Thursday, May 25, 2017

Women’s Israel Reunion on Yom Yerushalayim

The Mayanot Israel Alumni Women's Network gathered on Tuesday May 23rd, for their second meeting. Graciously, Mrs. Rivka Marga Gestetner, the Mayanot Women's Program educational director, offered her home for the gathering. 

It was fitting that the women's reunion occurred the evening of Yom Yerushalayim, celebrating the anniversary of 50 years of the reunification. The city was celebrating a reunion and so were the Mayanot women! It was a wonderful atmosphere, as all of the women who gathered, have made Aliyah themselves, building a life here, in Jerusalem. 

The group spanned several years of Mayanot alumni. Some students present had attended the very first year of the program, while others represented the most recent graduating class. It was wonderful catching up, and being able to hear what everyone is doing in their life, building families, careers and doing it in Israel. 
The new Scholar in residence, Mrs. Freidy Yanover shared Torah relating to Shavuot and was lucky enough to meet all of the Alumni in attendance. 

Mrs. Yanover eloquently spoke about receiving the Torah on Shavuot, the Jewish people's marriage to G-d, and our level of choice at Sinai & in our everyday lives. She shared how, "the Sinai experience is a feminine one, in that it’s fluid and not static. We may feel far at times, or even down, but we must always remember our relationship can never be ruptured, it can always be repaired."

Rivka Marga, whose hospitality is unparalleled, prepared a beautiful table including: cheesecake, homemade jam, granola, yogurt and wonderful platters of Israeli fruit. She fabrengened with the women regarding gratitude, sharing, "It's amazing that G-d gave us a neshamah (soul) but it's even more amazing that he let us know that we have a neshamah (soul)." 

Mayanot thanks all the women that came out and participated in this wonderful evening of sharing, fabrenging and learning, and hope that this beautiful tradition of gathering to learn, and reconnecting only continues! 

To find out more about hosting Mayanot alumni events in your city, please contact: 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A Personal Account of S'firat Ha'Omer

Sharing what a Mayanot Women's Program student has learnt about this period of time, between Passover and Shavuot, and how it can impact our lives in a practical way. 

Written by: Lauren Buckman

We are currently in the period of S'firat Ha'Omer, the Counting of the Omer. The 49 day count starts on the second day of Passover and ends on Shavuot, the holiday celebrating the giving of the Torah. Back in Temple times, the seven weeks were counted from the day the barley offering was brought to the day the wheat offering was given on Shavuot. These 49 days also correspond to the seven expressions of our seven characteristics, which we work to strengthen in order to prepare ourselves to receive the Torah on the holiday of Shavuot. 

Why? When we were slaves in Egypt we sank to the 49th level of spirituality (the 50th level being the lowest level of which there is no return). Let’s just say we were not people to be proud of... G-d gave us ten miracles (the Ten Plagues), we saw them, and then we went on our merry ways. We did not internalize what was happening around us and were not grateful to G-d for what he was doing for our people. 

Alas, we were about to reach the lowest level when G-d freed us from Egypt. We left Egypt on the morning following the Seder (the first Passover Seder in history) and seven days later we crossed the Reed Sea. 
We were out. We were free people. Gone were the days of slavery in Egypt. 

Why did G-d really save us from the hands of Pharaoh and the Egyptians? 
It wasn’t just to be free physically, perpetually wandering the desert, but to be free Jews. We left slavery specifically to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai and practice the faith of our people. And this is what the Jewish people have been trying to do ever since. Not only to be Jews, but to be practicing, thriving, progressive Jews. 

Now, during the counting, we are on a journey to take full advantage of the miracles of Pesach and each of the miracles we experience every day: waking up in the morning, every breath we take, and every opportunity we get to do good in this world. 

The circumstances of today would be unimaginable to our ancestors. For thousands of years, Jews have faced persecution in order to practice our religion. We were exiled from our land and only until very recently do we have our own state (as of 69 years ago). Now we have a place to call home which is very accessible, we have religious freedom in the countries where we live, we have the unimaginable. I cannot even begin to tell you how fortunate I feel to be living in Eretz Yisrael, with the freedom to study Torah and do Mitzvot. 

