Living in a Conversation with Hashem – Mendel Schulman’s Story

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Haaretz Hatovah

Real Life Stories and Experiences of Yidden Settling in Eretz Yisroel.

I grew up in a frum home in West Hempstead New York. When I was in tenth grade I came to Eretz Yisroel for the first time on a Young Israel sponsored trip. We had one off-Shabbos which I decided to go to Tel Aviv. A friend of mine had European grandparents there, and I was happy to get around the country a bit. I enjoyed a lovely Shabbos seuda, but was surprised to discover that they were not really Shomer Shabbos! Although I felt bad for them, I was actually impressed with the idea that despite their lack of frumkeit, they still valued and honored Shabbos. I somehow realized that Eretz Yisroel is different than America. Here, all kinds of people are keeping Shabbos in their way. Of course it was a pity they were not keeping Shabbos properly, still it had some merit. Somehow, this concept actually gave me a desire to live here.

After high school I came to Reishit Yerushalayim, an American Yeshiva program, and there I ‘frummed out’. I felt like here in Eretz Yisroel I could be authentically frum, a goal I could not really aspire for or reach in America. Although my Tel Aviv experience of years ago had shown me diversity, in yeshiva I saw the real appreciation and celebration of what Shabbos was. I learned there for a year and then although I wanted to stay, my parents were hesitant. They wanted me to first finish college and get a job. I went along with this plan only partially; as soon as I finished college, I said I’m heading back to Eretz Yisroel! I knew that I had to, in order to lead a meaningful life. I truly feared that if I stayed in the USA, I would just lose my enthusiasm. I said good-bye and returned to the same Yeshiva, working there as a dorm counselor and learning in a small beis medrash near the Mir. 

During that time I met my wife. Originally from Florida, she held a job similar to mine – she was a madricha in a seminary. Like me, she had also come to visit Eretz Yisroel when she was young and was attracted to the realness, the authenticity. Somehow it just feels more real here than it did in the USA. 

We started out in Ramat Eshkol and after a year or two we were able to move to Ramat Beit Shemesh. I started out learning in a kollel, and then became a rebbe in Reishit Yerushalayim. Currently I have a job underwriting loans for a financial company in New York, working American hours. As far as community involvement, I was gabbai of our local shul for many years, during which I tried to help build it up. Boruch Hashem we started having children and my wife is a busy and devoted stay-at-home mom!

Obviously, most trips here are also really Jewishly-oriented – it’s the default. Kevarim, places where stories from Tanach happened. Eretz Yisroel is full of kedusha, you can’t deny it. 

Today, unbelievably, many secular Israeli writers and singers are singing about Hashem. Yishai Ribo is a frum fellow with tzitzis,  singing about Hashem and teshuva… in chiloni gatherings! Imagine – a stadium full of chiloni’im, coming together for entertainment and what are they doing? Singing Torah topic songs! Can’t at all compare to rock stars in USA – there they are not singing about religious topics!

This then is what I think is unique about Eretz Yisroel –here everyone is in a conversation with Hashem and the Torah. It’s all about Yiddishkeit and what it is supposed to look like. Some may be against, but many are for as people struggle to understand their role and the future of Eretz Yisroel. But what is amazing is that that is what people focus on. Even chiloni’im are focused on it. Eretz Yisroel is a Jewish family and life here is a Jewish conversation. People dress differently, wear different hats, focus on different points, but with all the differences, Judaism is the topic. Even as chiloni’im are complaining about Chareidim, they are focusing on Torah although they may not realize it. It’s a machlokes on what the Torah means, and although they err, they are on the page!

Written By Tova Younger

This article is part of Matzav.com’s Haaretz Hatovah series featuring Yidden living in, settling, and building up Eretz Yisroel. For more info please contact info@naavakodesh.org or visit naavakodesh.org/haaretz-hatovah

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