Max Muss is studying at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi in Jerusalem. He grew up in Scarsdale, attended Westchester Day School for elementary school, and Frisch for high school. In the summers, he’s attended Westchester Summer Day, Camp Lavi, Kayitz B’Kibutz on Kibutz Shluchot in Israel, and, most recently, as a counselor at Camp Koby. His family davens at Young Israel of Scarsdale.
His next stop? Johns Hopkins University, to major in mechanical engineering and minor in biology.
Why did you choose to study at Eretz HaTzvi?
I chose Eretz HaTzvi because of the open-minded attitude of the rebbeim and the emphasis on preparing us to live a religious life on secular campuses. I appreciate how the rebbeim all have a lot of very-well-rounded knowledge and are willing to discuss any questions we might have about Judaism, or life in general. I also enjoy how we’re treated like adults, such as how we’re encouraged to integrate various courses into our very diverse schedule so that rather than learning Gemara all day, we have the opportunity to learn about Jewish philosophy, Halacha and Tanach as well. I also feel that Eretz HaTzvi fosters an environment that encourages intelligent discussions, debates and a thirst for knowledge.
What kind of goals do you have for the year?
My goal for this year wasn’t to “flip out,” but rather to experience genuine religious growth. I came to learn the “whys” of Judaism instead just the “whats” and “hows,” so that I could better understand the reasons for following Hashem’s commandments.
What have been some of the highlights of your year so far?
Despite only being here for a couple of months, I already have numerous experiences that could qualify as highlights. If I had to choose one, it would probably be dipping in Avraham Avinu’s personal mikvah when I was in Chevron for Shabbos. It was amazing to be able to spiritually cleanse myself in the same water as our biblical patriarch.
A close second would probably be Selichot at the Kotel with thousands of my Jewish brothers and sisters. It was unifying and beautiful.
How has your year been different from your expectations?
I am surprised to find that I am able to actually sit and learn for a majority of the day and enjoy it. It’s definitely hard to be productive, especially when you’re generally not being forced to do things, but I’m learning to push myself to be productive even during my free time by learning, working out or reading. I’m honestly surprised but not disappointed that I’m not binge-watching nearly as many television shows as I had anticipated.
Where is your favorite place to go for weekends/Shabbat so far?
For Shabbat Chayei Sarah, I had the immense privilege of going to Chevron for Shabbos. Chevron is home to one of the holiest sites in Judaism, the Me’arat HaMachpela, where most of the patriarchs and matriarchs are buried, but it is in a very controversial area. However, for 10 days every year, rather than the halls of the me’arah being divided between Jewish and Muslim worshippers, the Jews have access to the entire site. It was amazing to be able to pray with over 35,000 Jews at the graves of our ancestors. I slept in a school nearby with thousands of strangers, in a room of just me, one friend and an army unit. At meals, I ate with a friend and eight strangers who didn’t speak English, yet, by the end of the weekend, I had eight new offers of places to stay for Shabbos. I then was able to dip in Avraham Avinu’s mikva and purify myself in the same water as my biblical ancestor.
Who is a teacher at Eretz HaTzvi you connect to especially well?
My morning shiur rabbi, Rav Benny, is someone who I look up to a lot because he is one of the most disciplined and moral men I have ever met, and he inspires me to emulate him and make myself a better Jew and a better person.
Which is one of your favorite classes at Eretz HaTzvi?
My two favorite classes are the Kuzari track, in which we talk about the various arguments from a Jew, a Muslim, a Christian and a philosopher for why the Khazar king should convert to their religion. I also love the Bereishit track, in which we analyze the words of Sefer Bereishit in extreme depth.
What are you most looking forward to for the rest of the year?
I look forward to creating bonds with friends and rebbeim alike that will last a lifetime, and learn a love of Torah and Judaism that will continue throughout college and the rest of my adult life.