I look forward to these final weeks, soaking up as much of Israel and Torah as I can, to ultimately bring this light home and around the world.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

A Newfound Love of Israel

Some of the Birthright Israel: Mayanot students (L-R) 
Aviel Yashar, Eli Polikar, Shahar Zuckerman, Emily Franklin, and Esther Amram. 

There is something special about Birthright Israel: Mayanot trips to Israel

After many months of anticipation, we were finally on our way on our trip to Israel through Birthright Israel: Mayanot. When word spread that our flight to Israel was delayed about 10 hours, a wave of frustration spread through our group. Israel was having its worst snowstorm in decades-at the very same time as our scheduled flight. There was talk that we'd be stuck at Kennedy airport in New York for those long hours, and that our new flight would be so early we wouldn't even have time to sleep. While the latter was true, Rabbi Chaim Lipskier stood in line for us at a service desk and after a couple of hours managed to get our whole group accommodations for the night, as well as vouchers for the hotel and airport. Seeing our rabbi's sincerity and concern was early proof that I chose well by going on Birthright Israel: Mayanot with Chabad at UCF.

That night was a better mixer than anything that could have been planned. While some chose to save their vouchers, most of us spent quality time with each other and mingled away. Afterward, our group naturally split into those that wanted to rest and those that were going to save the slumber for our early morning flight. I spent that night with a few people who were initially strangers and later became my best friends on the trip.

Israel was absolutely breathtaking. Florida's flat terrain has allowed us to build all over it, and civilization dominates the land. In Israel it is nothing like this. The people and the land are married, and their civilization is integrated.

As you travel, you find yourself looking up and down to see other cities. The sight of windy roads and buildings sprinkled all over the mountains rendered me speechless. Each of Israel's cities has its own personality; Tel-Aviv offers beautiful architecture, a heavenly beach and modern culture, while Jerusalem carries a holiness as ancient as its stone foundation.

On our Birthright Israel trip, eight Israeli soldiers stayed with us. Although they've lived in Israel their whole lives, they realized they'd never seen the country in the way that they saw it with our group. Our tour guide, Daniel, an American who made aliyah, exposed the richness of the land to us at every stop so we could see it with more than just our eyes. Daniel passed his passion on to us and we developed an appreciation for the land as well as for each other. Our group embodied the meaning of misphakha (family). We connected like we'd known each other for months although we'd only just met.

My favorite moments in Israel were the intimate farbrengens and group discussions with the Chabad rabbis. Speaking with other Birthright Israel groups made it clear that there was something special about Mayanot trips. I came home with a newfound appreciation for Judaism, after learning how much more there is to the Jewish heritage than faith. It's a culture, a history, and a privilege to be a part of. I have immeasurable gratitude to the donors of Birthright Israel: Mayanot, our loving staff member Tal, and especially our UCF Chabad Rabbi. The experience would not have been the same without them.

Written by: Aviel Yashar, Birthright Israel: Mayanot Participant 2014

Monday, May 1, 2017

Mayanot Alumni Wins First Place Prize!

We are very proud to announce that Moishe Chakoff, our Mayanot Men's Program Alumni recently won first place in the Meaningful Life Center MyLife Essay Contest, taking home $10,000 for his incredible and insightful chassidut essay.
We offer him a heartfelt Mazal Tov for this wonderful accomplishment.

We also want to include an honorable shutout to Hadassah Silberstein, our Mayanot Women's Program Alumna who won third place prize and took home $1,000. View her essay here.

