Reuven Isaacs is a Chicago native, attending Arie Crown for elementary school and graduating from FYHS in 2010. After his time in the Yeshiva, Reuven attended Yeshivat Shaalvim in Israel, making Aliyah after Shana Alef and joining the Hesder program in Shaalvim during his Shana Bet year. In March of Shana Bet, he joined the Israeli Army through Hesder, assisting the Tzanchanim (paratroopers brigade) as a sharpshooter for a year and a half. After his service, he returned to Yeshiva, where he completed his 5 years of Hesder. Reuven now learns in the Kollel in Shaalvim and is working toward semicha while completing a degree in Psychology with Open University. Informally, Reuven has served as a mentor for American students in Yeshivat Shaalvim, hosting a weekly vaad for the Shana Alef students and, as of this year, has officially served as a Shoel U’meishiv for one of the Shana Bet shiurim. He currently lives in Shaalvim with his wife, Aviva and their two daughters, Avigayil and Yocheved.
Though engrossed in Israeli life today, this wasn’t a path Reuven had always envisioned for himself. “I davka did not see myself doing what I’m doing now,” he said. “I loved Israel but I definitely didn’t have plans of Aliyah. I had gotten a scholarship to the YU Honors Program and the plan was to go to YU for Pre-Med and become a doctor. I was not at all planning on taking this path in life. Over the course of Shana Alef at Shaalvim, I decided to switch paths and make Aliyah.” Though different from his original plans, Reuven is passionate about the choices he has made and the place he is now. “I really enjoy that I have the opportunity to sit and learn in a serious way,” he said, “which is not something that I take for granted. It really is a privilege. I love being a presence for the talmidim, learning with guys, and having the opportunity to have a positive influence on them.”
According to Reuven, attending FYHS largely impacted the way that he approaches chinuch and the students he works with. “I think the Yeshiva does a really great job at turning out guys who are extremely knowledgeable and just great, normal guys who have a strong religious orientation and a positive attitude towards yahadus and avodas Hashem; guys who are growth oriented. It was a crucial link in anything I’ve been able to grow in, accomplish, or become here.”
The Yeshiva, as Reuven described it, also taught him the importance of creating a positive, enjoyable environment for students. “What makes the Yeshiva special, along with really great Rebbeim, was just a really great vibe in the school. It was such a fun place to be. It was fun to come to school and it created such a strong sense of school camaraderie amongst the students. I think that combination of great Rebbeim who do a great job of connecting to the guys and are great role models plus the positive energy and the good vibe in the school making school a fun place to be is really important and has such a major impact on guys. It’s something that I’ve taken with me in everything I do here.”
One Rabbi that had a significant impact on Reuven was Rabbi Shmuel Schuman, his then 10th grade rebbe and current CEO of HTC. “We just had such a great kesher with him,” said Reuven, “he was such a fun rebbe. He even started a voluntary gemara shiur every Shabbos afternoon where we would go to a different person’s house every week and the host would prepare a daf of gemara and would give a gemara shiur to everyone else. Rabbi Schuman oversaw that and at the end of the year we made a siyum on Taanis; it was really special. I learned and developed a lot from him. I don’t know how much Torah I remember from my time in high school, but the experience played a huge part in developing me into the person I am today.”
For Reuven, the fond memories he had of Rabbi Schuman went beyond the learning they did. “We have so many jokes to this day,” he said. “One classic story that I think is a good combination of all of them happened when Rabbi Schuman’s wife was pregnant. I think they were expecting a baby some time in the spring after Pesach, which we were all really excited about, mostly because we figured that meant we were going to get a few days off. We came one morning and, lo and behold, Rabbi Schuman wasn’t there. We were told that his wife had a baby, so we called him to say mazel tov and we went out to the softball field, planning to just hang out for the day. We started playing and half an hour later, Rabbi Schuman shows up and goes, ‘hey guys, back to the classroom!’ We obviously were shocked, and we told him, ‘What are you doing here? Get out of here, go back to your wife!’ He just said, ‘she’s fine, the baby’s fine, mazel tov, I’m back.’ It was just so funny and unexpected. But it became a joke over time. I think that encapsulates a lot of what it was like. We had a great time, we had dedicated Rebbeim, and we still joke about those stories to this day.”
In looking back at his time in the Yeshiva, Reuven remembered his experience fondly. “I love the Yeshiva and I’m so, so happy and grateful that I had an experience like I did. Our class was really an amazing group, and we still have an active class chat 11 years later. I’m still very close friends with most of the people in my high school class. Those are friends that I have for life. It was a really special class and just such an amazing experience. I can’t say enough about it. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I could not have asked for more from a high school.”