Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Alumni Spotlight: An 8 Part Series featuring Eric Maurer

1.      

Eric Maurer will tell you that two summers ago, was one of the most intense experiences of his 24 years. Arriving in Israel with a freshly minted degree in Jewish studies from the University of Hartford and his then fiancĂ© Rebecca Bader (whose adventures in Mayanot’s women’s program you can read about here), “I didn’t really know what to expect.”

Raised in what he calls “an active Reform family,” Eric got interested early on in what was going on in both the Hillel and Chabad associated with his campus. “But when I got to the first Shabbat at Hillel and couldn’t follow the service, I realized how very much I had to learn.” It was at Chabad that Eric found a warm and welcoming community with Rabbi Yossi Kulek and his family and it was there that he was able to begin to learn in earnest. “I knew from the start that I needed to come and learn in Israel,” he says. And when an online course he took qualified him for a scholarship, the dream quickly became a reality. And the Chabad rabbi was certain: Mayanot, with two programs especially designed for women and for men, was just the place for both of them. “He told us, ‘You two need to go to Mayanot!’”

Though at least their immediate future had already been somewhat plotted out for them -- graduate school for him in Jewish communal service at the Hornstein program at Brandeis University and a job for her at a Boston-area preschool, and a wedding within the year – other aspects of their future lives together have been shifting with the learning they’ve both been enjoying in their Mayanot programs. “It’s been both exciting and life-changing,” Eric says.

For one thing, he’s learning in new ways he’s never learned before. “This is my first experience of Gemara,” he says. “And it’s like a muscle in my brain that I’ve never used before. Now I know what it is I need to study because I know I want to take what I’ve learned here and keep learning, no matter where I am.”

It’s an expanded world view that this couple can now share for the rest of their lives. “Both of us are growing a lot in the program,” says Eric. “We know that we have a lot to talk about when we get back, to sort of integrate what we’ve learned and how we’ve grown into the lives we want to live and how we want to raise our family.” For one thing, he says, “Now we can both see that if you are going to have a family you have to have a strong background to share with your children. That’s why it’s been so important for us to have this opportunity to learn at Maynot, for both of us to grow into this together.”


Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Mayanot Alum Making Big Waves in the Jewish World




Elad Nehorai, a Mayanot alum from 2012, now living in Brooklyn,  New York, is making big waves in the Jewish world, and we are very proud!

An artist who is making the most of the Internet is Elad Nehorai, a creative writer and the founder of the fledgling Hevria, an online community for “Jewish and spiritual people who are ‘creators.’” On Hevria.com, writers post their work, and musicians have a clearinghouse to sell their albums. 

While Hevria is now a blog, Nehorai is trying to turn it into something bigger. And, just 12 days into a crowdfunding campaign, he had raised more than double his $4,500 goal to do so. 

“I am trying to bring more creativity into the Jewish public sphere,” Nehorai said. “It’s about giving a voice to Jewish artists. The problem is that the Jewish art world is not funded, and there needs to be a venue that is supporting these artists.”

Nehoria connected with the ROI Community, a Schusterman initiative that supports creative innovators in a quest to increase Jewish engagement.

“ROI is really forward-looking,” Nehoria said, adding that the small grant he received from the organization “was a life preserver.”

Nehoria, 30, intends to create a self-sustaining business model for Jewish creativity through Hevria, including original video content.

“We are desperate for spiritual creativity in our lives,” he said. “There are people dying for this. This is essential for the Jewish community.” 

Nehoria is focusing on getting out a spiritual message through mostly Jewish content and we wish him only hatzlachah


Find out more about Pop Chassid and Hevria.
As seen in the Jewish Chronicle 



Sunday, February 12, 2017

A New Era of Torah Learning



Gone are the days when people actually had to attend a class in-person. Having to get out of bed, drive their cars or walk a long way in order to hear a speaker or to attend a class, is no longer a requirement.

We live in a digital age where things that were never thought possible, are now easily accessible. We can share ideas, thoughts, and messages with the click of a wireless mouse or the by sending a voice memo on our phones.

We have so many channels for receiving and providing information. Podcasts, Soundcloud, Google Play, iTunes, Overcast, Pocket Casts and so many more online channels for information sharing. The audience is growing larger and larger every day, listening to literally everything and anything one can think of.


In the words of Alex Blum, host of the hugely popular podcast This American Life, "There's far more room for audio in our lives than even video; we can listen to podcasts while we do dishes, mow the lawn, ride the subway, even while we work. The tech is there, in our pockets. All we need now is something to listen to".