Please find Moshe's winning essay below, as seen via: MLC

Trees and Maps: How to Stop Being a People Pleaser

by Moishe Chakoff
MyLife Essay Contest 2017

The expression “people-pleaser” may seem like an innocuous phrase to describe a very nice person. In truth, it describes a psychological disorder wherein individuals feel they must say “yes” when they really want to and should say “no”. The Giving-Tree by Shel Silverstein illustrates the mentality of people-pleasing very clearly.  The Giving Tree tells the story of a young boy that befriends a tree.  During the boy’s lifetime, he asks the tree to provide him with various materials for his benefit. In different stages, the tree gives up all its apples, leaves, bark, branches and trunk. By the time the boy becomes an old man, all that’s left of the tree is a stump for him to sit on. [1]
People-pleasers feel they must ALWAYS be helpful, regardless if they are overextending themselves in their generosity [2].  Psychologists believe this “Giving-Tree” mentality stems from an acute fear of isolation and rejection, wherein acts of “kindness” are really a ruse to cover-up negative feelings [3]. Over time, this behavior could lead to severe physical and psychological problems.
Chassidus not only gives the tools to curb people-pleasing tendencies, but also can teach a person how to transcend their fears of isolation and rejection. To achieve these goals, this essay will conduct personality profiles of Abraham Isaac and Ishmael, and analyze the beginning lines of the Shulchan Aruch based on the teachings of Chassidus. The terms Chesed, Gevurah, Tohu, Tikkun and Sheviras haKeilim will also be explained.
The practical application of this essay will be based on a unique “M.A.P.”.  This M.A.P. will help a person understand their Motivations (M), adopt a healthy course of Action (A), and help a person stand up for their core Principles (P) and beliefs in the face of adversity [4].

Abraham and Isaac- Healthy Chesed

Abraham is the personification of kindness in the Torah. He would find travelers to invite into his tent to eat, drink, and sleep if they needed lodging. He even cared about wicked people, as evidenced in his prayer for the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah.
What is kindness? What compels someone to care for other people? Chesed, which is the term for kindness used in Chassidus, means much more than the willingness to do a favor. When a person is truly kind, he (a) has an inherent desire for kindness, (b) he will give no matter how great or small someone is, and (c) it pains him when there is no one to share his kindness with. Chesed was Abraham’s defining attribute because he had all three qualifications. Thus, he gave of himself completely with his body, soul and material resources [5].
Even within this unparalleled kindness towards strangers, Abraham did not neglect himself. We see this in the fact that Abraham practiced Tzedakah within the context of Mishpat [6]. Tzedakah refers to the obligation of giving to those in need; Mishpat means to be exacting like a judge. The way Avraham gave was measured; first he determined exactly how much he needed (and he did that with a strong judgment, taking for himself only the bare minimum), and ONLY THEN did he give away the remainder of what he had (i.e. money, food, attention etc.) to others. Though Abraham gave his all to others, 1) his giving was a result of his humility and total devotion to G-d; it came from strength not weakness, 2) he did so not in a reckless way, but in a way where he left enough for himself to survive. When a person is humbly dedicated to G-d they know exactly what they need, and they can then give of themselves completely. A truly kind person is not a doormat for people to trample over. A truly kind person knows how to take care of themselves as they are taking care of others. [7]

Questions for consideration:

-What motivates a people-pleaser to be giving? Is it because of their inner desire to contribute to the world? Or is it from a place of weakness, because they don’t want people to think of them as selfish [8]?
 -Do I prioritize my own needs, or have I neglected them because of my giving-tree mentality?
We see from Abraham’s younger son Isaac, who was the personification of restraint (Gevurah in Hebrew) in Torah, that controlling the amount one gives can bring about the greatest Chesed. Think of drip-irrigation [9]. Too much water damages plants, and ultimately wastes water. Drip-irrigation delivers precise droplets to plants throughout the day, giving a plant the exact amount of nutrients it needs. This system also promotes great water conservation. Although it seems harsh to give small drops of water to plants, in truth it is best for them to receive exactly what they need to maximize their growth.
 So too in giving to another person, giving can turn into too much giving. Sometimes it is better to say “no” to doing favors for others [10].

Thought for Consideration:

Think of how saying no (to others asking you for favors) can be beneficial.
Ishmael-Unhealthy Chesed
Isaac successfully integrated measured giving into his life. Abraham’s eldest son, Ishmael, was not able to do so. Chassidus explains that his main mode of expression was Chesed, but it was totally out of control. How could it be that Ishmael was so much like his father (who was also recognized by the attribute of Chesed), yet so different?
There are two modes of spiritual reality known as Tohu, and TikkunTohu can be described as a world of many points, in which the points are unable to touch or tolerate each other [11]. Tohu gives the ability for one “point” to feel separate from all other, and separate from G-d. These separate points also “usurp” the feeling of G-d’s absolute existence and act as if G-d’s existence is their own [12]. In our own lives, a person experiences a state of Tohu when they are being self-centered, and therefore cannot tolerate others.
The inability of different entities to blend together in Tohu creates a Sheviras HaKelim, or shattering of vessels. Tikkun takes these shattered (intolerant) pieces, and puts them together in a way that they cooperate with each other.
Imagine yourself trying to complete a 1000-piece puzzle. The best way to complete the puzzle is to have the cover of the puzzle-box as a reference. The box shows the “bigger picture” of what the separate pieces look like when they fit together. So too, Tikkun unifies all the shattered pieces from Tohu and shows them how to “fit” together. [13]
Ishmael is the embodiment of Chesed in Tohu, which is Chesed in the extreme. He needed to show people how kind he was, because his entire existence was being threatened if he was perceived as miserly. This is precisely why he went overboard with his generosity. [14]

