that isn’t used today, or use weird phrases that people don’t understand. I’ll be trying to rush to a bus and I’ll ask for directions and there will be a language barrier and I’ll end up missing the bus. Just getting around and being able to talk to people can be a challenge. There are no mandatory Hebrew classes at MMY, but there are one or two classes that are offered in Hebrew. There are also different chuggim, programs and activities that are offered on Wednesday nights. People can choose to take a chug with Israeli teachers. I also pick up a lot of Hebrew by talking to waiters at restaurants and people at grocery stores. I found that the Israelis are there to help you when you make a mistake. They’ll correct you, not to be rude, but because they know you want to be corrected and that you want to improve.
How has being in Israel been different from your expectations? Did you feel prepared for your experience?
Israel has exceeded my expectations. You can’t prepare for living here for a year––going through the seasons and the chagim and seeing how the country changes. It’s been so amazing. We just finished Chanukah, and seeing everyone in the Old City lighting candles outside and seeing menorahs and dreidels in the mall has really been different from what goes on in America. I knew that in my head before I got here, but I didn’t understand until I got here just how much I belonged. This country is celebrating what I’m celebrating. I was wishing everyone a “happy Chanukah.”
What is one of your favorite classes at MMY?
I love my Rav Soloveitchik class. Mrs. Brovsky teaches it, and she’s Israeli. I love her and the class, so it’s a great mix. We’re reading his book, “The Lonely Man of Faith,” and she knows the book inside and out. People say it’s a complicated book and that it’s hard to read, so when I had the opportunity to take a class on it, I knew I had to. I see now that I’ll get more out of it reading it in class with a teacher who goes deeper and helps us apply the lessons to our lives. The book and the class have helped change my perspective on life. I wake up every day excited to go to that class.
What are some of your favorite activities to do during your free time at seminary?
MMY is in Yerushalayim and within walking distance of everything. Our schedule is packed with classes, but during breaks between classes we walk to Machaneh Yehudah. It’s nice to be outside with other Israelis, smelling Israeli smells and seeing Israeli things. We go there to get dried fruit, nuts and candy. We are also close to Kever Rachel, so sometimes during lunch, one of our teachers drives us there in shifts to daven Mincha and come back.
Where is your favorite place to go for weekends/Shabbat so far?
I have siblings that live in Israel, which is fun for me and I enjoy going to them sometimes, but I try not to go there so much so I can still get the Israeli experience. My favorite place to go for Shabbat is Efrat. I went there two weeks ago with my friend to her cousin’s house. It’s a nice small yishuv with kids running around on Shabbat day and going to Bnei Akiva in the afternoon before running to Mincha in their small little shul. It was such a nice experience.
What are you most looking forward to for the rest of your year?
Just getting to experience new things with new friends I’m still making, and becoming closer with the new girls I’ve met and with the teachers. Second semester is just around the corner. I’ll be taking different classes and making connections with new teachers and learning new things. The teachers that I had this semester were asking us to please keep in touch and continue to ask questions––they made such an effort these months and we have made such strong connections that none of us want to leave behind. I’ve found that the big thing at MMY is that people here are really here for you and they want to work with you. Here is where we are focusing on ourselves and growing into the people we want to be, and it’s helpful to talk things out with people who genuinely want to help.