'Chasidus teaches us that everything can be elevated from the lowest of levels to the loftiest heights. At Mayanot we teach our students that there is no reason to turn away from the world, but imbue it with G-dliness in our own individual way. This is the essence of building a Dira B'tachtonim, a home for G-d on this plain of existence. We strive, as always to do our part and teach our students to do the same.

Mayanot has many teachers currently recording classes and uploading them online. We run our ever growing audio channels so we too can imbue the world with Torah, in a way that is easily accessible. We are sure that all of our teachers would agree, it is absolutely worth the work we put into it. With over 570 followers on Soundcloud, and over 1,500 tracks uploaded, covering a variety of topics, given by a number of incredible Mayanot teachers, there are hundreds of hours of Torah available to our students, alumni and community.

With contributing teachers like Rabbi Meir Levinger, Rabbi Mordechai Guth, Rabbi Boruch Kaplan, Rabbi Yitzchak Kaufman, and Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz to name a few, @Mayanot is the place to go for inspiration and authentic Jewish learning online.

There is a prophecy in Isaiah 11:9, "The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea". This is interpreted by our sages to mean that before the messianic era, Torah will be as easily accessible as water is in the sea.

Historically men and women had to hide their Torah learning from the over-arching powers of the time or fight to keep Torah alive in the Synagogues, when people were unable to read and therefore unable to learn at all, our generation is blessed with the ability to easily access online classes, to ask & chat in a virtual environment, in real time; we are living in a new era, just as Isaiah prophesized.


If you haven't yet checked out our audio channel on Chabad.org please do. You have access to amazing Jewish audio classes, from Mayanot. For any specific requests on which classes and topics you would like more of, let us know in the comments section below.
We always love hearing from you!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

From Jersey to Jerusalem: A Journey of Self-Discovery

Mayanot Alumna, Vera Hinsey, shares how coming to the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies impacted her university experience & how much she gained learning in Israel. 

