By Reuben M. Gampel
After all the discussion and planning with my parents, family, rebbes, and friends, Rosh Chodesh Elul finally arrived, and I am at Yeshivat HaKotel in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is hard to believe that two weeks have elapsed. HaKotel will be my home for the next year and I could not be happier. It is glorious and awe inspiring to daven and learn in the shadow of Har HaBayit, surrounded by thousands of years of Jewish history. As I walk the streets of Yerushalayim I can almost hear the joyous laughter of Rebbe Akiva; this ancient city’s vitality is a testament to his faith in our people’s resilience and ultimate redemption. While the euphoria of being in the Holy Land has not abated, there are some things I wish I knew about the Israel gap year experience while still a high school senior. Although I would not have made different decisions, I would have been better prepared to deal with hiccups I encountered during this initial transition period.
The most stressful situation occurred the morning my plane landed at Ben Gurion Airport. Although excited, I was exhausted from packing for a year abroad, the emotional goodbyes, and the long flight. All I wanted to do was get to yeshiva and unpack. And yet, before deplaning I was informed by a flight attendant that my luggage was bumped to another flight. I immediately thought of my bubby’s admonishments that I take extra clothes in my carry-on “just in case” and how I chose to ignore her sage advice, taking my guitar as my carry-on instead. I did not relish the prospect of not having clean underwear for a few days, let alone linen and toiletries. Quickly, I realized that I must not leave the airport until I verified with El Al where my luggage was, when it would be arriving at Ben Gurion, and when and where I could pick it up. (While airlines will deliver your bumped luggage, this can take time, sometimes days.) After speaking with a number of airline personnel, I was told my bags would be available after 5 p.m. This presented the new problem of ensuring my return to Ben Gurion that evening to get my bags. I was jet lagged and felt overwhelmed, but I had to pull myself together and manage the situation.
The yeshiva graciously agreed to send a madrich back with me to the airport once I verified with the airline where my luggage was and how to proceed. I called El Al, spending a significant amount of time on hold, and coordinated with the yeshiva’s staff. This was definitely not how I envisioned spending my first day in Israel. But, chasdei Hashem, I retrieved my bags and everything was resolved by the evening. Over the past two weeks, there have been no major crises. However, there have been situations that I needed to address. I found that simple solutions often provided the best resolutions. For example, I was unprepared for the crushing heat during my first week in yeshiva, but the purchase of a fan in the Rova helped a lot. (It became, to borrow from the Book of Jonah, a metaphorical kikayon and brought me joy.) Moreover, my bed was not the most comfortable, but an inexpensive egg crate mattress topper allowed for excellent sleep. Ultimately, I learned that being proactive and not letting small problems fester has allowed me to settle into a comfortable routine. I am better able to focus on shiurim and be fully present when learning with my chavrutot. Living and learning in an intensive yeshiva setting is an adjustment. But at the end of each day, I feel proud and accomplished. Even after this brief period of time my thinking has matured, and my religious practice has become more scrupulous. And each night, as I drift off to sleep on my (more) comfortable bed in my cool(er) dirah, I smile knowing that new adventures await me in the morning. n