Sunday, August 28, 2016

Mayanot Seals Deal On Building

The official transfer of Mayanot Institute in Jerusalem's new building took place on the auspicious day of Chof Av, launching a renovation campaign.
With G-d’s help and many months of dedication, the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies is excited to announce that on the Rebbe’s father’s Yom Hilula, Chof Menachem Av, ownership of the new Mayanot World Center, located at 7 Ben Tzvi in Jerusalem, has officially been transferred and registered to Mayanot.

The signing for this momentous event took place at the offices of attorneys Ashi Del and Shuki Del in Ramat Gan.

The new Mayanot World Center will offer thousands of young students the opportunity to connect with their heritage, to learn Torah, and cultivate an awareness of their Jewish identities.

"It is a great joy to have the official signing on this most auspicious day," Rabbi Kasriel Shemtov, executive director of Mayanot commented, "We are sure this will be a great source of nachas to the Rebbe. With the help of some major donors and last year’s Charidy event we were able to purchase the building, and today we are one step closer to opening our doors."

Mayanot is currently embarking on a $4 million dollar campaign to renovate and furnish the new building, transforming it into a state of the art educational facility and global center for Jewish learning.

Rabbi Shlomo Gestetner, Dean of the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies stated, "We are humbled to have the merit to embark on this major project, of Hafotzas HaMayonos. We are excited to start the second stage of the capital campaign and are looking forward to welcoming thousands of students to our new center."

The target date for renovations is set to commence on January 1st, 2017.
For any inquiries or to donate, please visit

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Four Ways Improvisational Music Helps Me Appreciate Chassidus

I’m not sure how many people who became attracted to the chassidic way of life as teens and young adults spent their youth following the Grateful Dead, Phish, or whatever their particular taste in improvisational music might have been. But I do wish I had a dollar for every one of them. Somehow, their summers in RVs and muddy festival campgrounds, listening to transcendental guitar and bass lines, helped prepare them to one day travel the windy pathways of Chassidus.
Chassidus has its own tradition of awesome music and song. Undoubtedly, it is chassidic melody that is the most conducive complement to the study of Chassidus and to the implementation of its teachings in daily life. In my band, Chillent, we improvise with chassidic music too. 
Before you get the wrong idea, let me explain what I mean by “improvisational” music. In its usual sense, the word “improvise” might mean “make it up as you go along,” but that is not what I’m referring to here. To the skilled musician, “improvisation” is a discipline to be learned and practiced, an art to be honed and carefully cultivated. Perhaps more than anything else, improvisation is about a set of intricate relationships: between the music and each individual musician; between each musician and the other musicians he or she is playing with; between the collective jam and the new/old music that they are continually (re)creating.
Also, when I talk about “improvisation,” I am not talking about a specific type of music, but about the way the music is played—an approach that combines disciplined receptivity with personal creativity, requiring the musician to submit to a greater whole, merge with it, and give it new voice while preserving its authenticity.
I began immersing myself in chassidic texts back when I was in college. Within those cascades of Hebrew letters, which at first looked like funny shapes pointing in the wrong direction, I slowly discovered a conceptual framework that completely changed the way I viewed the world and other human beings. But it isn’t just the profound ideas that continue to blow me away. The very composition of a chassidic discourse—its structure and flow, the way you approach it, enter it and experience it—seems perfectly calculated to inspire exhilaration and self-transcendence simultaneously.
I love learning Chassidus, and I love playing music. When I learn, or when I play or jam with my band, I’m often struck by the similarities between these two disciplines and the way they seem to mirror each other—with a similarly exhilarating, meaningful and transformative impact. The best way for me to explain what I mean by this, and to explain how this works, is by sharing my observation that a chassidic discourse has all the elements of a great improvisational jam session:

1. “The Head”

This is the thematic part of a song that is not played improvisationally, but sets up everything to come, including tempo, chord progression and the overall feeling of the tune. It’s the recognizable melody that makes you say, “Hey! I know that song!” It’s the solid ground on which to build the improvisation that follows.
In a chassidic discourse (maamar), the opening line is known as the dibbur ha-mat’chil, and it is usually a passage from a canonical text like the Torah, the Talmud or the Zohar. The first paragraph invokes a series of existing discussions and themes related to this passage, and asks a series of questions that have been similarly asked and answered many times before. This opening sets the tone and outlines the motifs that will be explored in depth—with great originality, virtuosity and individuality—in the following paragraphs.
One particularly spectacular example of this is the series of chassidic discourses that begin with the words Basi le-gani (“I came to my garden”) from King Solomon’s Song of Songs. This was the title of the last maamarpublished by the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory, before he passed away in 1950. A year later—and in each consecutive year for the next four decades—the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, began his discourse with the same words, quoting his predecessor’s explanations verbatim before illuminating them with stunning conceptual originality, and in a striking style unique to him.

