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Mitchell Gronowitz

A Personal Account on Night Seder Life

“Is the beis like a library or a zoo?” is a classic question that permeates through the hallways of Orayta. Most Orayta Bochurim will quickly answer “a zoo!” but I’ve experienced that the answer is actually both.

Around 8pm every night, someone bangs on a table and yells “vehu rachum yechaper avon...” officially starting the evening prayer of maariv. After maariv, I sit down expecting to delve into one of my books, usually about faith, kaballah, or Modern Orthodoxy. I usually finish around half a page before I hear the familiar loud crash. I look up and see that two kids learning Gemara together have stood up, knocking over their chairs, because of a heated argument about the daf. Already distracted, I glance around the room, taking in all the different scenes happening around me: an Orayta rabbi talking attentively to a student, a scattered group of chavrutas learning various books ranging from the Chumash to The Conversation (an Orayta must-read), and a collection of kids debating either about G-d or philosophy. For the next hour, I join in the philosophical debate, adamantly yelling and throwing things to prove my point. Afterwards, I sit down, close my eyes, and listen to all the learning going on. To some, the chaotic atmosphere would be frustrating, as it is hard to focus on one book or idea. But to me and most of my school friends, the passion and fervor for learning that occurs every night in the beis is something that even a zoo would be proud of.

Around 9:30pm when night seder calms down, I learn Rav Kook with Avi Altchuler, a shana bet Bochur that knows enough Hebrew for both of us. Then I go to the roof of Orayta, and meditate on the ideas I learned that day, trying to internalize the many life messages. When I walk back inside, the environment has transformed completely. There are a few kids sitting and learning quietly, but the rest of the chevra left to go “light up the world with Torah and good actions”. This part of Orayta night seder is a hidden gem that can easily be described as a library. I sit down and go back to my half opened book I started at 8pm. I read in peace for an hour or two, and then walk back to the dorms, excited for the process to start again the following night. The unlikely combination of the frenzied excitement of a zoo and the serene environment of a library defines Orayta night seder and it’s truly an experience like no other.

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