Camp YavnehCamp Yavneh
November 18, 2020

Kol Yavneh: Hillel Schwartz (K’18)

Author - Camp Yavneh

Spending a gap year in Israel was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made in my life. Not for the same reasons many of my friends dealt with, like the need to get our lives started, or not having a personal and deep connection to our homeland. My struggle was with mine and my family’s anxiety that I might not ever come home, like my brother Ezra. Ezra’s death is an easy way for me to take the easy way out of things, but as soon as I get that feeling I ask myself two questions. 1) What would Ezra have done; and 2) what would he have wanted me to do. So when the time for my decision arrived, I asked myself these two questions, and I quickly realized that I needed to go to Israel.


I am currently learning at Yeshivat Torah V’Avodah in Jerusalem, and looking back on my decision to come here, I would not change a thing. I was definitely skeptical as to if Yeshiva would be the right place for me but I just wanted to give it a chance. I knew if I came here, waiting for the yeshiva to push me into Judaism, I would end up going home farther back than where I started. I knew it needed to come from me: I needed to push myself to give religious Judaism a chance. 


When I arrived, I started small and quickly found I was connecting and getting excited by what I was doing and continue to do here. The first time we went to the kotel as a yeshiva, I decided I would wear my tzitzit, so I could kiss them while saying Shema during maariv. I planned on that being it – I would wear them to the kotel and the next morning I would not be wearing them. But that night I got this feeling that I was doing something right, and I felt good about it. So I gave them another chance. Every morning I put them on, I get a sense of strength. Tzitzit are Am Yisrael’s jersey, and they unify Jews around the world as one nation. Alone we are weak, but together we are strong, and that’s what I realize every morning.


Every morning when I wake up, every time I learn torah, and every night when I go to sleep – I think of Ezra. It is because Ezra is alive inside of me and he directly affects my every action. Someone once told me that everything I do is a continuation of my brother’s life, that I am doing what was taken away from Ezra. I am one of the few legacies of him, and it is my responsibility to give the world what he would have.