I was an atypical Orot girl. I grew up in a lightly traditional but not religious family. My Israeli parents had moved to England before having children and didn’t send their older children to Jewish primary schools. My journey throughout secondary school (modern orthodox), encounters with specific teachers/leaders and friends inspired me to question/argue with and ultimately embrace Judaism over the course of the years. By 17 years old I was very committed to Torah learning and living, and Sem was the natural progression. My weekly chavruta in my last year of school was with an Orot graduate, Tanya White. She was knowledgeable and inspiring and everything she taught was with such passion and love - the words ‘Orot’ and ‘Rav Weiss’ came up multiple times each week! She introduced me to Nomi Spanglet and the rest was history…
Orot was a close to perfect year, one of the most important and defining years in my life. This was the result of a combination of factors; of learning in a relatively small attentive bet midrash programme with excellent teachers, being situated in a remote Yishuv away from distractions and the busy vibe of Jerusalem, being surrounded by the beauty and tranquility of the Shomron, together with the fact that September 2000 was the beginning of the second intifada (meaning travel was limited thus more time was spent in Orot). This also meant that there was a collective re-introspection (as there always is when Israel comes under attack), being faced with questions surrounding the significance of a Jewish State, our connection as Jews of the diaspora to the land etc.
Growing up I was a huge Zionist, but the Torat Eretz Yisrael that I learned in Orot classes and on many of our tiyulim shaped my whole approach to Judaism and Jewish identity. At Orot I really internalized that the two were inseparable, and I knew that my future had to be in Israel.
After Orot I studied Jewish History at UCL and came back to Israel many times as a madricha on various school trips. I worked in formal and informal Jewish education for many years, teaching in schools, synagogues, leading informal education programmes, and I worked several years for the UK Jewish charity PaJeS (Partnership for Jewish Schools) in both the Jewish Studies and Modern Hebrew departments.
From our first date, Jonny and I discussed Aliya and the dream of raising our family here. We both wanted to be active players in this unique/miraculous chapter of Jewish history that our generation are privileged to live in. We got married in 2006 in Ramat Rachel, with Rav Weiss and Rav Aviad under our chuppa. Tzvika Spanglet of course sang the 7th bracha, and we enjoyed a really fun evening of sheva brachot at the Spanglets with Rav Felix, Rav Weitzman and several Elkana families that I got to know well from the many Shabbatot spent with the Spang gang.
Community work was something we felt we owed and wanted to give to, so the first 4 years of our marriage were spent in Chigwell (East London) working as community youth directors, Torah values and Eretz Yisrael always our focus. Aliya was not right for us at this stage, but very much still our dream, and Jonny spent several years studying and qualifying as an accountant whilst I continued to work part-time in education.
A few weeks after our long-awaited Aliya pilot trip to Israel in 2015 with our two children Ma’ayan (7) and Eliav (4), having decided that we would be moving that summer, we found ourselves sitting in an early pregnancy scan listening to the sonographer say ‘and if you look to this side of the screen, here’s the other fetus’ – Twins! And high risk, thus Aliya did not happen that year… But in 2017 before Maytal and Ariel (our healthy and miraculous Chanukah twins) turned 2, we made a very fast decision of ‘if not now, when?’ Aliya was again a serious discussion after almost 2 years of not really having the headspace for it because life was too full on. This time I came alone to Israel on a short but intense trip to look at Yishuvim in the north of Israel and fell in love with the community of Mitzpe Netofa in the Lower Galil. Orot was my first exposure to a Yishuv kehilati and I loved everything about it. Our arrival in Ben Gurion, just a few months later, was emotional and overwhelming – Nomi and Tzvika Spanglet were amongst the many friends that greeted us as we exited clutching onto our new Israeli ID cards. We have been happily living in Mitzpe Netofa for 3.5 years, our children have adapted beautifully, and we are in the process of building a house here facing Har Tavor – beyond our wildest dreams!
Since making Aliya, specifically to a place surrounded by incredible beauty, my creative energies have been reinvigorated – my long-term love for photography and my love of nature have been combined into my photography business that I am slowly growing. Orot gave me the huge gift of being able to sit quietly facing the beautiful Shomron hills, with my many thoughts and questions along my intense journey that year to seek truth. On our living room wall is a very large print of Anna Ticho’s beautiful sketch ‘Lonely hill in Judea’. This piece has always reminded me of Orot, of the incredible view from the bet midrash window. Only now, since making Aliya in 2017, 17 years after I graduated Orot and after 17 years of living in a city, have I reconnected to living so close to nature – My neshama is definitely grateful and happiest with the connection to the serenity and beauty here.
Through learning, through tiyulim, through the precious friendships and connections I formed that year, Orot exposed me to and instilled in me a deep love for the unique synthesis of Land, Nation and Torah.
I will always be grateful for the gift of that immense year, for the sparks that were ignited in me, and continue to guide me through life.