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Life of Yeshiva Guys in Israel: Plane Truth

Life of Yeshiva Guys in Israel

A Pictorial, Vidorial, and Textorial Panorama of the Life of Yeshiva Guys in Eretz Yisroel (Israel). Join us as we discover Eretz Yisroel and all it has to offer Yeshiva Bochurim.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Plane Truth

     Walking down the cramped aisle, I relish the feeling of the unknown. I’m enjoying the experience of possibility. Of potential. No, I’m not about to get married. I’m headed overseas for a friend’s wedding. But for me, a plane ride holds all the promise and excitement that a fresh sketch pad holds for an artist. The pristine white paper, clean now…but what will it become? 
As I make my way down the interior of the narrow, people packed inside of the plane’s fuselage, I take a slow look around me, and I can feel it. I just know that this is going to be an interesting flight. I perform the customary, slow check of my flimsy ticket stub, all the while craning my neck up at the tiny numbers printed above the seats- its almost as if they don’t want you to find your seat. A polite flight attendant had informed me that my seat was the second to last on the right hand side of the plane, and I head down that way. Approaching my row (43), I realize that I am sitting smack in the middle of a bored looking Israeli and…an incredibly nervous looking seminary girl. Great. I can tell she’s cycling through all the potential survival scenarios she’s just been brainwashed with for the past year.
We exchange the quickest of understanding glances- we both know that there is absolutely no way we are sitting next to each other for any amount of time- and certainly not 12 hours. She goes her merry way, trying to arrange a seat change, while I motion for the assistance of the harried stewardess. “What can I do for you, dear?”, she asks me as she squeezes by on her way to the back of the plane. “Uh, we have a small problem here, ma’am”, I stutter. I outline the nature of our dilemma, and she assures me that she’ll do her very best to resolve the issue. Twenty minutes later of red-faced shuffling about in the narrow aisle, our issue is resolved- only two minutes before take off. An Israeli young man, obviously chiloni, non-religious, agrees (after the stewardess’ saccharine sweet smile) to switch places with the girl. Silently, we settle into our respective seats. Not knowing what’s going on in his mind, I can only tell you what’s in mine. I’m wondering if he wants to talk. He seems to be the quiet type, but as I’ve discovered over the years, the quiet types are often the ones who have the most to say. As Emerson said, “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying”.
I decide to try and strike up a conversation. After only a few minutes, we are schmoozing like old friends. It turns out there is a mere one year age gap between us, and although I’m amazed at his maturity and level of sophistication (he’s been in the army- commanding a 12 man squad in Jenin), we find enough common ground in whatever shared heritage we do have to relate. Over the next few hours, we talk about everything. Life. Sports. Politics. And Religion…with a capital “R”. By the time we reach the “Holocaust and G-D Question” after two hours of intense theological ping-pong, the lady seated in front of us is tossing and turning. Finally, she politely requests us to keep it down. At somewhat of a crossroads in our discussion, we both agree to continue the schmooze in the morning.
In the meantime, I ponder the issues of faith he’s raised. I pray to Hashem that He place the right words into my mouth; that I should be able to answer him with both the proper “haskafah” as well as enough grace that he shouldn’t be put off by the daunting truth. He is a sincere fellow, and his time spent in the army has only served to enrich his sincerity. But more than that, he seems sincere about finding some sort of meaning to it all. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have all that much to be sincere about these days. His country is on the verge of war (again), his people have, as of late, started feeling their oats and in the process become lazy, and his land, while still technically a first world country, is, by his own admission, in many ways less civilized than most third world states.
When I meet up with such sincerity in non-religious folk, I am always overcome by dual emotions. How bittersweet it is, this sincerity; so much of the enduring core values of our people, and at the same time, completely without course, lacking any bearing whatsoever. I attempt to point this out to him by the way- I ask him in what way, if any, he feels connected to the Jewish people. Clearly, he identifies deeply with something - he’s already told me that he plans to spend his life in pursuit of the furtherance of his land and people. He doesn’t really have an answer to this question, basic though it is. And I can feel the pain, deep within him, as he tries to sort out his own position on this. “I don’t know what makes me Jewish, that is true. All I can say is, I feel something, some connection. I’ve been trying to, but still can’t define it.” I wish I could explain to him all about the “Pintele Yid”, about “Knesses Yisroel”. How his feelings, undefined for the whole of his young life, have been defined long ago by people far older than him. But the time is short and the labor long. I focus my energies elsewhere, hoping he’ll reach some stage of cognizance of the above idea autodidactally.
By the end of the flight, we’re fast friends. We exchange contact information, and share a cab ride to our mutual destinations. I insist on paying. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe because I’m determined on shattering the trogloditian, boorish, frugal stereotype that has become the image of Chareidi Jewry from the secular perspective. Perhaps it’s an inner desire to express my appreciation for all he’s done for us, for me, as a soldier. Or perhaps it’s simply one Jew insisting on doing a favor for another. I don’t know.
Like our conversation, the farewell is smooth. But also like our conversation, there is a roiling undercurrent of emotion, at least on my end.  As we agree to meet when he returns to Jerusalem as a student at Hebrew U, I feel like shouting at him “Fargest nisht, du bist a Yid”!  Instead, we shake hands, and bid each other joyful and peaceful summers.
All in all, I may have learnt a little about what it is to try and live a life with ideals so gray, and to chase dreams that aren’t, won’t be, and never were. Pure torture. “Al eilah anu bocheyu”. And I’ve discovered, perhaps, that there exists a strata of Israeli chiloni society who struggle with issues relevant to their very core being, in ways that I never will (G-d willing). Boruch Hashem. And I’ve found something beautiful in the simple knowledge that even today, with the laissez-faire attitude of the street, and worse,  it's over pervasiveness of self-interest, young Jewish men are still being raised with the desire to search for the truth, if nothing else.
Now, on my return flight to Israel, as I sit here attempting to find some perspective in all this, my seatmate isn’t nearly as exciting a conversation partner. A rheumatic dati leumi type, the 7 inch screen embedded in the seat in front of him holds far more fascination for him than little old me, and to be honest, the feeling is mutual.
But then again, perhaps I should engage him, schmooze with him a little. Like I said, the possibilities…