Thoughts for Consideration:

-People-Pleasers go overboard with their giving because they expect to be rejected [15].
– “When you constantly give of yourself to your friends and family and do not permit others to give back in return, you are being manipulative and rejecting”. “Your motives for giving will ultimately be suspect” [16].

Pleasure Through Opposites

To heal Ishmael’s chaotic kindness, Chassidus advises Ishmael to begin Music Therapy.
To preface, the peoples of the Eastern Lands (particularly India and the Middle-East) are descendants of Ishmael. The uniqueness of a culture can be found in its music. Whereas Western music (Europe) is characterized by its joyful and sweet sound, Eastern music expresses bitterness and yearning [17].
It may seem odd that Ishmael would enjoy bitter music, because Chesed is associated with feelings of joy.
The truth is that pleasure comes from opposites. For example, during the summer heat, cold water is more pleasurable than hot tea. During a cold winter, hot tea is more pleasurable than cold water.   Ishmael finds this “cold”, bitter music pleasurable because it quenches his “hot”, vigorous nature. [18]

Healing through Opposites

The Zohar tells us that within the Jewish people there are two distinct types of souls: Abraham souls and Isaac souls. When the Jewish people were exiled, the Abraham souls were exiled to the West and Isaac souls were exiled to the East. These souls descended into their geographical positions to heal their surroundings, and one of the most potent methods of healing is through music. Chassidus explains that the Isaac souls took the music of their adopted lands, stripped it of its extreme and selfish nature, and exchanged it with expressions and feelings of the soul [19].
In other words, secular music expresses emotions that we already have [i.e. love songs express feelings of love, joyful songs express happiness etc.]; Jewish music expresses the soul’s emotions, which we yearn to have [20].
By listening to the soul melodies of Sephardic Jewry (Isaac souls from the Middle East and Asia), one may be able to modify their people-pleasing behaviors. It may also be beneficial to listen to certain Niggunim (Chassidic melodies) that express bitterness and yearning of the soul.

A Foundation for Life

Because of their fear of rejection, People-pleasers could end up compromising on their core principles so people will like them. This is a historical and psychological truth Jews have dealt with throughout history. Some Jews abandoned Judaism due to fear of becoming social pariahs. The problem with this approach is that there are some people who will not like you no matter how nice you are to them [21]. On the other hand, most people have a tremendous amount of respect for people who stand up for who they are and what they believe in. What can a people-pleaser do to rid themselves of their fears of being rejected, and stand by their principles?
The Torah was acutely aware of the fear of rejection and isolation, and addressed it at the very beginning of the Shulchan Aruch. The Shulchan Aruch is the authentic four volume guidebook that lays out the details of how to conduct oneself based on Torah principles. In the opening lines of Shulchan Aruch, we are instructed to “not be ashamed by people that mock you” [22]. It begins this way to hint to the fact that all 4 volumes of The Shulchan Aruch are dependent on this instruction.
How does one fulfill this axiomatic Torah mandate? Especially for a people-pleaser, it seems easier said than done. The answer is found a little bit later in the Shulchan Aruch, which quotes King David who stated, “I have placed G-d before me always; because He is my right hand, I shall not falter” [23].
Most people overcome moral dilemmas when they know someone or a group of people are supporting them. The Shulchan Aruch teaches us that if one meditates on the fact that G-d is always with them, they will be much more confident about overcoming any challenges; they will be cognizant of that fact that they have an unlimited amount of support from the Source of All Life (which is G-d) when they face adversity. Through this meditation, one can be freed of their fear of isolation and rejection, because they know G-d will never abandon them [24].