2. “Receiving”

In an improvisational setting, there’s something transcendent that happens when a musician stops thinking about the notes he is playing, and instead allows the entire collective to flow through him. Scientists have studied this, using electroencephalography to measure the brain activity of improvisational musicians, and found that their brains waves actually synchronize, so that they can mirror the actions of the other group members in their own performance. Let me repeat that. Their brainwaves literally synchronize.
When this happens in a good session, the jam takes on a life of its own. This ability to improvise in synchrony and somehow know where unplanned changes are going to happen can take place only if everybody listens to everyone else. When everybody is in a state of receiving, it’s as if the instruments know what to say on their own. The moment one of the players shifts his focus to his own playing, the magic is lost. At that moment, the music becomes earthbound.
For the Rebbe, saying a maamar was preceded by a deeply meditative preparatory melody, called a niggun, which was sung by the assembled chassidim. The Rebbe would close his eyes, and then deliver the discourse in an even singsong tone that was far removed from his usual animated manner. He wouldn’t look around the room and engage the audience, as he would during his more informal talks, called sichot.
When he would say a maamar, it seemed that the Rebbe was firmly attached Above, “receiving” new chassidic insight from a more supernal realm. He would wind a handkerchief tightly around his hand, as if to retain some connection to the earthly realm into which he was drawing this new revelation. Like an FM radio (to invoke a more familiar example), the Rebbe was transmitting without interference. The Rebbe was engaged in a paradoxical process of self-effacement, so that his self became a conduit for the supernal flow he was tapped into.
But the work of receiving isn’t just for the Rebbe; it’s also for all of us who want to receive something that transcends our own finite selves. To study amaamar is to make sure we understand what’s actually being said. We must constantly be wary of plugging in our own interpretation based on our own biases and pre-existing frames of reference. If we ever think, “I know this already,” that’s the biggest sign that we’re doing it wrong. Cultivating a willingness to listen and to get beyond self-imposed preconceptions is hard work. But it is also immensely rewarding, opening us up to entirely new conceptual vistas, transforming us as individuals, and enabling us to better relate to other people and to the many-hued perspectives they bring to the table.

3. “Soloing”

Although there is a huge collective component to most improvisational music, there is also a focus on the expressiveness and technical mastery of each individual musician. When one player is soloing, the others “lie back” and focus on taking a supportive role while the soloist develops his idea. Although the soloist is given a great deal of freedom to express himself, he must remain within strictly defined parameters set up during “the head.” The greatness of a soloist is in his ability to find multiples means of expressive improvisation within this tightly defined framework, displaying knowledge of the musical tradition by quoting or referencing well-known phrases and melodies from other songs, even as he gives new expression to his own musical voice. Another component of soloing is knowing when to “take the horn out of your mouth”—developing the sensitivity and finesse to say much in as little as possible, and leaving space for other jam partners to tell their own musical stories.
In terms of Chassidus, one aspect I equate with soloing is the way a maamarweaves together quotations and themes from the whole tradition of chassidic learning—which also includes Tanach, Talmud, Midrash and classical Kabbalistic texts—into something that’s strikingly new and innovative. Familiar quotations from well-known sources get flipped on their heads when juxtaposed with one another, and opposing perspectives collide to form new syntheses.
As students and teachers of Chassidus, people inevitably draw upon their own knowledge base and frame of reference to explain complex concepts to themselves and to others. That’s how people make sense of everything they encounter. It’s essential that we “solo,” that we integrate Chassidus into our own lives and use it to reframe our own way of seeing and living in the world. But it is equally essential that we don’t fall into the trap of letting personal biases and preconceptions steer us away from the central purpose and message of the maamar. It’s essential that in interjecting our own voice, we don’t obscure the original point that the maamar is making.
However innovative we are in our own thinking and development of the ideas and themes that emerge—using our personal knowledge and skills to emphasize, articulate, communicate, amplify and build—we must always stay within the framework that the maamar is setting up. The true skill of “soloing” is to make sure that we are getting and channeling what the maamar is actually saying, and that Chassidus itself stays the star.

