Apr 17, 2009 — The group of 10 Yeshiva University High School for Boys/Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy (YUHSB) students knew things would be very different as soon as they arrived at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport. “We were pretty confused when one of the Israelis brought out a guitar in the middle of the airport and began to sing what was soon to become our theme song, Veshuvu Banim Ligvulam (And the Children Will Return to Their Borders),” wrote Shua Brick of West Hempstead, NY, in an article for the YUHSB school newspaper. The students were part of the inaugural YUHSB/Yeshivat Makor Chaim Student Exchange Program that sent 10 YUHSB tenth-graders to Yeshivat Makor Chaim in Israel and four Makor Chaim eleventh-graders to YUHSB’s New York City campus.
The goal of the program, which ran from Rosh Chodesh Shvat to Rosh Chodesh Nissan (Jan. 26-March 28), was to “give our students a Makor Chaim experience in two ways—by sending our students there and bringing the Makor Chaim students to our school,” said Tova Rosenberg, director of the program. “It’s a global Jewish world and for our students, the future leaders of the Jewish community, it’s very important that they understand other cultures.”
Akiva Rosenzveig of New Rochelle, NY, had “an amazing time at Makor Chaim. The students, teachers and community welcomed us with open arms.”
Located in Kibbutz Kfar Etzion in Gush Etzion, Yeshivat Makor Chaim is one of the most sought-out experimental schools in Israel, attracting the best and the brightest throughout the country. Unlike similar exchange programs, the YUHSB and Makor Chaim students were fully integrated at their new schools, learning Jewish studies with their Israeli peers. The YUHSB students also took part in exciting tiyulim [tours] to Sefad and Jerusalem and enriching chesed [kindness] projects with their fellow classmates.
“The culture of deep spiritual purpose, joyous song and dance, and ongoing reflection that is the hallmark of the Makor Chaim experience has exposed our boys to serious religious and intellectual growth in ways unimagined for the typical tenth-grader,” said Rabbi Mark Gottlieb, head of school at YUHSB. “For their part, the visiting Makor Chaim students have injected a sense of passion, urgency and authenticity into the rhythms of school life here. I couldn’t be more pleased with the results.”
Students in the exchange program enjoyed learning certain subjects for the first time. “We took economics and chemistry, something we never learned in Israel,” said Avishai Oberman, of Efrat. “I really liked YUHSB’s Names, Not Numbers project [an innovative, interactive Holocaust studies curriculum] and can’t wait to share my experiences with my friends back home.”
While the students quickly adjusted and made new friends, they did notice several distinctions between the two schools. “Makor Chaim and YUHSB are quite different,” said Rosenzveig. “Makor Chaim places an emphasis on the students being open and sharing with each other. For example, on Thursdays the entire shiur [class] comes together in a circle and talks about the week’s parsha [Torah portion] and what it means to them.”
Ken Goffstein of Teaneck, NJ, whose son, Dani, participated in the program, knew there was great potential right away. “I felt it would be an experience Dani would cherish for the rest of his life,” said Goffstein. “He now recognizes his world goes way beyond Teaneck and YUHSB, and his commitment as a Jew has grown exponentially.”