Draw a M.A.P.-Chart your course

Based on the above, one can now draw their own personal M.A.P. to navigate their way out of a “Giving-Tree” lifestyle:
First, consider your motivations for doing acts of kindness
Ask yourself, “Am I generous because it is integral to my life’s mission, or am I doing it to cover-up anxieties and fears”? Make an honest accounting.
After you make an honest accounting, adopt a healthy course of action in the order prescribed below
(1) Make a list of what you need for your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Check off which needs are being met and which require attention.
(2) Start a system of giving in a measured way, beginning with money. Use the Shulchan Aruch as a guide, which instructs us to give a minimum of one-tenth or a maximum one-fifth of our salaries. Learn the end of Chapter 34 of Tanya, which explains the spiritual significance of the latter type of giving [25]. Use this as a springboard for others areas of your life where your generosity is overextended.
(3) Download Sephardic and Chassidic music onto your iPod. Listen periodically throughout the day to temper your people-pleasing tendencies.
After making a course of action, move to step (P), which will prepare you for the times the (M) and (A) sections of your M.A.P. will be challenged
In the mornings, study chapter 33 of Tanya to understand how G-d never abandons you, and is with you in your attempts to do the right thing [26].

Final thought: Be A Tree!

The Torah tells us that “Man is a tree of the field” [27]. A healthy tree is always growing, and it produces good fruits. These fruits have seeds to produce more trees like it.
The life-lesson here is that a person should always be growing and adding positivity to their life [28]. In this way, people will not only be “pleased” by you, but they will also try to emulate you.  By following your personal M.A.P. and thinking about this concept, one can be a true Giving-Tree.


  1. See the article “THE GIVING TREE AT FIFTY: SADDER THAN I REMEMBERED” by Ruth Margalit, which tells of the dark nature of this popular children’s book.
  1. There are different levels of people-pleasing. The Disease to Please by Dr. Harriet B. Braiker has a helpful survey to determine how much of a people-pleaser an individual may be.
  2. The Disease to Please, Pages 9 and 32
  3. To my knowledge, this acronym is wholly unique to this essay
  4. See Kuntreis BarMitzvah 5653 Pages 28-29, Maamar Isa B’Midrash Tilim; also, Archos Tsaddikim Gate 17
  5. Book of Genesis 18:19
  6. This paragraph is based on Likkutei Sichos Volume 25 ,2nd Sicho of Parshas Vayeira page 84. See the entire Sicho  there pages 79-85.
  7. The Disease to Please, Page 8
  8. Let There Be Water by Seth M. Siegel Pages 63-65; This example is based on Tractate Taanis 23a, which tells the story of Choni HaMagal praying for rain
  9. See Likkutei Sichos Volume 20, 1st Sicho on Parshas Toldos, Page 100-107, which shows how Isaac brought about the greatest expression of Chesed through the channel of Gevurah.
  10. Torah Ohr Beshalach 65d
  11. Sefer HaMaamarim 5685 Page 109
  12. See footnote 11
  13. Toras Chaim Toldos 4b. See Likkutei Torah Eikev 18a. Torah Ohr Beshalach 63b. One term used to describe Ishmael is Gasus Ruach. This word can be understood as a description of someone who is full of himself or arrogant. It can also be understood as someone who desires to be significant or accepted. In this way, Gasus Ruach is an apt term to describe a people pleaser. For a definition of Gasus Ruach, see Getting Past Depression by Getting Past Yourself by Aryeh Gurwitz
  14. The Disease to Please Page 39-40
  15. Ibid direct quotes from Page 48
  16. We see also this in Western and Eastern foods; Western foods are sweet, and eastern foods are more bitter/spicy
  17. Shaarei Teshuva 89d,
  18. See Ibid
  19. See Rabbi Manis & Benny Friedman – Ke’ayol Ta’arog,
  20. The Stress expert Dr. Hans Selye accepted the approach of altruistic egoism, that a person should be generous to others because of the stress that results from making enemies. He qualified this approach with the caveat that you cannot please all the people all the time, especially those that are out for personal vendetta and those that are vehemently hateful or prejudiced (The Stress of Life, Pages 452-456, and The Disease to Please Page 36-37). In this vein, the German writer Max Nordau once commented, “The Jews are not hated because they have evil qualities; evil qualities are sought for them, because they are hated” (The Great Thoughts by George Seldes Page 313).
  21. See the Rema’s notes at the beginning of Shulchan Aruch; see also Reb Mendel, Sipuro shel Chassid, Mashpia u’Mkushar pages 142-143
  22. Tehillim 16:8
  23. Sichos Kodesh 5739 Acharon Shel Pesach, Pages 507-516. also, Sefer HaMaamarim Meluket Gimmel page 119-124
  24. Someone who understands Hebrew can also meditate on Likutei Torah, Shir haShirim page 6d-7a
  25. See the Mylife Essay “Anxiety and Chassidus” by Rabbi Yosef Malkin,
  26. Book of Deuteronomy 20:19
  27. Shevach HaMoadim, Tu b’Shvat Page 118, based on Likutei Sichos Volume 31 page 241
For the full list on winners and finalists, see more.
For more information on our programs, click here. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Scholar Joins Summer at Mayanot