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Blogger SIS said...

Just found your blog through lifeinisrael, and it's great! This post was beautiful, although I couldn't stop wondering through the whole thing how a yeshiva bochur has such a high vocabulary and writes so well and yet is a "yeshivish yeshiva bochur." My mind can't comprehend such a thing, so please explain...

And the $64,000 question: Are you going to keep in touch with the guy?

September 24, 2009 at 9:14 PM  
Blogger Yeshiva Guy said...


Excellent question. In fact, I'm actually a professional writer in disguise. Kidding.

Thanks for the compliment, and as for the question- well, option one, assuming your premise is correct, is that I'm either not, in fact, a good writer/good vocab, or that I'm not, in fact, yeshivish.

Option two. Yeshivish guys can be good writers. Example would be...ummm...wait for it...actually, don't. But I'll think of someone, one day.

$64,000 question. Yes, BE"H. Per R'Moshe's teshuva on kiruv/zman/ma'aser.

September 24, 2009 at 11:50 PM  
Blogger SIS said...

I know, I'm narrow-minded. I don't think chassidim can be good writers either and am always surprised when I come across them on the internet (though not of the matzav/YWN/VIN variety). [My premise is based on people's comments when I use words that I think are normal, and they think are fancy, for example, succinctly or exacerbate.] Are you a big reader?

September 25, 2009 at 12:23 AM  
Blogger Yeshiva Guy said...

Yes, you are. But then again, so are most people.

Depends on what you would consider "reading".
When you "read" stuff to go to bed, is that reading? Or when you "read" Navi Bein Hasdorim, is that reading? Or when you "read"...dare I say it...Hume Bein Hazmanim, is that reading?


September 25, 2009 at 6:40 AM  
Blogger SIS said...

Hey, you weren't supposed to agree with my jab at myself!

Can't ask a YG a simple question without getting asked three questions in return. *roll eyes*
No, no (unless it's the pink Judaica Press), and a resounding yes! [You read Hume???]

September 30, 2009 at 8:39 PM  
Blogger Yeshiva Guy said...

Oops. Shtuch recalled.


Don't tell anyone. They'll never redt me to anyone when the time comes if they find that out. Ssshhhh.

October 2, 2009 at 7:40 AM  
Blogger SIS said...

:-) You'd be surprised how many girls would be impressed with that...unless "that" type is not the right type for you. Oh, and don't you worry about shidduchim, you're a guy, remember?

October 12, 2009 at 6:26 PM  

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