For many post-secondary students, a year in seminary or Yeshiva provides the confidence, knowledge, skills, and growth to start their adult lives on their own. This “year in Israel” is designed to strengthen one’s Jewish identity, focus on Jewish studies, and experience Israel. While some end up staying in Israel after spending a year in Yeshiva or seminary, the majority return to start college or take their next step closer to home.
About a third of the girls that chose to learn at Machon Maayan last year stayed in Israel. Some plan on making Aliyah eventually, but for the next year they will do a variety of things, including army, national service (Sherut Leumi), another year at seminary or college. Machon Maayan is a seminary devoted to engaging in Torah, experiencing Israel as a classroom, volunteering, and building relationships, so many of these choices are rooted there.
Devorah Fuld, from Baltimore, is excited to be making Aliyah after having spent the last year at Machon Maayan. She plans to be a Bat Sherut at a senior center in Jerusalem. “Coming to seminary was my first time in Israel. I fell in love with the country. I knew ultimately I would want to live in Israel”, says Devorah. She feels that Machon Maayan has given her the assistance she needed to reach this decision; Zionism is a strong value at Machon Maayan but the staff encouraged Devorah to explore all her options and make Aliyah when it felt right to her. Devorah is excited to stay in Israel this year and make this place her home. When asked why she feels like now is the right time, she says, “It feels like Israel is where I can start my life. This is the place where I’m most happy, where I can thrive, and be the most me.”
Meryl Lee Avraham, assistant director at Machon Maayan, says that Israel itself is pretty convincing. Those who are staying for another year are choosing to be in Israel after being on a program located on an Israeli campus, and immersed in the culture. Machon Maayan girls share the campus facilities with the girls from the Israeli Midrasha – from eating in the Cheder Ochel to having the option to participate in the art college and music school. There are many opportunities at Machon Maayan to learn Hebrew by being in a Hebrew-speaking environment and becoming familiar with Israeli society.
Meryl Lee strongly believes that each girl will take her own route after her year at Machon Maayan, and the staff works with each student individually to consider the best option. For students who are interested in making Aliyah, the staff encourages them to figure out when would be the right time to make the move.
“Machon Maayan shows us around. They teach us to be proud Zionists and proud Jews, but they don’t push it – they show it,” said Brielle Kaplan, who is staying another year at Machon Maayan. After going to seminary without any prior formal Jewish education, she had to cover the basics and begin from the start. She says, “I want to go back and use what I gained last year to delve deeper and be able to think and process what Judaism means to me instead of just what it is.” After becoming good friends with one of the girls who was there for her second year, Brielle decided she wanted to have the opportunity to pay it forward and be a mentor for girls who are in their first year.