By Stephanie Deichman
It’s hard to believe Shavuot has already passed. It feels like just a few days ago that I celebrated Purim in Jerusalem with my friends and teachers. My friends and I made our way to Ben Yehuda Street and sat around eating falafel, laughing and talking, while costumed celebrators walked by. A mere six days later, I was at Ben Gurion airport, boarding a flight to take me home to America.
I had assumed that I would be able to celebrate many more holidays in Israel during my gap year at Ohr Torah Stone’s Midreshet Lindenbaum, but the odds didn’t look good as I stepped on to the plane. With Shavuot, the climax of a year spent in the Beit Midrash approaching, I reflected on these past few unprecedented months and what it will be like to mark this chag at home; not only missing shul and my friends but the Beit Midrash itself.
All classes moved to Zoom, and instead of being gathered together in Jerusalem, we were scattered all around the globe, from New Jersey to France to Australia, meeting regularly on screen. The faculty at Midreshet Lindenbaum created a new, detailed schedule for this unfamiliar learning medium, making classes shorter and adding breaks. Students and teachers alike had to adjust to learning online; teachers had to change their teaching styles, and students have to focus harder to stay engaged. Every student and faculty member has shown true dedication and commitment over the last two months of distance learning by giving their all in class and participating in engaging online activities together.
It was often very hard to focus during class, and very easy to be distracted. A large aspect of the seminary program is living in the land and experiencing everything in it while learning — that factor went completely missing.
Despite the challenges, everyone tried to keep the seminary environment alive as much as they possibly could. We had meaningful programming for Yom Hazikaron and Yom Hashoah, and fun activities for Yom Haatzmaut and Lag Ba’Omer. Weekly student-led Mishmars on Thursday nights still took place, and teachers in Israel woke up at 5 a.m. every week to attend. We even threw an impromptu online engagement party for one of our teachers.
Honestly? Some days I didn’t want to go to class at all. I missed my roommates, living with my friends, and the beautiful beit midrash. I am extremely disappointed that my gap year in Israel ended abruptly. Attempting to feel like you’re still in Israel, in a seminary environment, while sitting at home staring at class on your laptop is extremely difficult. The online celebrations though thoughtfully planned out and well executed, ultimately just made many of my friends and me miss Israel and the experiences we were planning on having there. Despite the “breakout rooms” standing in for chevruta time, and attempts at open beis time, online learning via Zoom will simply never be as good as actually being in the Beit Midrash.
It may not be the most ideal seminary experience, but our year of learning continues, even from the comforts of our own homes. We still have the opportunity to learn, grow, and interact with our peers from all over the world and have dynamic and intellectual conversations. And, it gives structure and meaning to our otherwise empty days.
Shavuot passed, and with it went another online celebration. Normally, Lindenbaum has a “Volozhin week” during the week leading up to Shavuot, where there is always someone learning in the beit midrash for the entire week at all hours of the day and night. Even though we weren’t able to physically learn together, the plan was to have people learning at all hours of the day (the different time zones are in this case an advantage!) and the midrasha plans on making a Siyum on all of Tanach on motzei Shavuot.
I would have loved more than anything to be in Jerusalem for Shavuot. Only now do I understand just how special Jerusalem is, after learning there with intelligent young women from all over the world. If I had been there on Shavuot, I would be learning in the beit midrash late at night with my friends and celebrating my final Yom Tov of the year, just like I had been on Purim. So as I prepared my shiur, and worked towards a midrasha-wide Siyum Tanach, which we completed together over Shavuot from our mobile makoms all over the world, this year, I settled settle for a celebration in the virtual beit midrash.
Stephanie Deichman is a graduate of Berman Hebrew Academy and Ohr Torah Stone’s Midreshet Lindenbaum and will be attending the University of Maryland this fall.