Bnei Akiva has run diverse gap-year programs for post-high school students all over the world for years; this year marks the launch of a new program for students looking for an alternative to traditional Yeshivot and Midrashot where students sit and learn all day.
The brand new program, Torah V’Avodah (TVA), has two distinct entities for men and women, but shares the same staff and unique program. Starting on Rosh Chodesh Elul, TVA incorporates Torah studies with touring, interning, and volunteering, giving the students a chance to learn what it is like being a Torah-learning Jew while going about their daily life. While many Israel gap-year programs offer some forms of service, touring, or internships, no other program aimed at North American students has attempted to incorporate all of these aspects.
Rabbi Yehuda Seif, the rosh yeshiva, explained that Yeshiva and Midrasha Torah V’Avodah hopes to raise a new sort of Torah-observant Jews, ones who don’t succumb to positive peer pressure. Prior to becoming the rosh yeshiva of TVA, Rabbi Seif worked at the University of Pennsylvania and saw a trend where students would come back very strong from a year in Israel, but as they faced the challenges of everyday life they would suffer.
“You know, you’re in this incredibly immersive beit midrash experience, and that will compel you to learn to be Jewish, be religious, have your Jewish identity be so dependent on those around you,” explained Rabbi Seif. “And when you get to your campus, wherever that campus is, and not everybody is doing that [being Jewish] there’s a tendency to also not do that, because you have been trained, more than anything else, to do what everyone else around you is doing.”
By immersing students in a program where they will have both the traditional Yeshiva and Midrasha experience, but also have to apply what they learn to the world outside of the Beit Midrash, the new Bnei Akiva program hopes to create independent, free-thinking people whose Jewish identity is built into them, rather than influenced by the people around them.
Yeshiva Torah V’Avodah’s learning portion will be based out of Eretz Chemdah, while Midrasha Torah V’Avodah will be based out of Matan. Along with the staff of Eretz Chemdah and Matan, Torah V’Avodah has its own staff, including Rabbi Aaron Bayer, Rabbanit Shani Taragin, Rav Menachem Leibtag, Rabbanit Leora Bednarsh, and many more world-renowned Torah scholars.
To complement the beit midrash portions of the program, students will also work on kibbutzim, volunteer, partake in internships, and travel in Israel and to Poland. While the students are doing the avodah portion of the program, there will also be shiurim that go hand in hand with the avodah activities.
According to Rabbi Seif, there has been so much interest in the alternative program’s first year that the staff is having a hard time deciding which students to accept and who to put on the wait list.
Parents and students interested in learning about Torah V’Avodah can find out more about the program at www.tvaisrael.org. Applications for the 2014-2015/5774-5775 have already closed.
By Tamar Herman