By Racheli Jian, Layout Editor
What if YU, with all its values, academics, and community, could transport itself to Israel?
Since Yeshiva University, the flagship Modern Orthodox institution in the Diaspora, was founded, it has been situated in New York. Yet, in our generation, aliyah to Israel is increasing immensely. According to The Jewish Agency, the highest percentage of people making aliyah this year are aged 18-35 and are mostly college students and young families. There are dozens of students who have dropped out of Yeshiva University, to make aliyah.
What if they didn’t have to?
With the Torat Tziyon Pilot Program, which launched this fall, YU is taking a step for the Jewish Americans who want a future in Israel.
This semester, twelve students, including myself, from Stern College and Sy Syms, are studying at the YU Israel campus in Jerusalem. The classes are in-person with nine world-renowned Israeli-American professors. The men have morning and night seder in the Gruss Beit Midrash, alongside the Gruss kollel and the Roshei Yeshiva.
One of the innovations of this new program is introducing a model of learning for the women that more closely resembles the men’s morning seder structure. One student, Dina Zulberg, SCW, ‘24, commented on the alternative structure, “Morning seder, which [the women] have three times a week from 9:00-12:00 pm with Rabbanit Shani Taragin, is the first time since seminary that I truly feel my learning advancing beyond my own limitations. This program is the perfect opportunity to be in Israel, learn in Israel, and to be able to have a warm and caring community during my experience”
Yali Miller Proctor, SCW ‘23, similarly remarked that “there’s something unique and special about starting our day with [Jewish] learning instead of with anatomy or chemistry.”
Another student, Anya Roberts, SCW ‘23, highlighted the new perspective she gained while on the program, “Growing up, I always loved and had a deep appreciation for Israel, but being on this semester abroad with the Torat Tziyon Pilot Program really opened my eyes to the possibilities of one day building my future here. Torat Tziyon has changed my life in many ways, and I can say confidently that I will be leaving this program differently than I originally came in. I love the leadership opportunities this program encourages, the incredible teachers we have the unique opportunity to learn from, the trips we take exploring the land and what it has to offer, and last but certainly not least, the friends that became family. I am forever grateful to Yeshiva University for giving me this opportunity that I will always remember and treasure.”
Students also remarked on the perks of living in Israel. Zulberg observed that “Torat Tziyon to me is a program that should have existed since the creation of YU. It’s the perfect chance to be able to experience life independently in Israel, whilst having the support of a community and teachers to help you through that transition.”. YU Israel also facilitates opportunities to experience what is being taught through the land itself. Proctor highlighted that, “At every opportunity, we visit different sites related to our course material. When we learned about shmittah, we visited a shmittah farm and met the farmers. When we learned about the Jews crossing the Jordan River, we went to the river and crossed it ourselves. When we learned about Menachem Begin in our History of Zionism course, we went to the Begin Museum and took a private tour of the area. On the yahrzeit of Rabbi Sacks zt”l, we attended President Herzog’s residence in order to commemorate it with Rabbi Sack’s closest family and friends. When Yom Kippur was approaching, we took a tour of Machon Hamikdash (The Temple Institute) in the old city, to better understand the Seder Ha’avodah (the Kohen Gadol’s ritual on Yom Kippur. It is simply impossible to accomplish this level of learning when studying in NYC.”.
Sarah Zaionz, Sy Syms ‘24 explained, “Torat Tziyon has given me the incredible opportunity to spend time in Israel as a college student. They have taken us on amazing trips and shabbatonim to many locations such as Yerucham, Efrat and Tzfat, which exposed us to different types of communities. I have been taking ulpan classes which have really helped me integrate into Israeli society. We are so fortunate to have the unique opportunity to learn Torah and about Israel in the land itself, truly connecting us to our history. I highly recommend this program for all YU students, as it perfectly aligns with the core YU values.”
It’s not just the students who are being impacted; the Professors, Rabbeim and educators around Israel have felt the unique effects of YU Israel. Professor Gil Troy said, “I have never taught YU students before, and I have been very impressed by their idealism, by their values, by their vision, and by their smarts. There seems to be a great sense of community among them and I am honored to be a part of this great new adventure in Zionism and in learning.”
Overall, there is a need for YU to make a home in Israel. Not just college students but the Jewish people have realized how integral Israel is to our lives. YU having a place for undergraduates in Israel accomplishes what it stands for as a Jewish University aiming to educate and serve the new generation of Jewish leaders.