4. “There are no mistakes”

One of improvisational music’s central tenets is that nobody ever makes a “mistake” in his playing. If one of the musicians does accidentally play a “wrong note,” the other musicians use that as an opportunity to take the music into new and unforeseen territory. In fact, it’s often the accidents that lead to new discoveries. The moment the other musicians intervene to correct a “mistake” is the moment when the ball gets dropped. Instead of reacting negatively to unforeseen situations, a good musician embraces them, so that the listeners won’t even know that something has gone wrong.
Chassidus similarly teaches us that everything that happens is orchestrated by hashgachah pratit—Divine Providence. Every moment of time is a brand-new note in the flow of existence, specifically designed as a unique opportunity in the grand scheme of creation. A person is always in the right moment at the right time. But it is up to us to make the best of it. Sometimes we may encounter people and situations that don’t resonate with our preferred inner rhythms, and on many occasions we make mistakes ourselves. But we should look at these as Divinely prescribed opportunities, not as inconveniences.
We need to stay tuned to the broad flow of hashgachah pratit, and welcome the sudden, unforeseen twists along the way. We need to be able to see beyond the smallness of our own perceptions and aspirations. We need to be willing to participate, to catch the ball and innovate, so that the grand jam flows onward, and ever upward.
Written by: Sruli Broocker, Mayanot Men's Learning Program Alum, as seen on 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Shabbat with Mayanot

One of my favorite things about Mayanot is Shabbat. Prior to coming to study at Mayanot, I had never been in an environment where everyone was keeping Shabbat before. Sure I’ve been on a few Shabbatons (weekend trips), but it was nothing close to the experience of Shabbat at Mayanot.

Shabbat at Mayanot is so particular because it is always such a special time. We have three types of Shabbats here; the first is In-Shabbats where we have all our meals at the school and a family comes to spend Shabbat with us, the second is In/Out-Shabbats where we are free to either do what we want or be set up with a host family, the third is a Shabbaton where we go on a trip and spend Shabbat somewhere else in Israel, as a group.

On In-Shabbats we spend Friday getting Mayanot ready for us to eat, learn and hang out over Shabbat. By the time the sun is setting, we are dressed and ready for an inspiring weekend. We all light candles together in the Beit Midrash (Central classroom) and then either go to shul (synagogue) or to the Kotel (Western Wall) for Kabbalat Shabbat (a service welcoming Shabbat). After Kabbalat Shabbat we come back ready for Kiddush (the Friday Night meal). One of the exciting things about In-Shabbats is that we bring in a host family who will spend the weekend with us. Sometimes it is the family of one of our teachers and other times it is a family with ties to Mayanot. For example, a few weeks ago, the family who stayed with us was an alumnus of the Mayanot Men’s Program.

After a Kiddush filled with D’var Torahs (speeches on the weekly Torah portion) from different women in the program and singing nigunim (traditional songs), we end the night with a fabrengen (an informal gathering of inspiration and learning) with the host family. These are always a fan favorite. We bring out snacks and then learn about the parsha (the weekly Torah portion), chassidus (the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and Chabad Rebbes) or from each other. Sometimes these gatherings will even run until 3am, if the women want it too! The next morning we have Chassidus and shul followed by another meal with our hosts. We end Shabbat singing our favorite nigunim on the roof of our building followed by Havadallah (the prayer that ends Shabbat). The thing that is so incredible about In-Shabbat is that we are really given a chance to bond and get to know one another. We spend the entire weekend together and have a chance to make Shabbat in our own “home”. It is so remarkable to hear everyone’s story or to see someone give their first D’var Torah.

The second type of Shabbat we have here are In/Out-Shabbats. During these Shabbats we can either set up our own meals or we are paired with host families in Jerusalem. I love these Shabbats because you get to meet so many different families and have so many different experiences and see how they all incorporate Judaism into their homes. My first weekend here; I was paired with the Schloss family in the Old City. This meant that my first Kabbalat Shabbat in Jerusalem was at the Kotel, which was an unbelievable experience. After that, we found the house tucked away about a block away from the Kotel. I remember going up on to the roof and being able to see the Kotel; I was really in Jerusalem! I couldn’t believe I was actually set up at a family in the Old City. More importantly, the family was amazing. It was a Rabbi and his wife who hosted guests and travelers from all over the world. They were so warm and welcoming that they made it so easy to feel at home.

