Humans of Olami: Ethan Geller

When Ethan Geller asked his family for help to go to New York to study at Yeshiva, he was met with a surprising suggestion. “You should go to Israel,” his father said. “I’m like, you’re joking,” Ethan responded to his father. What started as a surprising dream turned into a quick reality, and soon Ethan found himself studying in Israel at Aish in the Old City of Jerusalem. And the opportunity he’s received is not lost on him. “There are great, great Rabbis throughout the past years that have dreamt and literally almost died for wanting to do what I’m doing right now. I feel like it’s a responsibility for me as a Jew – if I have the opportunity to do something that people before have risked their lives to do – I should do it.” And Geller is taking every opportunity and every chance to soak up each minute he is studying in Israel, learning more than he’d ever thought possible. “Coming to Israel, it’s very different. It brings this history that I don’t think I can get anywhere else.”         

Denver-born Geller was raised with strong Jewish values, was involved in BBYO and kept Shabbos at home, but things kind of stopped – as they do for so many – post Bar Mitzvah. He then attended the University of Kansas where he knew the Chabad Rabbi would help expose him to more Jewish history, education and practices. “Very quickly I was going to his Friday night meals. He had a program every Tuesday where we would study Torah and he’d provide lunch, so the free food brought me in but the Torah made me stay.”

Geller’s Jewish study continued to flourish as he moved back to Colorado and attended Shul with his Zaidy every Shabbos. “Then in November of last year, the Rabbi of the synagogue invited me to stay over at his house for something called ‘Shabbos Project’ – which was basically just a massive community Shabbaton.” It was the first time Geller really, truly kept Shabbos.

“I was so angry with the fact that I was so angry with being away from my phone that the next week I decided I wasn’t going to use technology at all. I got my lights set up and I had my roommate drive me to synagogue.” The specific choice to observe the Shabbos made a huge impact on Geller, one that led him to where he is today. “I had made a conscious decision that I wanted to keep Shabbos. And I had never really kept Kosher, but I wanted to. And then my Rabbi invited me to go to the Olami Thursday night learning, and every week we’d get together, learn some Parsha, have some food, and just connect as a community.”

It was there that Geller established a strong friendship with Rabbi Tzvi Alyesh. “He became an excellent resource for me very quickly. When I started wanting to really dive into my Jewish Journey and to become more observant, he was so helpful and made sure I was doing everything the right way. I kept talking with Rabbi Alyesh and Rabbi Wolfe about my decisions and how I was thinking about studying at Yeshiva, and this felt like the time to go. Rabbi Alyesh and I would go on walks at a local park and we’d just talk about things and schmooze about Yeshiva and what was going on in my life and in the Denver Jewish community. I’m just so grateful to have him in my corner, he’s been an amazing resource.”

It wasn’t long after those walks with Rabbi Alyesh that Geller decided to sit down with his parents and ask for some help to go to Yeshiva. And then his father helped him see that actually studying in Israel was a real possibility – that stretching himself and stepping out of his comfort zone would really provide him with so much inspiration and support moving forward.

“My mom, when I first really started my Jewish journey, said to me that it’s like a rubber band. You have to stretch yourself in tons of different ways before you can see where you snap back to. I would encourage any young person to go to as many shuls as they can, figure out what they like and don’t like, find rabbis that you can connect with and that you feel comfortable asking the important questions to. Find a rabbi that speaks to you, take it slow, create an action plan – and you can do anything.”

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