Seminary: Go or No?


To go or not to go? It wasn’t even a question.

 I remember the day our principal came to speak to us about seminary, way at the beginning of the year. I firmly believed I was not going to seminary. I was not wasting a year of my life on seminary, I said. Besides, all the “hock” about seminary really bothered me – I mean, how they said if you don’t go to seminary you can’t be as good a wife, mother, and person. The stupidity of that really irked me, and that was the impression I got about seminary whenever people spoke about it. Like, c’mon, no one is ever prepared before they come to a new stage of life! The beauty of human beings is that we’re adaptable; we learn on the job. You learn how to be a good wife by being a wife. You learn how to be a good mother by being a mother. There’s no “needed preparation” before stages. Hashem gives us what we need. I just hated the thought that seminary was supposed to give me all life’s tools in one year, especially after I had just sat through around 18 years of school. It was because of this “impression” that, somehow, in my mind, seminary became the enemy.

I remember those seminary meetings, where each girl had to discuss which seminary she would be applying to – all those intense conversations and discussions – which I happily and peacefully ignored. Not for me, I thought. I sat there thinking, ha, maybe I’ll go to seminary in America, but I would be doing college with it. When I had my meeting, I didn’t even ask about seminaries in Eretz Yisrael. I could tell that my principal would have liked to say more, but she didn’t feel it was her place. She realized that my mind was strongly made up. I was staying right here in America.

*  *  *

For some reason, my mother brought up Eretz Yisrael later in the year. She told me that a teacher she spoke had made her rethink this, and she urged me to at least apply, just for the sake of applying. I was upset that she was reconsidering. My mind was firm! I don’t know why, but I said, “Fine. I’ll ask my principal,” convinced that I was applying for the sake of kibud eim alone.

My principal, pleased when I told her, handed me some applications and made some calls for me so I could apply late. I remember the Skyped interviews in my dining room – in my slippers. (The word “awkward” is not strong enough to express my feelings when I was told to get a Chumash. Whoops!) Well, I got in, slippers and all, but my mind was still set very strongly against seminary. As I discussed it with my mother once more, the conclusion became final: I would stay right here at home, attending an American seminary that was combined with a college. 

*  *  *

Now, life is funny. I think we don’t realize to what extent our life is not completely in our hands, even the choices we do make. As I stood very confidently, knowing exactly where I would be the following year, exactly what life would look like, my dear Father in Heaven looked down lovingly, and laughed – because, somehow, my well-made plans were turned around 180 degrees.

What happened? That summer, the topic of the seminary in Eretz Yisrael came up once more. I had applied and was accepted but began preparing to go to the seminary/college in America. However, an alumna from the seminary in Eretz Yisrael called and said that the seminary was looking for more girls. They were even offering a discount on tuition. I said no. She called again a week later and said that the principal was in America and would I agree to at least meet her?

Fine, I said. I met her. That was the moment that my heart started pulling me in two directions. I started wanting to go as the principal did a really good job portraying the seminary as a small, cozy, and warm place. But I was looking forward to starting “real life.” I would be independent, working. The more people I spoke to, though, the more my heart started pulling me in the direction of seminary.

At the last minute – like the rest of my life – I landed in seminary, the place I swore to everyone I was not heading to! But I see that when Hashem wants you somewhere, He sets you up with the right people and the right settings to put you exactly where you need to be, no matter how much you squirm and protest.

*  *  *

Now that seminary will be over in a few days, and become a dream from the past, I can genuinely share the unique benefits of a year in Eretz Yisrael.

The most famous reason why we are all told to go to seminary is to grow. I never got that. It was stupid and clichéd in my mind. Growth can occur any time and with any activity we choose to learn from. You have to go to seminary to grow? I never understood that – until I came to Eretz Yisrael.

Life in Eretz Yisrael is a lot simpler, physically. It’s so healthy to see people living on a lot less yet being so rich, and happy. They are so much less tied down physically and don’t need as much. And the “richest” people are not the ones who have the most but the ones who need the least. When you have less pressure on the gashmiyus (materialistic) end, the ruchniyus (spiritual) end becomes a much more real and solid goal in your mind. It really is a see-saw. And being in a country that runs on so much “spiritual energy” affects you deeply; your goals become much more focused. We are shaped by our surroundings and the more wholesome, real, and healthy our surroundings, the more wholesome, real, and healthy we become.