Honestly, no matter where I have been placed in Jerusalem, it has been a great experience, I have met so many amazing host families and it is an experience I know I wouldn’t have had without the help of Mayanot. Not only do they find amazing families to host the women in the program, they also pair you with people in the program you weren’t that close with before. The administration at Mayanot really tries to give all the women an opportunity to meet and spend some time together, its truly unique, how much effort they put into the group. It becomes such a great way to bond with the other women in the program and is such a special experience!

The third type of Shabbat, I’ve had here is a Shabbaton. Last weekend, I was lucky enough to go to Tzfat with the rest of the Mayanot Women’s program. Early Thursday morning we loaded onto the bus for a jam packed inspirational Shabbaton in one of the (other) holiest Jewish cities. Thursday and Friday were filled with exciting hikes, inspirational trips to Meron, an ancient synagogue and the Old City of Tzfat and a delicious BBQ. Even before Shabbat had started, we had already had an amazing weekend.

For our Shabbaton we were lucky enough to go with the Gestetner family, who are directors of Mayanot. We lit candles and held our own Kabbalat Shabbat followed by a delicious Kiddush and Fabrengen with Rivka Marga and Rabbi Shlomo Gestetner. Saturday afternoon we went on a walking tour of the Old City of Tzfat,led by Aidel Margolin. It was wonderful  to be able to really seeTzfat, with so much amazing insight intot the history and culture of the city. Also, seeing different groups walking or davening (praying) in shuls and on rooftops, was so beautiful. Our tour ended at Ascent of Tzfat where we got to experience a moving Havdallah ceremony. Overall, we saw more than I ever could have imagined and had an amazing time.

Shabbat at Mayanot is always exciting! Whether we are with host families or all together, it is always a time I look forward to. Whether we are wandering through Tzfat or laughing in our Beit Midrash, Shabbat is such an exceptional time for bonding and learning. It is almost like we are in a little bubble, outside of time, until the city wakes up, after sundown, and that is pretty extraordinary!

Written by: Jennie Maibor, current Mayanot summer learning program student 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

36 Lives Saved!

The Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem has been partnering with Gift of Life bone marrow registry for the past 10 years to save 36 lives and counting.

Gift of Life works to cure blood cancer through bone marrow and blood stem cell donation.  As part of an initiative with Taglit-Birthright Israel to expand the registry and give young adults, coming to Israel, an opportunity to join and potentially save a life, the expansion was tremendous and the Mayanot Institute of Jewish studies jumped on the bandwagon, not only offering this to Taglit-Birthright Israel participants but to our long and short term learning program students, as well.

According to Israel Recruitment Coordinator Halana Rosenfield, "Mayanot has been a huge supporter of Gift of Life and of the families that we help". Thus far they have tested over 9128 participants, finding 230 matches and completing 36 lifesaving transplants to date. Donors remain on the registry until their 61st birthday meaning, this number just keeps rising.

The director of the Mayanot Yeshivah learning program, Rabbi Chaim Moss, in partnership with Rabbi Mendy Derenע"ה , made this affiliation with Gift of Life possible. 

Rabbi Shlomo Gestetner, director of the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies remarked, “We educate our students in the importance of spreading light and doing acts of kindness and this kind of chesed is the greatest form of giving.” 

Danny Sack, director of the Mayanot Taglit-Birthright division, has been a driving force, pulling this all together over the years and continuing to make this opportunity a part of the Israel program. 

One of the donors in the registry, Taylor Crampton, was a Taglit Birthright Israel: Mayanot participant. Taylor joined the registry in 2009 when he was visiting Israel with Mayanot. When Taylor registered to be a donor, he never expected to be contacted, nearly 7 years later, working as a Pyrotechnic lead at Universal Studios. But when he received a call asking if he would be willing to donate his stem cells, he says that he was happy his decision to join the registry was able to do some good for someone else.

On February 8, 2016, Taylor donated bone marrow to a 44 year old female with Severe Aplastic Anemia, a disease in which the bone marrow does not make enough blood cells for the body.

Taylor remarked that he would absolutely donate again if he was asked to, without a second thought. He says, “if they tell me I’m a match for someone else then I would donate…to be able to give someone else a chance at life, there is really no question, if I could do that for another person or twenty more people I would.”

