By Josiah N. Gampel
The top shiur in DRS is rigorous, requiring a great investment of time, effort, and commitment. As early as ninth grade, students are told that if they persevere, in senior year they will get to go on Rav Dovid Willig’s, shlita, World Famous Heiligeh Mir Trip. This is a weeklong excursion to Israel where talmidim not only spend time in the Mir Yeshiva, learning and hearing shiurim from talmidei chachamim, but also visiting the yeshivot they are considering attending during their post-high-school gap year.
As yeshiva break approached, I excitedly prepared for the trip. Not only would this be my first time in Eretz Yisrael, but I would get to reconnect with my older brother, Reuben, who is spending his gap year in Yeshivat HaKotel, and my younger sister, Reema, who is on an exchange program for the month of January in Lachish through her high school, Yeshiva University High School for Girls (Central).
On motzaei Shabbat, I met my rebbe and shiur-mates at JFK. Before I knew it, we were boarding the plane. I slept little, wishing the plane would go faster. When we landed at Ben Gurion on Sunday evening, we made our way to the dirah where we would be staying. We unpacked, had our first meal of definitely-not-Five Towns pizza, followed by night seder. Soon it was bedtime and I quickly fell asleep.
Rav Willig meticulously planned the schedule for each day, with davening, breakfast, learning, shiurim, and the occasional bechinah from brilliant rabbanim. He also included trips to various yeshivot and ample free time.
On Monday, my first full day in Israel, I arranged to meet Reuben at one of his favorite eateries, Hummus Eliyahu. We embraced, ate together, and then walked to the Old City for my first visit to the Kotel. My emotions were riding high as I felt the holiness, history, and Jewish sacrifice that were infused into Har HaBayit. I was grateful to experience it with my brother.
The next day, my feelings of connection to Eretz Yisrael deepened during a four-hour walking tour of the Old City led by Rav Yehoshua Yankelowitz. Rav Yankelowitz is a special and holy man who wears tefillin all day. His encyclopedic knowledge of the city was awe-inspiring, and he kept us calm when glass bottles were thrown at us in the Arab Quarter.
That evening, Reuben and I met for dinner, and he gave me a culinary tour of Jerusalem. Just days before, the notion of sampling such an array of kosher ethnic foods was inconceivable. I finally understood the excited reports from my sister after Reuben took me for the same handmade tortilla chips, fresh guacamole, and unbelievable churros. Reuben gave me a crash course in how to navigate the Light Rail and then we were off to the shuk. The smell of thousands of spices permeated the air, and I was amazed at all the different preparations of chickpeas and sesame seeds.
On Wednesday, I spent a full day at Yeshivat Har Etzion, a.k.a. The Gush. During my more than eight-hour visit, I sat in on multiple shiurim and toured the grounds. I was impressed by the seamless melding of modern technology with intensive Torah study in the beit midrash. On the trip back to the dirah, my friends and I discussed the topics covered in Rav Moshe Taragin’s parashah shiur.
Reuben and I spent time together on Thursday. On Friday, we met at the shuk for an erev Shabbat lunch, and we were joined by our sister Reema! The band, so to speak, was back together. There was a lot of hugging followed by the greatest chicken wings I ever ate, at Hatch. I loved listening to Reema animatedly describe all that she had learned and experienced. Even though this was the first time we were all together in months, the conversation flowed smoothly, without a single lull.
A soulful Shabbat came and went in the blink of an eye, and by the time Sunday arrived, I knew that my time in Israel was about to come to a close. My friends and I made one final trip to Yeshivat HaKotel so that I could experience a typical day there. I understood Reuben’s passion for the yeshiva, as I felt as comfortable in the beit midrash as I do in my living room. Following a shiur and schmooze with Reuben’s rebbe, Rav Jesse Horn, and some time talking with Rav Reuven Taragin, it was time to go. I bid Reuben a fond farewell and then I was off to one final visit to the Kotel. Before leaving, I kissed the wall and silently whispered that I would be back soon.
Josiah N. Gampel is a senior at DRS and editor-in-chief of the DRS Star.