Harvard Law School

Application Essays – YONATAN LEVY

What Worked for them can Help You Get into the Law School of Your Choice 

“People hearing without listening.” These words, immortalized in the Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel song “The Sound of Silence,” highlight an important distinction in the human condition, that hearing and listening are not one and the same. Yet both hearing and listening have affected my life in a profound way. While almost everyone has at some point heard a parent, teacher, or girlfriend complain about the difference between the two, I have come to understand it firsthand. I have come to appreciate that while hearing can motivate, it can also frustrate and upset. Listening, on the other hand, can be among the most empowering experiences.

Prior to starting college, I opted for a year of seminary study in Israel. I chose Birkat Moshe in the city of Ma’aleh Adumim because it offered an intensive and immersive program. As one of the top seminaries in Israel with over three hundred Israeli students and only three or four Americans, I expected to be intellectually challenged as well as culturally immersed. The language transition would not be arduous as I already spoke Hebrew fluently, but I was anticipating an exciting acclimation.
And acclimate I did. I learned to walk the walk and talk the talk. Yet something gnawed at me. The entire year living in this Middle Eastern country, I would hear the Muslim call to prayer sounding from the minarets. I was overcome by the sounds of Arabic flowing through the shuk, the marketplace, yet I could not understand the words being spoken. I knew that if I was going to truly understand the region, I was going to have to take a more active interest in the Arabic culture. After all, as I walked through the streets of Jerusalem, I was certain to hear as much Arabic as Hebrew.

Surprisingly, the more closely I looked at Arabic culture, the more I saw commonality with my own Israeli heritage. I even found connections with my American legacy. After all, we are all people with similar hopes and desires. I was at a loss now to understand the current tensions in the Middle East. How had two such similar peoples grown so far apart?
Perhaps this gap was a result of the distinction between hearing and listening. In college and in my year in Israel, I frequented forums on topics ranging from Jerusalem and the peace process in the Middle East to bridging the gap between the West and the Arab world. I witnessed firsthand the effects of people hearing without listening. Each side listened to its own voices but only merely heard what the other side said. This breach could only be exacerbated by the inability of the two sides to understand each other’s language.

When I arrived at college, I embraced the opportunity to study Arabic. I shifted my class schedule to be based around Arabic classes. To my surprise, the more I learned and the more time I spent with my Arab friends the more I found in common with them. My understanding of the language and the culture affected my perspective on the people and ultimately the political landscape of the region. To this day, however, even my closest friends do not understand my new perspective. They can’t fathom how it came to be, that while they hang out with Ben Goldberg from New York and Daniel Schwartz from Israel, I am hanging out with Ra’if Abdul- Rahman from Saudi Arabia and Mehera Abdelaziz from Lebanon. They are confused that an Orthodox Jewish boy has just as many friends at the Gaza demonstrations on campus as at the Israeli shuk day. They are at a loss to understand how I learn about Yerushalayim Hakdosha in Jewish Studies classes, while learning about Al-Quds Al-Karim in my Arabic classes (“The Holy City of Jerusalem” in Hebrew and Arabic, respectively).

In truth, I have surprised even myself with the close friendships that I have formed with my Arabic classmates. In a sense, however, this surprise was somewhat unwarranted. I’m not saying that it was an easy transition, but I did not have to renounce one culture to begin to accept another. I adopted a new sensitivity, as the phrase “I disagree, but you have the right to your opinion” entered into my daily discourse. I learned when to speak and when not to. Most importantly, I learned how to listen.
My journey toward Arabic really began with hearing years ago in Israel and has led to me listening today. Now as I take the next step in my academic studies, I ask myself what I have taken out of these experiences and how I will apply them to my future endeavors. I have learned the power of listening. My willingness to exercise these new listening skills has yielded amazing results. I plan to pursue a degree in law at Harvard and hope to master the art of persuasion. Now that I have learned to appreciate the power of listening, I would like to learn to construct valid arguments and to deconstruct faulty ones, in the hope that maybe someday I will have others not just hearing me, but truly listening.

Have you ever met an Orthodox Jew who majored in Arabic? Me neither. Consequently, it was not only interesting for the reader to learn about Yonatan Levy’s unique background, but it was also advantageous for him to capitalize on it in a sea of many qualified law school applicants.

In the first sentence of the essay, Levy uses a well-known song lyric as a keystone for the subsequent theme that develops regarding the dichotomy between listening and hearing. Although a risky approach because initial quotations can sometimes overshadow the words of the candidate himself, it pays off nicely for Levy, whose mature and concise writing style supports the complex nature of his subject.

Additionally, the candidate draws from an unconventional year abroad, a seminar study in Israel where his first encounter of the mix between Middle Eastern Jews and Muslims unfolds. As he continues on, explaining his motivation behind studying Arabic and forming connections between the two peoples in terms of their cultures and American legacy, he uses a mixture of personal experience and metaphor to demonstrate his unique background and diversity. Although the study abroad is simply listed in Levy’s resume, the reader now has a taste of what it truly entailed. Most importantly, he refers back to his listening versus hearing theme when discussing the forums he attended by the Palestine and Israel societies in college.

Once again, Levy repeatedly emphasizes his bridging perspective and the confusion of others as to why he engages with both cultures so intensively, providing examples of his seemingly opposite friends and their reactions when finding about the existence of the other. This reads nicely and can serve as an example for descriptive storytelling. To Levy’s credit, the perspective is valuable, and his personal growth and recognition that the two cultures can exist simultaneously within him allows for some humility.

Finally, Levy ends with the listening and hearing theme once again, but with a twist. As a self-proclaimed listener, he switches to a desire to persuade, both of which are skills required o a lawyer. He concisely offers a reason as to why he would be a good lawyer and why he wants to be a lawyer in the first place, therby specializing the essay for its purpose.

–Amna Hashmi

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