Mrs. Freidy Yanover will join the Mayanot Women’s Program in Jerusalem as scholar in residence for the summer semester.
The Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies is excited to welcome a renowned lecturer and Torah educator as the new Scholar in Residence at the Mayanot Women’s Program, in Jerusalem. The distinguished Mrs. Freidy Yanover will be joining the program after Pesach this year and teaching throughout the summer program. 
Mrs. Yanover is a prominent teacher at the Beit Chana Institute, and a worldwide lecturer. She is well-known for her charisma, depth of Torah knowledge and her ability to teach the esoteric concepts of chasidus in a contemporary and relevant fashion.

The Semester Scholar in Residence Program is a great new addition to the roster of programs the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies is initiating. The program is part of an overall effort to enhance the quality of education, to even greater scholastic heights, through curricula development, networking and unique educational opportunities.

Mrs. Rivka Marga Gestetner, Director of the Mayanot Women’s Program shared, “We are looking forward to welcoming Mrs. Yanover and know that our students are in for a wonderful treat, with such an esteemed scholar joining our Mayanot family.”

Interested students can contact us at or check out our website for more information on joining our 2017 summer program this year. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Birth of Mayanot

In the mid 1990’s, in Jerusalem, Rabbi Shlomo Gestetner and Rabbi Kasriel Shemtov  were shluchim – emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe ob’m, sent to determine what could be done to impact today’s generation of students. Both seasoned educators, they were not satisfied with the state of Jewish education for college students visiting Israel. Though there was an abundance of programs, they did not fully encompass the vision of a holistic Jewish education that would speak to the next generation of youth. 

Rabbi Shemtov remarked, "There didn't yet exist a place that was inclusive of people on their journeys toward Judaism, a center for Torah learning that offered an opportunity to inspire one's surroundings and not retreat from the world."

The educational institution they imagined would be a place where young Jewish adults could engage with their history, heritage, and the classical texts of their religion in an authentic, open and accepting environment. It would be a place where intellectual engagement with Judaism would be emphasized, where close textual study, coupled with challenging discussions and questioning, would be encouraged. It would be a place where students would be welcomed regardless of their level of observance, as long as they came with a keen and curious mind, and a dedication to explore their Jewish heritage.

“We wanted to offer students a place where they could grow on a personal level”, Rabbi Gestetner stated. “Very often yeshivot either had an emphasis on the intellectual, and sometimes the spirituality was lost, and sometimes it was the opposite. Finding the balance and the synthesis is difficult. We felt there was a void in places which did combine these elements of serious learning and spirituality and we wanted to merge these two worlds.”

Inspired by chasidut, their belief was and still is, that Judaism is a living entity that should not exist only within the confines of the classroom but should resonate beyond; their studies, discussions and questions should inform their daily lives. The name ‘Mayanot’ was chosen, based on the verse, “Let thy wellsprings be dispersed abroad.” (Proverbs 5:16), and captures the essence of this vision –that the students gaining a deep and enduring knowledge of our heritage, and becoming leaders in their home communities, utilizing what they had learned at Mayanot. Ultimately, they would enrich their Jewish communities and beyond.

The realizing of this vision was finally put into action in 1996, when the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies was established in Nachlaot, Jerusalem. 

Rabbi Gestetner, Dean of Mayanot, and Rabbi Shemtov, the Executive Director, approached a well-known philanthropist, Joseph Gutnick of Melbourne Australia to be a partner in this venture. His financial support, in those first years, were critical to the success of Mayanot.

