Davina Goodman is studying at Nishmat in Jerusalem.
Where did you grow up?
I went to the Special Music School, a specialized public school on the Upper West Side. I stopped attending a Jewish day school after fifth grade. From first to third grade, I attended Beit Rabban and then from fourth to fifth, I went to Bi-Cultural Day School. I had tutors from Drisha, I went to JTS Prozdor Hebrew High School, and then, to help me prepare for an Israeli midrasha, I had an Israeli tutor in my senior year of high school.
Shul has always been an integral part of my life. I leined in the women’s minyan at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, for my Bat Mitzvah, as well as other times when they needed extra women to sign up. I also worked in the youth groups there from eighth grade to the end of high school, and made all of my childhood friends there. In high school, I thought it was time to make more Jewish connections through friends and mentors. I joined NCSY, and went on two summer programs, TJJ and ICE Israel (which is now called Israel ID). Throughout my four years participating in NCSY, I have had countless chavrutot and have made friends from all different cities in America. This wasn’t enough for me.
In my senior year, I went on a summer program called, “The Szarvas Fellowship.” I met girls and boys from all different sects of Judaism from America and from many Western European countries. We got to spend Shabbat together and teach each other ways to be Jewish in difficult places. All this all helped me to mold my Jewish identity and prepared me for my year in Israel.
Why did you choose to study at Nishmat?
Since, not only did I know a bit more about the program because my sister attended two years before, but I also knew that I wanted an Israeli environment. I knew that, personally, I needed to be thrown into an Israeli school in order for my Hebrew to really grow. I have classes in Hebrew and in English, so it’s a perfect balance. When I come back to my apartment, I have three Israeli roommates, one Ethiopian-Israeli and one American. I am now having firsthand experience with authentic Israeli culture, and I get to be a part of a supportive crowd of Israeli and overseas Orthodox girls who bring different ideas to the conversation. It’s a perfect challenge that really captivates what I missed being in a non-Jewish high school. I am taught by women who have led the revolution of women learning Torah, and rabbis who are nothing but supportive. We are trusted to make decisions by ourselves, together with the Halacha they teach us.
What kind of goals do you have for the year?
Growing up, my family has always pushed me to be an accepting Jew, one who has joined pluralistic programs and a Jewish non denominational choir. At some point, I decided that it was time to learn alongside like-minded people. After this year, I do hope to attend Brandeis University, a secular college that is thankfully filled with many different types of Jews. I wanted this year to be a chance for me to grasp Halacha and learn the things to defend and answer the questions everyone asks. Being the Orthodox girl in a public school, and part of a choir filled with mixed genders and multiple backgrounds, I have always been the address for people with difficult questions about Orthodoxy. I want to learn, for myself, how to answer these questions.
What have been some of the highlights of your year so far?
So far, the main highlight of my year has been celebrating Simchat Torah through a women’s celebration. At Nishmat, as the majority, the women got to sing and dance around the Torah in our own beit midrash. Attending the HIR, I am not unfamiliar with this experience, but many of my friends were. I was very excited and proud to be in a community that helps women feel a part of the chag and to teach my friends of their important role in the celebration, as well.
What kind of challenges have you faced coming to Israel?
Of course, the biggest challenge of being away was being separated from my family. Not only was it very difficult to be away from my siblings and parents, but specifically, it was extremely hard to be away when my sister gave birth. This has been the first baby in our family and I felt very detached seeing the pictures and my whole family celebrating the simcha without me.. Luckily, I will be able to see my baby niece over Pesach and I am so grateful to have my sister, who made aliyah two years ago, living near me as well.
What are your plans for next year?
When looking for a college, I wanted to find a school in which I could continue my Jewish practice and learning. At Brandeis, they have a flourishing beit midrash, and the Orthodox community is very intellectual and students are intensely dedicated to growing in their Yiddishkeit throughout their college experience. This stood out, because after this year, I knew I had to be in a school in which I will continue the love for Kodesh learning I’m gaining here in Israel.
How has your year been different than your expectations?
The culture shock I experienced coming to Israel was the difference between learning at a midrasha and at a school; that is, learning for a grade versus learning for the sake of learning. At school, we were taught based on a curriculum or for a test. I have never felt like I could delve into a topic and spend a good amount of time on it, because there was much more to do. I felt that at school, a good knowledge on everything was warrated, rather than an excellent knowledge on a certain subject. At our midrasha, we are taught purely for the sake of our own learning. Here, teachers want us to learn how to learn for ourselves, and will help us in any way they can. This has pushed me to try harder and choose more difficult tasks, because this year is for me and no one else. I have been able to reach a satisfaction of a job well-done rather than the half-hearted version.
Where is your favorite place to go for weekends or Shabbat so far?
My favorite place to be for Shabbat is in a house with a friend from Shiur Aleph, the first year program for Israelis at Nishmat. So far, I’ve been to two different families in Elkana, but I’m eager for many more. It’s amazing to see the difference between my Shabbat meals and theirs, at the same time learning Israeli slang and new culture when meeting their friends, which helps bridge the gap between us and the Israelis. Nishmat is a place for both, where we all learn and benefit from each other, and this is the feeling I experience when sharing a Shabbat in their life.
Who is a teacher at Nishmat who you connect to especially well?
My Gemara teacher is the teacher I connect to most at Nishmat. Not only do I have the utmost respect for her, she is a woman that is devoted to learning and teaching others, as well as finishing semicha and becoming a Yoetzet Halacha. Between this, she was able to find time to raise her ten kids, write a book and be an amazing teacher. I really connect to her, because I aspire to be her. I strive to work as hard as her, and make time to do everything I am passionate about, and she really helps make me believe that I can do this as well.
Which is one of your favorite classes at Nishmat?
So far, some classes I have really enjoyed are Rav Kook, Rav Soloveitchik and the class about the Lubavitcher Rebbe. This class especially interests me, because I am learning how forward thinkers of the Jewish past have dealt with questions that I am still dealing with now.
What are you most looking forward to for the rest of the year?
I am most excited for the day I will be able to open up a Gemara and learn by myself. I look forward to the next couple of years, when I’ll be able to learn on my own, yet still have the connections with my friends and teachers, to send them questions or ideas I have about the Shas.