And not only that. Being separated from everything you “were” (family, home, school, and friends) and put into such an environment just as you are on the verge of deciding the “big life decisions” on your own gives you an opportunity to realize that your spiritual roots and growth are the very basis of anywhere you go in life. Eretz Yisrael is a factory of kedusha. From where else can you jump over to the Kosel if you’re bored?

Everyone talks about the Kosel, but you don’t understand, until you actually come and daven there. Every moment in your life you need siyata d’Shmaya, but it is in seminary, when you have so many dreams, hopes, and pictures of what your future will look like, that you feel the need to daven so strongly, and you have it so much more intensely in Eretz Yisrael. Every tefila at the Kosel, at the kivrei tzadikim (graves of holy ones), or simply in Yerushalayim – all of it is extremely valuable. You can soak it all up. It’s worth a whole year in seminary just for that! Everything in Eretz Yisrael is shaped around your relationship with Hashem, and yourself. So many precious opportunities to spend free time storing up your “bank account in heaven” with tefilos for the past, present, and future, which is the most worthwhile and meaningful investment of time. No other place in the world offers so many easy and accessible opportunities for such growth.

Another interesting point about being in Eretz Yisrael, which a friend of mine pointed out – and this friend had a very hard time in seminary – was that if there was one thing she was grateful for, it was her lack of an iPhone. It was worth all the hard times just to be able to experience a year without her phone. Our seminary did not allow smart phones, and she followed the rules. We don’t even realize to what extent technology bogs us down. I’m talking not only about your spiritual level, which is not a joke at all, but also about the basic, being-a-healthy-human-being level. The amount of distraction we experience in our society where everybody has a smart phone is disturbing. It’s so normal, so part of us by now that we don’t realize how much it affects us and all of our relationships until we let go for a moment. Being in an environment where everyone has only a kosher phone, changes you totally. The healthiest present for your brain is to give it a break from today’s instant insanity, to let it learn and understand information without being “spoon-fed” everything. To let it listen to the people around you in the moment, instead of the thousands of “friends” you’re networked to on a constant basis. To let it develop rich, independent relationships with people, not phones. As they say, the smarter the person, the dumber the phone. Without proper boundaries, it’s natural to become emotionally attached to a device that can make so many things so much easier, while letting your brain atrophy. Being completely away from all that is “freeing.” And you’ll only get that in Eretz Yisrael.

*  *  *

Nothing in life worth working hard for is strawberry shortcake. Seminary is tough, and every seminary has drawbacks – and the drawbacks are different, depending on where you go. What I can tell you about is being in a small seminary: It was really hard sometimes. A big part of seminary and teenage growth is friends. When you are put into a place where each girl is entirely different, and there aren’t that many to choose from, it’s hard. Sometimes you don’t want to always be holding your tongue and giving time and patience to others. Sometimes you just need your really good friend who is okay with you for who you are, and isn’t hard to get along with, someone whose value system matches yours, and there don’t need to be so many compromises. 

Not only that: You are in Eretz Yisrael, away from your childhood securities – far away – and you are there for nine long months. And as much as you might talk to your mother every day, you’ll never get the same feeling as you do at home, with her homemade cookies and chocolate milk. It’s hard learning to become independent, very hard. And it’s hard especially when the only people you have to turn to after a long, long day of learning are the same people you’ve been with for the past five months.

But you learn a lot. You learn to become emotionally secure and independent. You learn that you don’t need others to give you the validation and attention you’ve always needed. You learn a lot about yourself, and who you are. You learn that friends aren’t the be-all-and end-all in life, and that you aren’t going to be marrying any one of them. So you learn to let go of certain things. You learn how to give selflessly without expecting much back. But it’s still tough at times.

*  *  *

The list can go on and on as there are many more reasons to go to Eretz Yisrael.  But if you boil it all down, it really is an once-in-a-lifetime experience. You’ll never again be going at an age when it’s so easy and beneficial to take advantage of the atmosphere and opportunities.  Although you may be just as good of a wife and mother if you stay in America, or even skip seminary, it’s sad to think that you could forever miss out on such a special, precious opportunity that’s so unique in its packaging! It is precisely that stereotyped seminary “bubble” that will give you numerous valuable and realistic tools to tackle real life and live in a world that just keeps on spiraling downwards to deeper and deeper corruption.

Right now, these are your prime growing years, and it’s essential that they not be tainted. You need a pure environment if you want to go in the right direction. The experience of this special year will be built into you, into your life, affecting pretty much everywhere you go from then on. If you don’t take advantage of it now, there’s no going back in time.

So if you’re wondering whether to go or not to go – what’s the question

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