By Shmuel Katz

As our time in Israel (at six and a half years now) continues to get longer and longer, the milestones left to achieve become fewer and further between. It was therefore quite exciting for me to realize that I had achieved another milestone last week as I flew back to Israel on a jam-packed El Al flight.

I had finished a productive time in North America, visiting eight schools in four cities over four days (and doing a lot of driving) to meet with rabbis, Israel advisers, and students to present Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah to them. I was happy with the reception we got (I had been unsure about the response I would get for a program that had not yet opened) and we are excited for the upcoming year.

Following that whirlwind week, I had a slower holiday week in the NY/NJ region in which I met with several prospective students and their parents to answer any questions they might have for us in a more personal and extensive meeting than we had been afforded in the Israel night/classroom presentation settings. With many people off work for the holidays, it was an ideal time for a sit-down.

We are really ramping up the “opening a new yeshiva” department. While I have been involved in the running of two yeshivot before, I had not actually participated in the launching of either. I am a guy who likes (and I think, thrives with) challenges, so I am really enjoying the entire process. I am pretty sure that the experience keeps me young (as if having to keep up with Mordechai and Moshe doesn’t).

One thing that drove me nuts was the incredible amount of X-mas-related things I had to experience. Every radio station seemed to have carols on. Every store had holiday-themed décor. Everywhere I turned, I saw lawn, street, and window displays that were X-mas themed.

Living in Israel, I had forgotten what this season was like in the U.S. I have spent the last six Decembers with nary a Santa or tree within notice (although last year we saw some in a tour of the Christian Quarter of the Old City during a festival) and it was quite the culture shock to return to the immense displays and themed merchandising that surrounds this month in the U.S.

I know that I have written about my feelings of not having to deal with the holidays of the goyim several times in the past. But memories fade with time and I had forgotten just how much emphasis on commercialization is placed upon the “holiday season” in the U.S. Wow. Yet another reason to be happy that we are in Israel.

The milestone? Well, as you know, our kids have transitioned very well (thank G‑d) in being a part of Israeli society. Their Hebrew is excellent and they continue to grow and develop. Their parents, however, are a different story.

Goldie is much better than I in understanding things here. She is able to understand the news in Hebrew and has a broader Hebrew vocabulary than I do. She is hesitant to speak, not because she lacks the Hebrew skills, but because she fears making an error. I am a little bit better at communicating than she is, but only because I do not fear making a fool of myself.

I was on the plane home and had finished all the work I had brought with me to do on the plane. I decided to see what was on the TV in front of me. As I worked my way through the movie channels, I found that I had either seen the movie playing or that I felt the subject matter/content to be inappropriate for viewing.

I was about to turn the TV off when I came to a broadcast of a stand-up comedian putting on a comedy show. The material was not inappropriate or offensive and I enjoyed watching his show. I laughed out loud at a couple of points in the show. It was gratifying to have understood all the jokes and make it through the entire show. Why? Because it was all in Hebrew. And I understood everything. A major accomplishment for me! v

Shmuel Katz is the executive director of Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah (, a gap-year yeshiva opening in 2013. Shmuel, his wife Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July of 2006. Before making aliyah, he was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at


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