To people considering donating, “why wouldn’t you?” he says. It takes seconds and even if you don’t match with someone, at least you made the effort. To Taylor, “getting swabbed, in a hotel lobby in Jerusalem on a Mayanot trip, when I was 22 years old, went from something I did just because I had the opportunity, to one of my proudest moments.  Getting swabbed cost you nothing, but could be the difference between life and death for someone else.” As Rabbi Kasriel Shemtov, executive director of the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies, has been quoted saying many times, as related in the Talmud, “Whoever saves one life its is as if he has saved an entire world”.

Mayanot looks forward to continuing to partner with the Gift of Life Marrow Registry and hopes that the amazing results of Taylor and other donors like him, inspires more people to join the registry and potentially save a life! For more interest.

(Taylor Crampton, in 2009, on his Mayanot trip)

(A bone marrow drive taking place in Jerusalem)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Twelve Tribes, One People.

The first time I stood in front of the Kotel (Western Wall) I didn’t know what to think. On the one hand, I was praying at one of the holiest sites for the Jewish people. It was incredible to know that this is where the Beit Hamikdash (Temple) once stood. This is where my ancestors would travel to on the high holy days and where the center of Judaism once was and still is, thousands of years later!

I thought I felt connected to Jerusalem before but after spending even a little bit of time here, I truly feel like its home. I feel comfortable walking around the winding streets of the Old City discovering new nooks and crannies, meeting people and tasting all the delightful food that there are here. It never gets old, there is always something new to see or experience.

On our most recent Mayanot tour of the area, with all 30 women in the Summer Mayanot Women’s Learning Program, I learnt more then I could have imagined about the historical and spiritual significance of this amazing place. So much of the history of our people is tied to this land and these cobblestone streets. I feel that the more I learn and educate myself, the closer I feel connected to my ancestry and what has happened to our people, as a nation!

Walking through the Old City, I can now tell who is a tourist, who lives in the area and who is just a temporary inhabitant, like myself. You see the more religious, and the less religious all mingling together and working their way in and out of the shops that line the streets, or asking G-d for what they need at the Kotel. Everyone wandering around these areas our ancestors once wandered around. 

It really is illustrative of why Israel is the Jewish homeland. Regardless, of where Jews are coming from or what they believe, it is easy to feel a sense of belonging within the walls of the Old City and within Jerusalem, in general. How connected we are to this place, how could it be any other way!

I think my favorite experience coming to the kotel is Friday night, during Kabbalat Shabbat (Friday evening prayers). It is an amazing scene and one I have been lucky enough to see on an almost regular basis. Everyone is gathered in their best Shabbat clothing from more religious men and women, to Taglit Birthright Israel groups singing “Am Yisroel Chai” as loudly as possible, the diversity is astounding and so beautiful. It is one of the most amazing sights to witness, as everyone scurries to find their friends and family, so they can head to their Shabbat meals, you are struck with the realization that you are a part of something so much bigger then yourself, something that feels so important with such historical and spiritual significance.

The main point of Torah, as I understand it, is to love your fellow Jew as you love yourself, and walking around the Old City you realize how diverse the Jewish people are and how much variety we have between us. At the same time we are all connected, everyone is working towards the same goals and praying to the same G-d.

It is easy to forget that this unity exists in the hustle and bustle of daily life in Jerusalem. But, the Old City is almost like a secret oasis frozen in time. It is part of the city and modern life but also not at all. That’s what makes it so incredible. Walking through the Old City connects you to another time; it’s a tangible part of the greater Jewish timeline. Next time you are walking in the Old City, stop and look around, take in the sounds and the sights and realize that you are a part of something much bigger than yourself.

Written by: Jennie Maibor, Current Student of the Mayanot Women's Learning Program in Jerusalem

(Photos courtesy of Liz Cornell and Arielle Flax)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Meet Liz!

Meet Liz! 
Liz Cornell is a fellow Mayanot student and intern coming from New York City. After graduating from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania as a computer engineer and clothing designer, Liz went on Birthright at the beginning of the summer and has been in Israel since then. At the end of the summer, Liz will return home to start working at the Free People Headquarters as a women's fashion designer.