Founding teachers included renowned Talmud lecturer Rabbi Baruch Kaplan, contemporary Halacha lecturer Rabbi David Fink, Ulpan teacher Mr. A. Atzmi and Rabbi Dr. Allon Silberg. All are extremely talented educators, who are able to help students just beginning, to understand and study complex sections of the Gemara independently, and were a perfect addition to the yeshiva.

Mayanot’s first year began with seven students. Through word of mouth, Mayanot’s reputation grew, and so did its student body, increasing by 50% each year.

As the demand to study at Mayanot grew, so too did the number of programs, to cater to the vast and various needs of the students. Rabbi Yisroel Noach Wichnin became the Rosh Yeshiva of the Mayanot Yeshiva program. Under his guidance, the curriculum developed to the extent that a student could come to Mayanot just knowing the Hebrew Aleph Bet, and graduate with new vistas of knowledge and tools for self-study. 

At this point Rabbi Chaim Moss joined as head of the ‘Judaic Studies Program’. This program was designed for students who wanted to gain an introduction to the classical texts of Judaism. The Mayanot Winter and Summer Programs, offered through the JSP program, were designed to allow students to spend 4-5 weeks exploring the issues that have challenged Jewish thinkers for centuries, in an intimate and intellectually open environment. These short term programs were designed to appeal to students from all over the world who want to study at Mayanot during their school breaks.

As these programs developed, the Mayanot Executive Learning Program was added. Designed for professionals and business executives, the course enables busy professionals to advance their Jewish knowledge and recharge their spiritual batteries.

As the Mayanot family began to grow exponentially, it became clear that the community they had founded needed a space outside of the Institute’s walls to gather and to unite with the wider community. In order for the conversation to continue, it had to include more voices.  

In coordination with the Mayanot board, and guided by the Chairman of the Board, Mr. Jeffery Cohen, the Mayanot Community Synagogue in Nachlaot was established. Mr. Cohen has been a guiding light in all Mayanot activities and developments. He offers a hands-on approach. With his help, the Synagogue offers people in the area an opportunity to participate in lively, meaningful services and to take part in the many events and lectures hosted there by the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies.

Led by Rabbi Avremel Silver, the Mayanot Alumni Shul in New York, opened in 2008 and serves as both a place of prayer and a meeting space for former Mayanot students. This Shul is a space where alumni can stay connected to each other and reinforce the values instilled in them at the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. 

In 2001, still more voices would be added to the conversation.   The diversification and development of the Mayanot vision found expression in a partnership with Birthright Israel. When Birthright Israel was launched in 2001, Mr. Yisroel Schulman, Esq. a longtime friend and supporter of Mayanot, brought this initiative to the Board. Since that time with Mr. Danny Sack, director of Mayanot's Birthright Israel division, today Mayanot is proud to be one of the largest trip providers for young Jews across the United States. Mayanot brings local campus Rabbis to Israel to accompany the participants on their trips, and to make sure that they have a means to stay connected to Israel and their Jewish heritage back home, becoming active community members and advocates for Israel on their campuses. In this way Mayanot ensures that the Birthright Israel journey continues, establishing an effective Post Birthright Program

When Mayanot observed the Birthright Israel participants’ powerful longing to deepen their relationship with Judaism and Israel, the Mayanot Post-Birthright Study Program was created. The program presents Birthright Israel participants with an opportunity to extend their stay in Israel for an additional three weeks. In this way, participants are able to engage with Israel in a different way. They spend three weeks studying at Mayanot and living in Israel, forming a more personal relationship with the land and with their heritage. This supplementary program to the Birthright Israel trips allows Mayanot participants a well-rounded and personalized Israel experience.

In 2002, a larger building became necessary to accommodate the abundance of students who were coming to study at Mayanot. 28 David Yellin Street in the Mekor Baruch neighborhood of Jerusalem became Mayanot’s new home. It was purchased to provide a campus that included space for classrooms and dormitories where the students could learn and live, allowing for an integrated Mayanot experience. The David Yellin campus was expanded further in 2003 and 2011 as a response to the ever- increasing student population.

