By Reuben M. Gampel
One of my concerns prior to leaving for my gap year was where I would stay during the chagim or on an “off Shabbat,” when the yeshiva is functionally closed.
Unlike my friends, I do not have close relatives living in Israel. My Zaida, attempting to reassure me, said, “In my day, we’d just walk around the shuk or Ben Yehudah and ask strangers if we could stay with them. You could do that!”
Despite Israel’s renown as a technologically advanced powerhouse, I have noticed that there remains a persistent mythology among many in the diaspora that the modern State of Israel is actually an oversized commune.
I understood, though, that my Zaida was at least partially correct; I would have to figure things out as situations arose. Moreover, my yeshiva had protocols in place ensuring that no one was left without a place to go. But I remained unsettled that I could be scrounging around for accommodations as the sun was setting on Friday over the Jerusalem Hills.
About a month before I left, I began collecting contact information of distant relatives and family friends who would be amenable to putting me up for Shabbat.
While Israel is no longer an oversized kibbutz circa 1968—if it ever was—I
learned after my arrival that many olim do want to open their homes to yeshiva students and make them feel welcome. A call to my Aunt Sara’s brother resulted in an immediate, gracious invitation for me (and a friend) to spend Sukkot with his family. Relatives I once viewed as obscurely connected are now mishpachah, and dormant family friendships are easily revived with a simple text. I relish the prospect of redefining these relationships, distinct from my parents.
While Shabbat spent in yeshiva has its own beauty and rhythm, from the melodious tefillot to the inspirational divrei Torah shared, Shabbat away from yeshiva allows for new experiences. Recently, my rebbe and his wife, Rav Yishai and Tara Horn, hosted our shiur for a transcendent Shabbaton at their home in Neve Daniel, in western Gush Etzion. My chavruta and I were hosted by a wonderful couple, originally from France, who made aliyah following the Six Day War. We spent much of Shabbat conversing in Hebrew and learned about their life in Eretz Yisrael. Their strong connection and passion for the land was inspirational and added gravitas to the spectacular views from atop the hill of the Beit Knesset Merkazi.
I appreciate that Orthodox Jews have an array of practices and traditions, with many unfamiliar to me. The challenge of “where to go” has now become a chance to expand my horizons by getting to know Jews from varied backgrounds. I jumped at an offer from close family friends to make introductions so that I could spend Shabbat with a frum family of Ethiopian descent.
With my first month in yeshiva behind me I am looking forward to the Yomim Nora’im and Sukkot with eager anticipation. Every tiyul and interaction with others is an opportunity for spiritual and intellectual growth. And if by chance you see a forlorn-looking bachur from the Five Towns roaming the shuk on erev Shabbat, please invite him over for some kugel and conversation. I’d be grateful for the hospitality.
Shanah tovah. ◼