Jonah Chill is studying at Yeshivat Har Etzion (“the Gush”) in Alon Shvut. He grew up in New Rochelle, attended SAR Academy for elementary school and Frisch for high school. His family davens at Young Israel of New Rochelle.
His next stop? Yeshiva University’s Honors Program.
Why did you choose to study at Har Etzion?
I chose to learn at the Gush because I wanted to challenge myself by immersing myself in the study of Talmud, Tanach and Jewish philosophy at the highest levels. Also, some of my Judaic studies teachers in high school structured their lesson plans around Torah ideas and analyses taught by current Gush rebbeim, and I was excited to learn directly from those sources.
What kind of goals do you have for the year?
Going into the year, my goal was to increase my love of learning and to improve my ability to read and analyze Jewish texts. I hope that this combination will enable me to continue learning at a high level long after I leave the Gush.
Since coming to yeshiva, I have given myself another goal: to become a better person and, more specifically, a better Jew. Every morning, one of the rebbeim, Rav Taragin, gives a “five-minute midah” shiur at the beginning of morning seder that emphasizes the importance of our avodat Hashem. This has resonated very deeply with me.
What have been some of the highlights of your year so far?
The most inspiring moment to me so far was watching an Israeli talmid in my yeshiva, just a year older than me, recently make a siyum on all of shas. To witness someone around my age accomplish such a feat inspires me to further improve myself.
The most exciting moment in my year so far was probably Simchat Torah. The energy and happiness that I felt in the Gush throughout that day was unparalleled by any experience I have ever had.
What kind of challenges have you faced coming to Israel?
Going into the year I was concerned that I wasn’t going to be able to keep up with the high level of learning here. I did initially struggle with the pace and intensity of learning in yeshiva, but it became easier for me after a couple of weeks.
Another issue, which I did not have going into the year, was sleep. Shacharit begins at 7 o’clock, and night seder ends at 11, and with that schedule one gets tired quickly. As I adjusted to yeshiva, I learned how to better manage my sleep—by taking 10-minute “power naps” during breaks.
How has your year been different from your expectations?
Beyond the issues I’ve already discussed, I was worried about my ability to fully engage with the Israelis at the Gush, given the language and cultural barriers. However, the Israeli talmidim have been overwhelmingly warm and welcoming from the very beginning, and this eliminated any fears I once had.
Where is your favorite place to go for weekends/Shabbat so far?
I am very thankful to have many family members who live all across Israel. It is nice to be able to spend time with cousins whom I have not been able to spend much time with previously. Outside of that, we recently had a shabbaton in the Old City that I found to be very meaningful.
Who is a teacher at the Gush you connect to especially well?
It’s hard to name one teacher in particular, as they all have very different styles and ways of interacting with students, and so I appreciate each of them for different things. As a general rule, I find all of the rebbeim in Gush to be warm, friendly and available to overseas students. This doesn’t apply just to the rebbeim for the overseas students; the Israeli rebbeim are very approachable as well.
Which is one of your favorite classes at the Gush?
As I previously stated, one of the reasons I wanted to come to Gush was to learn firsthand from the rebbeim my teachers referenced in high school. One of these rebbeim is Rav Leibtag, who teaches Tanach a couple of days every week at Gush. I came to Gush with a well-established love of Tanach, but Rav Leibtag’s unique approach to reading it has greatly enhanced my love for, and growth in, studying Tanach.
How has your transition to living in Alon Shvut been? Do you find it to be very different from where you grew up in New Rochelle?
Alon Shvut has felt a lot like home from the time I arrived. I believe my adjustment to living in Alon Shvut was very easy because of its similarities to New Rochelle in many regards: the relatively quiet nature of the yishuv, the beautiful scenery when I walk outside my room, the friendly families that live there and, of course, the pizza place that is a short walk away.
What are you most looking forward to for the rest of the year?
Aside from the goals I have already mentioned, I am looking forward to strengthening friendships that I have already made and continuing to make new ones. What is great about the Gush is that I have had the opportunity to meet guys from a variety of different countries, such as England, South Africa, Australia and Israel. I never would have crossed paths with many of these guys if not for the Gush, but now I am able to create lifelong friendships with them.