Gabe Spiegel is studying at Yeshivat Ashreinu in Bet Shemesh. He grew up in Englewood, attended Yavneh Academy for elementary school and SAR for high school. His family davens at Ahavath Torah, where he was an avid member of the teen minyan.
Why did you choose to study at Ashreinu?
I chose to come to Ashreinu because my brother went here two years ago, and I heard about his first-hand experiences, saw the smile on his face when he spoke about his year in Israel, and how he became an extremely proud Jew because of it.
I very much enjoy the diverse schedule, where every day is dedicated to something different. Whether it be doing individual chesed on Mondays and Thursdays, or a group chesed that includes the entire yeshiva on Wednesdays, or a spectacular tiyul every Tuesday, I always feel on my toes here because I know when we do these activities it enables me to utilize the new information that I’ve learned and attempt to apply it into the real world.
What kind of goals do you have for the year?
I wanted to enhance and strengthen my relationship with Hashem by going in-depth about davening and what it means to me. Also, being the only person coming to Ashreinu from SAR High school, I wanted to bond new everlasting relationships with my peers and rebbeim. I also wanted to explore the diverse communities of our Holy Land on Shabbatot, because every one of them has so much to offer.
What have been some of the highlights of your year so far?
The two most eye-opening experiences I had so far this year were flying with my yeshiva and two of our rebbeim to Poland, as well as having the opportunity to participate in the Gadna IDF experience.
Thinking back to my very emotional Poland trip, I have to say that the most heart-wrenching moment was coming to the realization in Auschwitz-Birkenau that we would be leaving a few hours later, yet nine out of ten people who passed those cold barbed wire fences never saw the outside world again, including my 2-year-old cousin Uziel Spiegel. It was throughout this trip that I realized why we needed a Jewish state so much, and even more so, the importance of a strong army.
Gadna is a five-day army tutorial course where active and reserve army officers show what it’s like to be a soldier in the IDF. I still recall the immediate pride I acquired once I put on the uniform for the first time. The goals of the program were to become a team player and to push ourselves to new limits. Throughout this week we did gruesome yet entertaining missions, like having a full day of intense training preparing for almost any battle scenario. We were finally allowed to go to bed at around midnight, only to be abruptly woken up at four o’clock in the morning to run a couple of miles away to the edge of the yishuv to prepare ourselves for battle as the sun rose in the background. After the drills were done, at around eight o’clock, we were allowed to daven, eat and get ready for an epic paintball battle between the three groups. After receiving the Best Soldier award from my commander, I felt so honored, even though I was very bruised up; it was great to be part of something bigger, even if only for a few days.
What kind of challenges have you faced coming to Israel?
The biggest challenge has been being away from my loving family for so long, and everything that comes with it. Missing Thanksgiving with all of my cousins, especially my new little cousin Rafaela Grobman who I have yet to meet, playing golf with my pops, training for baseball with my big brother, or having a real in-depth talk just about life with my big sister who’s such a great role model… and most importantly, my mom’s cooking and being in her loving and welcoming home.
How has your year been different from your expectations?
Being the youngest of three siblings, I thought I had a pretty good sense of what to expect. At the same time, if someone would have told me in the summer before I came to Israel that by Yom Kippur I’d be consistently wearing tzitzit with pride every day, and enjoying learning Torah, I would have thought they were nuts.
The Israelis are truly such special people; even if they may be a little harsh sometimes, we know that we’re one people. Earlier in the year I was walking to a nearby bakery and I saw two men yelling at each other over a car accident. But the strange thing was that after I left the bakery 10 minutes later, I saw the same two guys sitting together at a pizza shop, as if nothing happened! That mentality is so beautiful and inspiring.
Where is your favorite place to go for weekends/Shabbat so far?
I look forward to and feel so at home every time I visit my night seder rabbi for Shabbat. Being able to go to a place where I only met his family a few months ago yet they truly treat me like part of the mishpacha is so amazing.
In the first chapter of Tehillim, David Hamelech writes about how important it is to surround yourself with good people to set yourself up for success. When I see the way he treats his parents with the utmost respect, and goes over to their home every week to visit and see if he can help them get ready for Shabbat, it shows me how much he really cares for them. He’s such an inspiration to me that every time I take the bus on the way to his house I’m nothing but smiles!
Who is a teacher at Ashreinu you connect to especially well?
I connect very well with my morning seder rabbi, Rav Raffi Duskis. He always has amazing passion about anything he is teaching us, whether Gemara, meditation, philosophy, or eating healthy. He always knows what to say, and has a smile while doing so. He is a man who is always looking for ways to better himself and his students. Whether it’s his approach to learning, methods how to wake up in the morning, making sure to get a daily workout in, having an open mind to whatever we’re learning, he is an inspiration to all of us.
Which is one of your favorite classes at Ashreinu?
My favorite class is learning Rav Schwab on Prayer with the rosh yeshiva, Rav Gotch Yudin. This isn’t a formal class, more of a one-on-one chavruta. At the beginning of the year I knew I wanted to learn with this very special person. I had a lot of questions about the siddur, so Rav Yudin suggested that I should start from the beginning to understand the whole picture. We started learning about what the korbanot, birchot hashachar, and pesukei d’zimrah meant and I began feeling more connected to them, something I never imagined would happen. My davening has had more purpose and meaning every day, and I look forward to learning even more.
What are you most looking forward to for the rest of the year?
I am looking forward to further pushing myself in any way I can, whether it be learning, davening, and training. I know that Ashreinu has done their part to help me light the torch, but now it’s my turn to bring it back with me to my community, shul, classroom and baseball field.
By JLNJ Staff/Israel