Growing up, she was raised Reform, going to Hebrew School since 3rd grade and having a Bat Mitzvah at the age of 12. After that it was her choice whether or not to continue her Jewish studies. As she did continue to learn, she realized that there was so much more she wanted to know about Judaism that she hadn't yet learnt.

When she got to college, she lost touch a bit with her Judaism. However, in her last year and a half of college she got involved with Chabad on her campus and once again remembered what it was she loved about being involved in a Jewish community, and decided she wanted to come to Israel and learn more about Judaism, and develop an even greater connection to the land and the Jewish people.

Through her Rebbetzin Dit Greenberg, Liz learned about Taglit Birthright Israel:Mayanot, and decided it would be a great way to come to Israel. However, she knew she wanted to stay longer then just 10 days, but didn’t know anyone else staying. She was told about the Mayanot Internship opportunity and decided it would be a great way for her to experience both working and learning here in Israel. It sounded like the best of both worlds, a way for her to get great experience for her resume and very hands on, in terms of Jewish learning. 

Now Liz is here living in Israel for the first time. She finds it “really cool” that she can call Jerusalem home and that it is so easy to get to the Kotel and the Shuk. Living in Israel, it amazes Liz how easy it is to be Jewish. Back in the states, she had experienced anti-Semitism and usually doesn’t go out of her way to stress that she is Jewish. Being here, everyone around is welcoming of the fact that she is Jewish. Liz is also constantly struck, by how beautiful the country is. The thing that is amazing about doing a longer program, is that it lets her see more and get to know people more. She loves living in Israel, rather than living on a coach bus!

Before coming, Liz only knew that it would be a month of learning and a month of internship. She didn’t really know what to expect from either, but decided to keep an open mind and see where this program would take her. She knew she wanted to learn about the Israeli/Jewish culture and how the two are intertwined. About a month in, the learning is by far Liz’s favorite part of the program. She wishes she could stay and learn longer. She has loved every minute of the classes and is pleasantly surprised that she will “quote a lot of the stuff [she’s] learning throughout the day” and ties it into her daily life.

As for a favorite class? Liz loves the nigun (melody) class, every other Wednesday. For her, growing up, “a lot of prayer and connection to religion was through music” so niggun class is a way to get back to that type of meditation and prayer. Of all of the nigunim we sing here, her favorite is “Nigun Ha’Baal Shem Tov” a song that is normally sung after Havdalah. But she also loves Halacha (Jewish Law) with Rabbi Elchanan Cohen, a Yeshiva 1 class that provides a fascinating textual insight into different aspects of Jewish daily life.

As for the daily life here in Israel, Liz goes to all of the classes. She will wake up for Chassidut (Jewish mysticism) in the morning and then either go to the rest of the classes at Mayanot or she will go to her internship. She will come back for afternoon class and then use her break to sight-see and cross things off her Israel to-do list. In the evenings she returns for night classes, which are optional but Liz loves them just as much, and then Liz is free for the rest of the night. Sometimes at night there are formal events like Fabrengens, (an informal gathering with inspiration and learning), or there is capture the flag, or other times it is just hanging out together as a group and reflecting.

Liz loves the fact that people on the program tend to all be open minded and that it gives her a deeper understanding of the country. She now feels like her perspective on Judaism has changed a lot. Learning more has made her want to incorporate more into her life. She knows she can’t immediately change and that growth takes time but she now knows what's important to her. 

Through her time here, she is seeing the value of Shabbat and making certain blessings, being more appreciative of what she has, rather than take anything for granted and realizing gratitude is a big part of happiness and recognizing the spirituality in the everyday can really help a person grow.  Liz also knows that this is just the beginning of her journey of self exploration.

One important lesson she’s learned, is to have Jewish pride and to return home with confidence and happiness in being Jewish! 

Written and interviewed by: Jennie Maibor, Current Mayanot Women's Program Student. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Walking in Their Footsteps

For the past month or so I’ve been studying at the Mayanot Women's Learning Program. Prior to coming, I had never been to Israel so my introduction to the country was a Taglit Birthright Israel trip that I had extended into a three-month long adventure. Right before I came to Israel and Mayanot, I graduated from American University with a degree in International Relations. In college, I became very involved in my Chabad on campus and eventually decided I wanted to learn more in Israel.
For the next month, I will be taking over the Mayanot blog, writing about my experiences as well as the experiences of my fellow students. I hope you enjoy!

