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Far from Home, Safe and Sound

Michal Eisikowitz

The seminary year can be transformative, offering girls a solid Torah outlook that will stand them in good stead for decades. To maximize this opportunity, it’s important to stay safe. Seminary educators and mental health professionals speak about the potential pitfalls — and how to avoid them — so girls can make the most of their year.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Seminary acceptance letters have just arrived, and many envelope-ripping girls are looking forward to a transformative year in Eretz Yisrael. They have a solid precedent: three generations of girls have returned home from seminary with a wealth of wonderful experiences — some profound, some funny, many inspiring, and some downright life-changing. “I credit who I am today to my teachers in seminary,” says Meira, a mother of three who experienced a rough patch during her teen years. “I was a madrichah in a seminary for a year,” echoes Batsheva. “It’s beautiful to see how years later, many of them point to the lessons and role models of their year in seminary as a pivotal influence in their lives.” But the year away from home also presents unique challenges. In a foreign country, far from parental guidance, and independent for the first time in their lives, students may face difficult or awkward situations they feel unequipped to handle. Many girls (and their parents) mistakenly assume that Yerushalayim is inherently safe. This naïveté, says Mrs. Chana Rabinowitz, staff social worker at Darchei Binah, can sometimes backfire. “There’s stranger danger with frum Jews, too. That’s why we spend hours talking about this during orientation.” “Seminaries have been sensitive to boundaries and propriety since their inception,” says Batya Weinberg, a mechaneches who has been teaching in seminaries for the past 24 years. “The rabbanim and mechanchos are G-d-fearing, caring, and professional — and extremely vigilant. For decades, the seminaries have been working hard to guide talmidos responsibly.”  Recently, many seminaries have become even more proactive in this area, augmenting their years of dedication by upgrading existing protocols further to ensure that their students’ chavayot are 100 percent positive. “A person who fastens his seat belt when flying on a plane can go distances he never dreamed of,” says Rabbi Michoel Green, overseas director of Sharfman’s. “And a girl who does seminary right can develop an unequaled amount of kochos hanefesh. After all, avirah d’Ara machkim [the mere air of the Land of Israel makes one wiser]. You just have to make sure the seat belt is fastened.” What are some of the safety concerns? What are seminaries and professionals doing to avert them? And what should every seminary girl know?

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