Zachary Ottenstein is studying at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi in Jerusalem. He grew up in New Rochelle and Riverdale, attended SAR Academy for elementary school and TABC for high school. He davened at Young Israel of New Rochelle. In past summers he attended Camp Morasha, though this year he was a fellow on Rabbi Aryeh Klapper’s Summer Beit Midrash program in Sharon, Massachusetts.
His next stop? Drafting into the IDF in March, and then pursuing a career in chinuch.
Why did you choose to study at Eretz HaTzvi?
I am currently in my shana bet at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi in Jerusalem. Eretz HaTzvi appealed to me for a number of reasons, the most important being that it represents the best that Modern Orthodoxy has to offer in terms of a well-educated faculty, both in terms of limudei kodesh and general knowledge, combined with a diverse curriculum that goes beyond that of a traditional yeshiva. The ramim here don’t want to just answer the question at hand, but rather want to do so in an intellectually honest way, which is something that I very much appreciate.
What kind of goals do you have for the year?
My goals coming into my second year were somewhat different from those that I set for myself coming into my shana alef. A year ago, part of the experience was learning how to live independently and survive a new place and culture, which became a goal in itself. This year my goal is simply to learn as much as I can in the time that I have and to be able to say in the end that I used my time productively.
What have been some of the highlights of your year so far?
The Yamim Noraim in yeshiva were very inspiring in my first year, but they become more special when one knows what to expect. While there are some tunes from the davening that I miss from home, davening together as a yeshiva with our own rebbeim being the chazanim creates a special unity that cannot be experienced anywhere else.
What kind of challenges have you faced coming to Israel?
To me, the challenges of being in yeshiva for a year or two are the same as those one would face at anytime that they are away from home for an extended period of time. It takes time to adjust to a new group of people, especially living with them. It was my first time living in a dorm, as it is for most, which meant learning to deal with the quirks and tendencies of others. At the same time, I found it quite rewarding to live with my peers. It has taught me a lot about how to resolve disputes peacefully and how to live with others who may be different from oneself.
How has your year been different from your expectations?
Learning in yeshiva and living in Israel has been more or less what I expected it to be. I worked hard to improve my spoken Hebrew as much as possible beforehand, to lessen the language barrier preventing me from interacting with those outside of the yeshiva. The neighborhood that houses Eretz HaTzvi is quite diverse, which can be scary and shocking to some, but I have found it to be quite enjoyable to be surrounded by people from all parts of the world. Within a few-block radius of the yeshiva there are shuls representing communities ranging from Morocco to Kurdistan and beyond; to me, this has added a lot to my experience in Israel as a whole.
Where is your favorite place to go for weekends/Shabbat so far?
Last year I spent a Shabbat with a few friends in the settlement of Bat Ayin. The people there have a chasidic background, which manifests itself in the form of an hour-and-a-half-long Kabbalat Shabbat every week. Their extreme spirituality combined with their warm hospitality truly made for an unforgettable Shabbat.
Who is a teacher at Eretz HaTzvi you connect to especially well?
It’s quite difficult to limit it to one answer, so I will give two: Rav Susman, our rosh yeshiva, whom I’ve had a weekly chavruta in Masechet Chullin with since I first began in the yeshiva over a year ago. He is a tremendous scholar who is also very personable, which allows for a close connection on both the intellectual and personal level.
I also have a close connection with Rav Todd Berman. Rav Berman has an extensive academic background that enhances his knowledge of limudei kodesh. He will often offer novel insights into sugyot in the Gemara and Halacha based on his wide knowledge of history and world culture. Additionally, Rav Berman takes strong interest in contemporary issues in the Orthodox world and is always happy to discuss them with his talmidim. For someone who plans for a career in chinuch, I have found this to be quite valuable.
Which is one of your favorite classes at Eretz HaTzvi?
Rav Aviad Tabory’s morning Gemara shiur has been a highlight of both of my years in Eretz HaTzvi. Rav Tabory has a strong command of even the most difficult sugyot in Sha”s and teaches on a high level, but also adds to the shiur using his wide knowledge of the Rishonim and Acharonim. In my eyes, what makes Rav Tabory a unique teacher is his deep love for Torah of all kinds. Rav Tabory has approached me countless times smiling from ear to ear because he found a chiddush that he liked and felt the need to share it with someone. The fact that Rav Tabory is excited by his learning has pushed me not only to learn more, but to also find happiness in my learning, which I can’t say would be the case without Rav Tabory and his shiur.
What are you most looking forward to in your IDF service?
Joining the IDF is a chance for me to make a personal contribution to the State of Israel and to world Jewry. Even before I went to yeshiva I knew that I wanted to give back to Israel, but didn’t necessarily know if the army was right for me. After seeing people I knew who had served successfully, there was no reason for me not to attempt the same. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but now that I have made this choice, I am quite excited to finally join. Unfortunately, the Diaspora-Israel rift is quite large, with people on both sides exacerbating tension between the Jews of Israel and those of the rest of the world; it is my hope that by serving I can, in my own small way, heal that rift and show the people of Israel that the Jews of the Diaspora do care about them and are willing to sacrifice on behalf of Medinat Yisrael.
What are you most looking forward to for the rest of the year?
Since I am leaving to go to the army in March, I find myself most excited by the “normal” days in yeshiva. The chagim season is wonderful, but the daily “grind” of learning and interacting with my peers and rebbeim is what I enjoy most. I am excited to continue learning well and forging relationships that will follow me through my time in yeshiva and beyond.
By JLBWC Staff