I grew up very involved with the Reform movement, having gone through their religious and hebrew schools through childhood, as well as camps, and later as an active participant and vice president of the NFTY organization. My first experience in Israel was actually through Reform's EIE high school semester abroad in Israel.
After having established my adult life in America, and being very separated from living any form of a Jewish life, I knew that there was something that I wanted to give back to Judaism, to re-engage. I decided to join the IDF, so I saved up money, found an apartment in Jerusalem, put my life on hold for a year and a half, and got on a plane back to Israel.
Once I got to Israel, I had free time of about two months while my papers were being processed and my draft date would arrive. My flatmate at my apartment suggested that I go to Aish HaTorah (another Yeshiva in Jerusalem) to spend the time learning more about Judaism. I took his advice, and it changed my life. At Aish, I was introduced to the essentials of Judaism (learning the basis of understanding and belief in G-d, Torah, Mitzvot), basically a crash-course. It was enough to re-frame my understanding of Judaism from what I had grown up with, but my draft date came and I wasn't able to gain enough tools to practically live a Jewish life prior to my joining the army.
Throughout my service in Nachal, one of the combat battalions of the IDF, my questions and knowledge of Judaism and Israel only grew. I was lucky enough to serve along side a company compiled of yeshiva students that join their learning with army service, and had gained many friends from every background of Israel and Jewish life.
My army service ending, I was unsure what to do. On one hand, I knew that I wanted to stay in Israel and to dedicate more time to learning about what it means to be a Jew and the practical aspects for how to do it. On the other hand, I had only organized my life back in America to be gone for a year and a half and still had financial obligations (mortgage, car, dog etc).
So, I went back to America with the goal of working for one year to make myself financially able to move to Israel to start my life.
One year later, after selling my house (for no gain), my car (at a loss), and with my dog being taken care of by my parents (who are amazing), I had saved up enough money to make Aliyah to Israel and arrived at the doorsteps of Machon Meir.
I had decided on Machon Meir because I was looking for an environment where I could grow in a healthy and natural way. I grew in Torah, as a person, and culturally in adapting and setting the first steps to establish a life in Israel. I gained good, great friends. I gained knowledge of Torah, and the ability to continue to grow. I was given the opportunity to expand my mindset and gain depth while staying planted as a person. The Rabbis at Machon Meir are extraordinary in helping to reach each individual at their level and in their ability to connect. My relationship with my family, though at first from a distance (my sister subsequently made Aliyah and my brother is here for an extended stay) only grew.
After spending two years of full learning I met the love of my life (One of the Rabbis introduced us), got married to her, found a job in high tech in Jerusalem, and started establishing my home here in Israel. We were blessed with a daughter six months ago.
Whenever I have the chance, I go back to Machon Meir to learn, to see family, friends, or for a Shabbat. It's become, in a way, a kind of 'home'. My friends from Machon Meir are like family. We grow together, and a lot of us are starting families around the same time. We go to each other's weddings, spend holidays together, and are an amazing resource to help each other with all of the difficulties of Life, and all of the great things that it brings our way as well!
Looking back at the time that I was able to dedicate to full-time learning at Machon Meir, it seems so obvious that it gave me the skills necessary to live the type of life that I had really wanted all along. Had I not had this opportunity, I feel that I would have been a much smaller individual, with lower ambitions and a lower ability to deal with the journey of life. Machon Meir, in a way, gave me the ability to connect myself to this World, as my choice (and continual choices).
I am continually trying to learn and grow, from the foundation that Machon Meir provided me, and the tools acquired there, to help me in being a better husband, a better father, a better person, and a better Jew.
David Yitzchak Ben Shimon (Formerly David Isaac Simpkins)
As someone who made the decision to want to convert to Orthodox Judaism by my own personal research, and without connection to any Orthodox community in the United States, I had no idea how to go about undertaking the task of "giur" (which is the Hebrew word for Orthodox conversion). The Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Chaplains I served with in the US Army also didn't know. It's a subject few rabbis deal with. Any Google search for "Orthodox Jewish Conversion" didn't yield any results for me either. My situation looked hopeless, but I had a strong amount of faith that HaShem would lead me to the right place. I left the US Army without knowing where to go, but I knew that G-d-willing, I would make it happen. Not only was it a pure miracle that I have a friend who met a random passerby in an airport who told them about Machon Meir, but I soon learned that the environment of Machon Meir is a pure miracle.
At Machon Meir, I met people who were born and raised religious, non-religious Jews who were searching for answers, and gentiles like myself who wanted to convert (especially those who have Jewish fathers). Machon Meir provides an environment of brotherhood, learning, challenge, and adventurous field trips for those who love history and the outdoors to connect every Jew to the Land of Israel. At the same time, the depth of their Torah teaching caused me to learn enough that many occasions continue to occur where I teach perspectives and insights from the Tanakh and halacha to many religious-from-birth Jews.
Something very unique about Machon Meir is that it offers an environment of diversity. There are over 500 regular students who learn in five different languages (Hebrew, English, Russian, French, and Spanish). Torah study occurs with students from Ashkenazi, Chassidic, Yeminite, and Sephardi backgrounds as one, and from Rabbis of every background listed above. In Machon Meir's Beit Midrash, you will see hats and clothes of every religious traditional background alongside the t-shirt and jeans wearing youth who grew up in religious-nationalist communities in Israel.
Not only am I Jew thanks to HaShem and His guiding me to Machon Meir, I am also a Jew who has experience and knowledge of every religious cultural background who keeps an open mind to learning from every Jewish sage in history from the Vilna Goen to the Alter Rebbe, as well as from the Rambam to the Arizal and the Ben Ish Chai. I have the ability to grow in a beautiful, limitless way that is due to a unique experience which can only be found in Israel.
Are you a non-religious Jew who is curious about religion? Are you a Jew who is religious from birth but has questions which no one in your community can answer? Are you a Jew of strong religious character who would like to develop a deeper understanding of your Jewish brothers of other communities? Are you a Jew just seeking to develop a deeper tie to your cultural history in the Land of Israel, the land of your inheritance? Are you a Gentile (as I once was) who is serious about conversion? If the answer yes to any of the above, Machon Meir is the place for you.