Growing up I went to Hebrew School twice a week to learn the stories of the Tanach [Hebrew Bible]. As a kid, it was so exciting to learn about heroes, villains and princesses. At the time, they seemed like fantasy stories set in made up places. Queen Esther seemed just as real as a Disney Princess and Moshe Rabenu may as well have been a superhero in a movie. I had never been to Israel and could never really grasp the land or the history in a realistic way, and definitely couldn’t grasp the spirituality of the land. Re-learning these stories in Jerusalem presents an entirely new perspective. Instead of seeing these characters and words just as characters and words, I am able to see them come to life. In Israel, the Torah isn’t just words on a page, it is daily life.

            It doesn’t even take much effort to see the Torah in action here. Every day walking around Jerusalem, I see living breathing versions of the Torah. Whether it be in a person stopping on his commute to give tzedakah [charity] or someone davening [praying] in front of the Kotel [the Western Wall] where the Beit Hamikdash [The Temple] once stood, people here make the Torah their daily life. It is easy to brush off these occurrences as people going about through their routines and not notice them. But, if you look just a bit closer, you see people dedicated to working each and every day to bring Torah to life.

            Even the most basic summertime activities in Israel like hiking and swimming, still are immersed in Tanach. A few weeks ago the Mayanot Women’s Learning Program went on a day trip to the Jezreel Valley in northern Israel ,with a tour guide who specializes in Tanach-inspired trips around Israel. But, unlike my field trips growing up, it wasn’t just to see what is there but also to see what was once there. A random hill was once the sight of the palace of King Jehu and Queen Jezebel and a highway through a desert was the path Yehoshua took to conquer Israel. It is unbelievable to know that every inch of this country is steeped not only in history but also in the Tanach.

            The day started with a hike in the 100-degree-farenheight heat that ended at a nice shady spring. Sure it was pretty but I imagined that the most exciting thing about the spring was that it was cold water and under some beautiful eucalyptus trees. Honestly, with the heat, that would have been exciting enough. Then we learned that it was where King Saul took his troops to drink water to test them. I was cooling off in the same place as one of the most famous kings in Jewish History. This little spring, like most of Israel held incredible secrets.

It can be easy to question if this is really what they say it was. How do they know that this is the same spring described in a passage written over 2000 years ago? Isn’t it easy to pick a random spring and say this is where an important event took place? What makes this spring different from any of the other springs in the area? But, then we read the passage from Tanach describing the exact place I was standing. Suddenly, the stories I learned as a child became a bit more real, I could see them with my own eyes.

            The trip culminated at a lookout spot on a mountain. Unless you know what you’re looking at it seems just like any other mountain. Except this wasn’t Mount Washington or the Alps and it wasn’t just a place to snap some pics and leave. This was the Gilboa Mountain. In case you don’t know the story, this is where King Saul led a charge against the Philistines and lost. When he saw that there was no hope he fell on his sword. And when his son in law, King David, heard about the tragedy, he cursed the mountain saying: “Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew nor rain upon you, neither fields of choice fruits; for there the shield of the mighty was vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, not anointed with oil".

            As of two weeks ago, there were still no trees on the mountain, and none of the plants there were fruitful. The valley below was filled with trees and fields that grew all types of fruit but the mountain was barren. Suddenly, I was seeing the words of the Tanach in front of me. The descriptions of almost everything we saw was in the Tanach, whenever we would look at a new landscape, our tour guide would read the excerpt where it is mentioned in the Tanach and see that there was so much more than what we thought we were looking at.
            Seeing the Tanach come to life in such a real way takes your breathe away. You hear about different archaeologists finding scrolls and artifacts that prove the stories of the Tanach, but nothing can prepare you for seeing them with your own eyes. I can’t even express what it feels like to walk where my ancestors once walked, thousands of years ago. It is unbelievable; yet the proof is there. Almost everything the Tanach says can be seen today and that is simply awe-inspiring.
            You can study Tanach all your life but never really see it come to life. Israel isn’t just another place. It truly is a holy land. It is a place where daily life and Torah are one in the same and that is indescribable. Both the people and the places bring the Torah to life each and every day in the same places it was first followed and that isn’t something you can get anywhere else in the world. It is inspiring to know that I can see what I’ve learned all my life and to know that I am a part of something much larger than myself.

Written by current Mayanot Women’s Learning Program student, Jennie Maibor
from Massachusetts, USA