From YU to Aish: The JSS Trip to Israel
As we stepped off the airplane, we were all exhausted after the long flight but excited about the next ten days. Soon after, we were on the rooftop of Yeshivat Aish HaTorah, looking down at the holy Kotel. All 15 of us, including many who had never been to Israel before, took in the incredible view of our history with awe, prepared to grow on our spiritual journey in the holy land of Israel.
“Seeing this place in person for the first time,” Max Ruth (YC ‘25), a sophomore who had never been to Israel before, said regarding looking at the Kotel from Aish’s rooftop, “felt so surreal with the knowledge of the significance of that spot. I was able to feel such a deep connection with this holy place.”
During the winter break, the James Striar School of General Jewish Studies (JSS) Associate Director Rabbi Jon Green took 15 students to Israel on an inaugural trip to experience Yeshiva learning and get a taste of what Israel is like. JSS is one of the four Undergraduate Torah Studies programs on Wilf Campus, and is catered towards students who are less familiar with Hebrew language and textual study.
“This JSS trip has been years in the making,” Rabbi Green told The Commentator, “and offers the opportunity for young men, many from JSS who didn't have the opportunity to spend the year learning in Yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel, so to give them 10 days in Yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel is an amazing opportunity that they had.”
We were joined by a madrich [guide] from Aish's staff who helped to plan and organize this trip. On the trip, we stayed at Aish HaTorah’s campus in the Old City and learned with their amazing staff. We were given daily seminars by different Aish rabbis, had chavruta sessions with older students from the Aish “Beit Midrash” program and participated in Aish discovery seminars. These sessions helped give us a newfound appreciation for the Torah and a personal connection to Judaism.
In addition to this, we experienced the beauty of Israel by visiting places like Tel Aviv, Wadi Qelt and Hebron. As a participant in this trip, I was deeply inspired to grow in my Judaism and I have formed new and deeper friendships with everyone on the trip.
When the group first met at the airport, many of the students did not know one another, but over the entire trip, especially over the first Shabbat together, we all got the opportunity to bond over activities and learning.
The Kotel served as the highlight of the trip for many students. On Shabbat, we prayed at the Kotel, which was eye-opening for everyone, even for students who had been there before. Aish HaTorah is located right by the Kotel so we were able to see the Kotel during our shiurim, hear the sounds of bar mitzvahs and joyful tour groups beneath us and pray there during the trip. “I was by the Kotel every single day, davening there,” said Ozzie Joseph (SSSB ‘25). “I felt a great sense of connection to Hashem and it helped me with my own spiritual self and gain a deeper, better connection.
“When I was by the Kotel I experienced a certain tranquility. Despite everyone davening around me, I was able to concentrate and meditate through everyone’s song.”
Ruth was also deeply inspired by the Kotel: “The highlight of the trip for me was going to the Kotel. This was my first trip to Israel and I have been looking forward to going to the Kotel since I was a kid … After some time at Aish learning about the Kotel, we finally walked through the Kotel plaza and I touched the Kotel for the first time. I instantly felt a bond with Hashem and took some time just to stand there. I had waited for this moment since I was a kid.”
Additionally, for Shabbat dinner, we were hosted by Professor Ari Wasserman and afterward had an oneg with JSS Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Yonasan Shippel in Mamilla. It was very special to spend time with YU staff and our rabbis outside of the classroom.
We also went to Tel Aviv with Rabbi MZ Dubov, a teacher at Aish HaTorah, where we heard from Rabbi Eitiel Goldwicht, the director of Aish Israel in Tel Aviv. He taught us about leadership and how to live meaningful, successful lives and led us through an exercise of defining what success means to each one of us. This leadership experience helped us think realistically about our lives going forward.
We also went to Hebron and were joined by Rabbi Matt LeVee, a former JSS rebbe, along with Rabbi Benjamin Yudin. We toured the city and visited Yeshivat Shavei Hevron, where we sang a moving niggun [tune]. After this, we visited Me’arat HaMachpela and prayed a meaningful Mincha there. I found it extremely memorable to journey to a place with such significance in our history.
Ultimately, students found the trip extremely uplifting and were motivated to continue their Jewish learning outside of Israel. The Aish rabbis were deeply inspiring and motivational. We were all motivated to grow in our Torah learning and in our midot.
“I was with the JSS students and all of them had the same growth-oriented mindset,” Joseph said. “Being in an area with other like-minded people creates an environment for me to grow and helps us all to accomplish new heights.” Additionally, spending time with YU rabbis in Israel outside of the classroom helped students to form connections and displays the care that YU staff has for its students.
“This trip helped the students grow and skyrocket to incredible heights of Torah growth,” Rabbi Green shared. “This, be’ezrat Hashem, will continue for those students in JSS who went on the trip and will affect all those in JSS.”
“I was so fortunate to have been on this trip and deepen my connection with Hashem,” Ruth said in conclusion.
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Photo Caption: The JSS group in Hebron
Photo Credit: Brandon Fisher