I had the privilege of spending two years at Orayta. It would not be an understatement to say that the decisions to go for both years were two of the, if not the, most important decisions of my life. Because I went to Orayta, I developed long-lasting and meaningful friendships, gained relationships with caring and brilliant rebbeim, worked for a nuanced and ever-growing connection to Hashem, and strengthened my sense of self, both as a Jew and as a contributing member of society. So having the opportunity to return for Alumni Week to the Old City for three weeks, to the place that helped me to find my purpose, has been amazing.
When I left Orayta in June, I was sad yet excited to begin the next phase of my life, bringing the yeshiva with me in every step. I think the most important thing you can do to hold onto the special Orayta bond you've established is to stay in touch with the people you developed relationships with over your year (or years), like your friends, rebbeim, or even the family you may have in Israel. Additionally, reviewing what you learned and taking the time to type up shiurs keeps the material fresh in your mind and transports you back to the Beit Midrash. However, continuing to act like a mensch and observe the mitzvoth are also of utmost importance, and play a huge role in keeping the Orayta flame burning. Also, Rav Yonatan has done some amazing work with staying in touch with alumni and helping to create Orayta Shabbatons throughout the semester with Rav Binny and Rav Yair. Thank God, I can honestly say that when I walked back into the Beit Midrash, I felt like I had never left.
Though Orayta is my second home, I admit that I was a little bit intimidated to return, not knowing the new rabbis or the majority of the guys. But the moment I walked in, I felt so comfortable. The guys are unbelievable this year; they seem like bright, very friendly, and genuinely nice individuals. Personally, being one of only two Orayta kids at Columbia has been tough for me, but next year we will have 6 more Oraytians, and they all seem like great guys, so I can't wait for that. And the fact that the Beit Midrash is half full during the break is incredible. Also, just when you thought Orayta's staff couldn't be more diverse, they add rebbeim like Rav Shimon Felix and Rav Dovid'l Weinberg. Rav Felix's bold and sincere personality and Rav Dovid'l's thoughtful and kind demeanor fit right in. The yeshiva has really seemed to find its groove – I almost wish I could come back for the rest of the year! During my first week and a half here, I've been trying to absorb as much as I can. It's been surreal for me to sit in on shiurim, even those that I heard last year or the year before, like Rav Blau's "Courage as a Jewish Value" shiur, which I've now heard three times, and have even given over as a d'var Torah. Having been in college for a semester, it only made me appreciate what the rebbeim have to offer that much more. Some things never change though – like Rav Yair's screaming and physical teshuva he does with his guys or Rav Dovid's gedolim stories and how he makes fun of my eating and sleeping patterns. On Sunday night, all of the alumni went to Rav Noam's house for a BBQ and a wave of calm rushed over me, something I hadn't totally experienced in the midst of the stresses of college. I had the feeling that I didn't want to be anywhere else.
I don't mean to paint the picture that life after yeshiva has been without pitfalls. However, because I've held onto my Orayta bond, I'm constantly reflecting on my struggles and understand what I need to fix and how to fix it. Coming back to Orayta to recharge (or go back into the freezer, as Rav Binny likes to say) has emboldened me to push myself harder and has reminded me of the strong support system I have. For any alumni reading this, I highly encourage you to come back for a week or two. If you've forgotten, then come back to realize that what you got at Orayta is real and meaningful. If you remember, then come back anyways to fan your flame even more. Though I know I will have to return to America in a week and a half, for now, I'm so happy to be back. As I said, it feels like I never left. I guess there's just no place like home.