Alexandra Schreiber is studying at The Jeanie Schottenstein Center for Advanced Torah Studies for Women (Nishmat) in the Pat neighborhood of Jerusalem. She grew up in New Rochelle, attended Westchester Day School for elementary school and Ramaz for high school, attending and eventually working as a counselor at Camp Moshava IO in the summers. Her family davens at the Young Israel of New Rochelle.
Her next stop? McCaulay Honors program at Hunter College.
Why did you choose to study at Nishmat?
I chose Nishmat because I loved the learning here. It is so intellectually stimulating and the schedule is packed with tons of interesting and thought-provoking classes. Another reason that I chose Nishmat was because I knew that I wanted to be in an Israeli seminary. I really wanted to feel like I actually lived in Israel, by learning the Israeli culture, making Israeli friends and learning Torah almost exclusively in Hebrew. I also wanted to surround myself with girls who really have a love of learning like I do. For all of these reasons I knew that Nishmat would be the perfect place for me.
What kind of goals do you have for the year?
Going into the year, one of my goals was to strengthen my love and connection to Judaism in my own unique way. I also wanted to gain a more expansive knowledge of Judaism, like more halachot, and familiarize myself with important Jewish figures throughout the centuries, important movements and schools of thought. I also wanted to travel around Israel and visit new places because I really wanted to take advantage of my time in my beautiful homeland.
What have been some of the highlights of your year so far?
One of my highlights of this year was celebrating Chag HaSigd, an Ethiopian holiday that celebrates their yearning, love and, for some, return to Israel. We celebrated it here at Nishmat, and seeing my friends who made aliyah from Ethiopia dancing with such joy to be here in Israel and with such pride of their Ethiopian heritage was breathtaking. I took a look around me and I saw Ethiopian women, American women and Israeli women all dancing, smiling and celebrating the beauty of Judaism and our connection to Israel. In that moment I really felt a feeling of kibbutz galuyot, the gathering of the exiles to Israel.
Another highlight of this year was tiyul shnati, an annual hiking and camping trip with my whole midrasha. On the second day of the trip, with just the American program, we started off with an exercise of hitbodedut, being alone and speaking to God. We then proceeded to do the hardest hike I have ever done in my entire life. Being afraid of heights, going on a tiyul where I was constantly walking on the edge of a cliff, climbing up a cliff and holding onto the rocks in front of me, or climbing down the cliff and holding onto the rocks beside me, I learned a ton about myself and my fears that day. I took many deep breaths and recited sentences of motivation to myself that my Tanach teacher, the best hiker ever, had taught me. I learned that complaining is pointless because I will do it and I can do it, so I might as well make it a more fun and pleasant experience for everyone around me, including myself. I also strengthened my friendships that day. I have never seen such helpful and caring people in my life. All of the girls in my program helped each other out, whether it be calming other girls down, holding hands as we slid down rocks where we couldn’t see where the ground was, or just simply asking “are you OK?” We then finished our hike with Mincha and another hitbodedut session, which was very calming and meaningful for me after the anxiety of the hike. We had such an amazing time doing this extremely difficult hike together, and, looking back on it, I am so, so proud of myself and all of my friends for our incredible effort and teamwork, and very much appreciate the religious experience we had that day.
What kind of challenges have you faced coming to Israel?
My biggest difficulty this year has been finding time to do all the things I want to do. It’s hard to balance keeping in touch with my family and friends in America, finding time to see people who are in Israel, going to all of my classes and retaining the information, reviewing my studies, doing bekiut Tanach, reading inspiring articles and finding time to relax and hang out. It’s still something that I am working on and I think it will be something I will be working on for the rest of my life, but I’m thankful for being given this year to really improve juggling all of these things in my life and it will definitely positively affect my future.
How has your year been different from your expectations?
Being here has definitely been different from my expectations because I needed to be a bit more realistic. One can do a lot in one year, but they can’t do everything. I am putting a lot of hard work into educating myself religiously and learning from my teachers and fellow students, and there will always be more to learn. What I’ve learned is that all I need to do is keep that burning desire to learn more about Judaism alive, because passion will drive me every day and year to grow and learn, and, with God’s help, this will continue until 120.
I did not have culture shock because I have been exposed to Israeli culture and I knew I loved it. Little things were changes for me, like not raising my hand in class, not waiting on lines and the occasional rude person, but I knew that the minute I got here I would be absorbed right back into this great culture and would be used to it.
Where is your favorite place to go for weekends/Shabbat so far?
I don’t really have one favorite place to go for Shabbat because what I’ve done this year is tried to go somewhere different every Shabbat. It’s been so incredible to visit different communities and to get a glimpse into the different lives that my friends live here.
Who is a teacher at Nishmat whom you connect to especially well?
One teacher I connect to especially well is Rav Yehoshua Weisberg, the head of my program. He is a very special teacher, giving incredibly deep and moving classes, whether by turning our daf of Gemara into a mini play and conversation, or reading articles with us on the importance of faith. Rav Yehoshua also has helped me a lot with my personal growth and has helped me pave my unique path this year. I greatly appreciate his thoughtfulness and how he devotes equal energy into every aspect of my experience this year. Having Rav Yehoshua as a teacher and mentor has definitely made my experience at Nishmat more meaningful and unique.
Which is one of your favorite classes at Nishmat?
One of my favorite classes is my Halacha class taught by Rav Koby Gigi. The class meets Wednesday and Thursday mornings from 9:45 until 13:00. I love it so much because the way we learn is that a topic is picked and is then broken down step-by-step by looking into the opinions of numerous poskim. I really see the process and feel as if I am a part of it by studying it, which is special to me.
What are you most looking forward to for the rest of the year?
What I am most looking forward to from the rest of my year is to continue on this amazing, unique path I have set for myself and to continue learning more about my role as a Jewish person. I look forward to genuinely enjoying the rest of my time here, whether it may be through learning or going on adventures. Whatever it may be, I hope it will be a meaningful experience that continues to shape me for the better.
By JLBWC Staff