For the week ending 30 January 2016 / 20 Shevat 5776

David Nielsen

by Rabbi Shlomo Simon
Library Library Library

Age 26

London, England

University of Birmingham, BSc in Psychology

Mechina Program

High Wycombe, the nearest town to the small village in which he grew up, is not known as one of the major Jewish communities of the UK. In fact, David was the only Jewish student in his primary and grammar (secondary) schools. Situated in the “Home Counties” between London and Oxford, it is quite rural and very “English”.

David’s family belonged to a Reform (Conservative in US terminology) Synagogue, which was a gathering place for the scattered Jewish families in the northern Home Counties. He attended a “cheder” at the synagogue on Sunday morning where he received a scanty Jewish education and celebrated his bar mitzvah.

After completing his “A” levels he entered the University of Birmingham where he majored in Psychology. Although not a factor in his choosing a university, Birmingham happens to have one of the largest Jewish student populations of any of the universities in England. It was a fortuitous choice for David. He was no longer the only Jew in the school. He joined the Jewish Society and attended Friday night and Yom Tov meals at the Hillel House and interacted with the other Jewish students. In his last year of university he moved into a Jewish house where the students kept kosher.

Although he was moving in the direction of observance he didn’t think that the end of that road would be Orthodoxy. He was proud to be a kosher Reform Jew within a secular Jewish community. His mother joined him in his decision and kashered her kitchen.

During his final year of university he became involved with the student television station, and upon graduation got a job in London with the British branch of the QVC network — a 24/7 TV shopping channel — as a studio floor manager, managing talent and crews on the shows’ production floor. While very exciting, it was also tiring, and when he saw an ad in the Jewish Chronicle for a marketing assistant at World Jewish Relief, a UK Jewish charity which bills itself as the UK’s leading Jewish International Development Agency, he applied. He was hired and worked there for three years, preparing marketing campaigns for various projects the charity sponsored. It was meaningful and exciting work and he was bettering the world. He loved his job, and over the three years he received a number of promotions, eventually becoming a manager of his own team of marketers.

Interested in making more social contacts in the Jewish community, upon the suggestion of a friend he tried out JLife — a project of the JLE London (an Ohr Somayach affiliate) — which brings young professionals together for classes, events and trips. It is very competently run by Rabbi Benjy Morgan and Rabbi DovBer Cowan.

On a JLife trip to Israel shortly after Pesach in 2013, David was first introduced to Ohr Somayach, where the participants had some learning sessions run by Rabbi Moshe Borger of our Jerusalem staff. He loved it. Thereafter, the JLE London became a big part of his life. He went on seven trips abroad with the JLE and started planning for his eventual immersion in the “Sea of Talmud” in Jerusalem. In May of 2015, on another JLife trip to Israel, David decided to stay for an additional week and go “yeshiva shopping” — sampling different yeshivas to see which one would be the best for him. He picked Ohr Somayach.

Upon returning to England he gave notice to his employer and started to prepare for his return to Israel. David entered the Mechina 1 program in October of 2015 and has made rapid progress. He is now in Mechina 2. Asked about his time at Ohr Somayach, David says: “My experience so far at Ohr Somayach has been enriching, enlightening and reassuring. One of the main reasons I chose to study here was for the opportunity to be surrounded by so many different kinds of people, from all walks of life, from all backgrounds, all holding at different levels. Ohr Somayach is enabling me to discover and develop my Judaism at my own pace, without pressure. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to learn every single day from some of the world's wisest and most well respected rabbeim. Three months into my journey I already know that when the time comes for me to leave Ohr Somayach I will be well-equipped to continue learning and growing throughout my life.”

Last Shabbat was an “In Shabbat” at the Yeshiva, and David, paraphrasing Rabbi Yitzchok Breitowitz, the Rav of Kehilat Ohr Somayach, remarked to the rabbi sitting next to him at lunch: “What a fantastic Shabbaton, with all of the programs of Ohr Somayach joining together as a whole community. It reminds me that, as Jews, we shouldn’t be like a cholent — with all of the ingredients blending until they are unrecognizable. We should be like a salad bowl — with each element offering its own unique contribution: mixing different colors, tastes and textures; but put them together and they can produce something amazing!"

Thanks David, for being one of the “ingredients”.

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