by Rachel Silverman, Alisa Flatow International Student 5775 (2015)
I came to study at Nishmat in Tochnit Alisa last year, directly after finishing a joint undergraduate and masters program in engineering in the U.S. I grew up in a Modern Orthodox family, but I had never attended day school or participated in a formal Jewish education. As I neared the end of my time at college, I realized that I was about to take a very big step – starting my career, choosing a new place to live, entering an unknown Jewish community. While I was certainly career-focused like the rest of my classmates, I decided that before I was ready to make this next leap, I needed to step aside from my career path for a moment to enhance my Jewish education, develop my religious identity, and form a clearer direction for myself. Since my career development was important to me, I was limited as to how long I could spend in a full-time learning program before returning to work in my field. I also understood that I could never expect to come out of a program feeling that I had learned enough and could now put Torah learning aside and fully return to my career path. Therefore it was crucial to me that I choose a learning program that, rather than handing me information, would help me develop the tools I needed for a lifetime of Jewish learning. I went on a pilot trip to a few programs in Israel, and I was blown away by the passion, enthusiasm, and focus of the teachers and students at Nishmat. After graduating from my masters program in the US, I came to Israel and joined Tochnit Alisa, a group of young women from all over the world with very different Jewish backgrounds, but all sharing one trait in common – an intense focus and passion for learning. An understanding that this intermission we were taking from the flow of our lives to develop the tools for learning Torah would feed a lifetime of Jewish growth, and so every moment of the experience must be savored and maximized. As I predicted, I of course did not finish my time at Nishmat feeling that I had learned enough; if anything I was even more aware of the vastness of Torah and my relative ignorance. But I did leave with the tools to learn original texts in Hebrew (or Aramaic) on my own, from the Tanach with commentary to the mishna and gemara, from the Rambam to Rav Kook. And with these tools in hand, my previous feeling of inability was transformed to one of anticipation and excitement. Whereas the vastness of Torah learning previously struck me as overwhelming and hopeless, it now seems to me a never-ending source that cannot be exhausted by even a lifetime of consumption. Since leaving Nishmat, I have made aliyah along with many of my friends from Tochnit Alisa. I recently finished ulpan and will soon be joining the IDF working as an engineer. I now see my time spent learning Torah full-time at Nishmat not as an intermission from the course of my life, but as a second path side-by-side with my university education. I feel prepared to take the leap forward into my adult life, merging my career development with my continued pursuit of Torah learning, building an ever-growing and strengthening basis for my Jewish identity.