Gradually, Mayanot began to offer a wider variety of programs, such as the Mayanot Spanish Program and an Israel Advocacy Program in conjunction with the David Project. The David Project trains Mayanot students to become ambassadors for Israel when they returned to their colleges, and inspires them with a sense of the importance for Israel advocacy.

In 2008, the conversation added still more voices.  With the encouragement and support of Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, and Mr. Jeffrey and Mrs. Karen Cohen, the Mayanot Women’s Program was established in Katamon. This dream was made into a reality by Mr. George and Mrs. Pamela Rohr, the first investor in this new venture. Mr. Rohr was not content with just funding the program but constantly contributed and followed its success and growth.

Headed by Rabbi Meir Levinger, Educational Director, and Mrs. Rivka Marga Gestetner, Assistant Director, the Mayanot Women’s Program quickly became a well-known destination for women in search of a place to explore and express their spirituality and to undertake rigorous study of Jewish texts. The Women’s Program has become the fastest growing program of its kind in Jerusalem. The addition of the Women’s Program has added a vital and rich element to the Mayanot tapestry.

The Post High School Program was launched in 2015, headed by Rabbi Mordechai Guth introducing a new track for 18 -19 year old's who want to experience authentic Torah learning with a Chassidic spirit.

Yet again Mayanot has found it necessary to expand into a larger building, due to the overwhelming popularity of the many programs offered. The new Mayanot World Center will reach an even wider audience of men and women and broaden the impact worldwide from the heart of Israel’s capital.

The magnificent five story building, on 7 Ben Tzvi, was officially purchased in 2016 and will be the new headquarters of the organization, housing several new initiatives including: the Birthright Israel extension program, the lone soldier residential center, the post high school beit midrash program, internship and volunteer programs and so much more.

With the overwhelming support from the broader Jewish community, we are able to infuse the lives of students with a passion for Israel and the Jewish people. We look forward to sharing many more milestones together with you! 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Feeling the Freedom

Looking back to the end of last year’s Pesach seder, I never realized “Next year in Jerusalem” would actually come to fruition. This year, spending Passover in Israel and with Mayanot, I will be asking a 5th question, “How is this seder different than seders from years past?” and I’ll have a lot of answers. Pesach has always been my favorite holiday but this year it is on a whole new level.

I’ve spent the past three months learning at Mayanot Women’s Program. The past few weeks have been “Pesach boot camp” and I have loved every second of it. I feel like I’ve actually prepared for the holiday, for the Exodus. In years past, I’ve always been distracted with the cleaning, the food, the Seders, the fun of Pesach, all of the external, “written” parts of the holiday. I actually never really thought about the true meaning of the holiday itself. I would skim over the Haggadah and read the words but I would never process the story. This year is different. 

In Ulpan, I learned the actual meaning of the words in the Ma Nishtana and Pesach songs. In Halacha, I learned the laws of Pesach given to us directly from the Torah. In Talmud, I learned Gemaras on the holiday. In Chassidus, I learned about the deeper meaning of matzah and the four sons. In niggun class, I learned Vehi Sheamdah. We even had a mock Seder! So this year I’m coming with my bags packed full of knowledge, ready to leave Egypt. There’s no way I will miss the story ever again because now this knowledge has been engraved into me.

I find it fascinating that the theme of Pesach is freedom when at times it seems so restricting. When Moshe brought down the the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai, they weren’t just written onto the two tablets, they were engraved into them.  They were etched into the physical tablets so they would literally become a part of them. Not by coincidence, the Hebrew word for engraved and freedom are spelled exactly the same, just with different vowels.  This comes to teach us that Judaism is externally written on us and cannot be chipped or smudged away. It can feel burdensome at times because the letters on the exterior are separate from the actual person within. However, when a Jew engraves themselves internally with their Yiddishkeit (Judaism), so it becomes “who I am”, that is the ultimate redemption. To know that Yiddishkeit is etched within my being so I cannot only, never be separated from it, but I am defined by it, that is the ultimate redemption.

So to with this year’s Pesach I feel like all the learning, all the spiritual preparation we have done at Mayanot has truly allowed me to etch the answers, the feeling of freedom and the meaning behind Pesach on my heart. L’chaim my friends to being engraved this Pesach! May we all merit to feel an internal freedom and a literal freedom with the 5th cup of wine and Moshiach! 

By: Stephanie Blitshtein, current Mayanot Women’s program student