Among the biggest decisions facing graduates of Jewish high schools is deciding whether or not to spend a gap year in Israel. If a student chooses to spend the gap year in Israel, then comes the choice of where exactly to learn. These two decisions can impact a student’s religious observance for the rest of his life. After the narrowing down of the search process and actual application process comes the next and perhaps scariest step–the interview.
Well-known children’s author Lemony Snicket once sardonically wrote about interviews: “Besides getting several paper cuts in the same day or receiving the news that someone in your family has betrayed you to your enemies, [it is] one of the most unpleasant experiences.”
Anxiety is one of the most common reasons that the interview can be unpleasant. After all, an 18-year-old will have a matter of minutes to convince a rabbi from Israel that he or she is perfect for their program. This is a great deal of pressure, and can often manifest itself badly during the interview if the candidate is not properly prepared.
As many 12th grade boys prepare for their yeshiva interviews in the coming weeks, The Jewish Link of Bronx, Westchester & Connecticut has put together a few tips for candidates to feel prepared and make the best possible impression on their yeshiva or yeshivot of choice:
Be Positive and Upbeat
“A smile is the light in your window that tells others that there is a caring, sharing person inside,” is the go-to advice of famed motivational speaker Denis Waitley. There is no better time to let out that caring, sharing, thoughtful person in you, no matter how deep down he is hiding, than at an interview for an Israeli yeshiva. The interviewer, usually an administrator or recruiter of the program, may be looking for specific characteristics for an ideal candidate, but a smile and an outgoing, confident attitude can go a long way to making a good impression. Make sure to show the interviewer that you have a positive outlook on life, and keep the conversation upbeat, even if the interview moves into less-than-positive subjects.
Speak About Future Goals
Rabbi Ezra Wiener, Israel guidance counselor of Torah Academy of Bergen County (TABC) and assistant rabbi at Congregation Rinat Yisrael, reminds interviewees that the yeshiva year is a process, and one of the main aims of the gap year is growth. Yeshivot distinguish themselves from others by their students’ interests and goals. By mentioning what he would like to accomplish during his time in yeshiva, a candidate can help show the interviewer exactly what kind of candidate he would be for their program. Rabbi Wiener said: “The yeshivot care more about your interest in what you have yet to accomplish. This is even more important than showing them the pride you feel about what you have already accomplished.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Mention Other Yeshivot
At the introductory session before my own Israel night at Frisch a few years ago, Rabbi Yosef Adler, rosh hayeshiva of TABC, began his remarks with an insight that I didn’t fully appreciate until I myself was in Israel the following year: that yeshivot are not in competition. Each program is tailored to a different type of student, and, while there may be overlap in which school a candidate should consider, yeshivot never fight for future students. The interviewer will very often use this meeting as an opportunity to not only assess a candidate’s suitability for their program, but may often recommend a different yeshiva. Rabbi Wiener advises students not to be afraid during the interview of mentioning other yeshivot they are considering. This can help the interviewer understand why he applied to their program in the first place, and whether he may be a more ideal candidate for his other options instead.
Dress to Impress
One of the most basic yet most effective ways to make a good impression is also the easiest–dressing the part. Coming to an interview wearing nicer clothing gives the candidate an opportunity to show the yeshiva that he is a serious candidate, is well put-together and that he cares for the opportunity to learn in Israel. With the exception of perhaps the most “yeshivish” programs, a button-down shirt and slacks (for those who don’t normally dress this way) should be enough to help make a good first impression.
When push comes to shove, the most crucial advice is the simplest: “You shouldn’t try to be someone you aren’t,” said Rabbi Wiener. “Just be yourself–who you are on a good day–and show them who you are at your best.”
By Tzvi Silver/JLNJ Israel