Vera Hinsey graduated last May from Rutgers University, with a Major in Women’s and Gender Studies, a concentration in Anthropology, and a Minor in Spanish.  While at Rutgers and throughout the past year as a post-graduate, Vera has developed a passion for spirituality, instilling her life with a greater sense of purpose and appreciation. Her story is not only inspiring to college students, but to people of all ages who are seeking fulfillment and an optimistic outlook on life. Life can get stressful at times, sure. However, Vera chooses not to allow the trials and tribulations of life weigh her down. Why not celebrate life?
What were you involved in when you were a student at RU? 
I was president of the Jewish organization Rutgers Jewish Experience (RJX) and I was involved in Hillel, which I really enjoyed. That was where I started exploring the spiritual side of my life. It was really nice to feel part of that community. I was also part of Bhakti Club and went to a mindfulness meditation class with CAPS every other week. Poetry club was another really big part of my life at Rutgers. That’s a soul-searching place. Poetry, music, and creativity are tremendously important to me.
I was a leadership fellow for two years at the Institute for Women’s Leadership, on Douglass Campus. That experience was incredible because what it means to be a leader is really important to me. I want to give to my community in the faculty of being a leader and teacher. For me, being a teacher means connecting the different sides of myself, both the desires to lead and be of service. I think my experience in Douglass and the Jewish community made me realize that those two things are really important to me.
What brought you to Israel?
When I was at Rutgers, I took a class called Contemplative Feminism, which was about a woman’s way of living in the world, using intuition and a relationship with divine oneness, and it really spoke to me. I didn’t grow up going to Hebrew school or learning anything about Judaism, so I kind of started from scratch. I started getting involved in Jewish community life at Rutgers. When I graduated, there was so much I wanted to do, but I felt like I needed to find myself first and answer some big questions I had about life. I also wanted to study Torah, which contains the first five books of Moses, because I wanted to study the bible from the Jewish traditional perspective. I was interested in the mystical, meditative, and contemplative side of it. I lived in Jerusalem for eight months and then moved to Tzfat, which is a city in the north. When I came to Israel last summer, the war with Gaza was going on. I was just this American girl from the suburbs and it was really intense. Since I was living up north, I didn’t experience it too much, but the whole country was affected by it. Living through a lot of crazy experiences and terrorist attacks led me to understand that I want to do something good with my life.
I studied at three different places called Seminaries. I have been learning about stories from the Torah on a deeper level. Kabbalah is the mystical tradition of Judaism. It is about getting to the deepest level of what words mean, the level of your consciousness and what is happening inside you. It’s mind-blowing. I spent about nine months studying it at two different Seminaries, the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies & Machon Alte.
Now that it has been almost a year since you graduated , what are some of the most valuable lessons that you have taken from college into your post-grad life?
This past year in Israel I’ve been encountering what I feel is my truth. I feel like in college, I was eating the husk or the rine, but I was trying to get to the sweet juice of what is going to sustain my life. Now, I’m eating the fruit. This year helped me find myself. I feel so settled in who I am, what I want, what I can give to the world, and what I can take from the world. I feel like a lot of people are searching for that in college, but it’s really hard to find because everyone is telling you different things, and you don’t know who to listen to. Between advice from your parents, friends, and teachers, it can be hard to find your voice. Now my life is very purposeful. I feel joy and ease when dealing with things that happen.
Here in Israel, my friend and I lead learning sessions that we call “basket weaving”. We take our ideas from college and the ideas we’re learning from Seminary and try to connect them together, so I’ve been doing a lot of processing in terms of what I got out of school. I think the most significant thing I gained from college was the ability to learn through gathering information and figuring out how it fits together.
The title of my Senior thesis was “Empowerment of Body and Soul- the Possibility of an Orthodox Jewish Feminism”, so I was basically taking everything I learned about feminism for four years and I was interviewing religious women, using the frameworks of feminist theory to see how their lives could be a feminist statement. There were sections about modesty and motherhood, for example.
I think I wrote that because I needed to find some sort of connection in my life between being a radical feminist for three years and then all of the sudden becoming a religious Jew. Writing my thesis brought all of these different pieces together, and helped me find a middle ground.
Do you have any advice for those of us who are still in college?
In college, I would get so anxious and stressed out about school. Everyone goes through so much stress about getting papers done and figuring out what they want to do with their lives. The feeling is so widespread among college students. I’ve been feeling that one of the things that I want to do with my life is help people create a different mindset about college. The question of “what am I going to do with my life” is a crazy thing to be figuring out. You follow different paths. I needed to go through all of these different experiences to lead me to where I am and where I am going, and it has all been really valuable. The whole time I’ve just been listening to myself. The fact that I came to live in Israel, I feel like in college I didn’t realize that there’s a huge world out there and there’s a huge world in here too. It’s this whole unfolding process of figuring things out and finding yourself.
When it comes to stressing about a paper, you need a little stress to get it done – that’s fine – but to feel like its more important than your health, sanity, and happiness is just not true. What you take away from school isn’t just in those papers. My senior year, what I think I learned more is how to have outlets. I remember one day I went to the park and took it all in, and released so much tension and stress, just to be real with myself about how I was feeling, and to not bottle it up. In college, it’s important to find those ways that you can prevent stress from building and building, by taking time from your day to write or be creative or go on a run –just do something. It’s all about your mindset. Those experiences I had in my senior year helped me a lot this year. There’s this beautiful teaching that I learned recently from this rabbi- the simple idea that you should always be happy.
Do you have ideas for what you want to do when you get home? The next step?
What I want to ultimately do is be a teacher. Before I came to Israel I planned to get my PhD in Anthropology to become a professor. I was so certain that that would be my life. However, throughout my time in Israel, I have been thinking that I want to teach at a Jewish school.

Has your experience in Israel changed your perspective of home?
I’m coming home in a month. I knew I would stay here for about 10 months. The aspect of totally being on my own and not having family here has been challenging at times. I have amazing friends and a whole support system of teachers and mentors and this has been a life changing experience, but nothing is quit like home! 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Vegan Birthright trip takes flight in August

For the first time in its nearly two-decade long history of sending young Jewish adults to Israel for a free 10-day immersive cultural experience, Birthright Israel: Mayanot will be offering a trip specializing in the vegan diet and lifestyle.

The announcement was made by Mayanot’s partner in this endeavor, Jewish Veg, last month. Registration is open now for the trip, which takes place Aug. 13-23. Space is limited to 40 slots, 10 of which are going to vegan young adults in Israel, “adding to the experience,” according to Jewish Veg’s press release.
Along with traditional Mayanot activities – among them spending Shabbat at the Western Wall and climbing Masada – the forthcoming vegan trip will include a uniquely tailored diet as well as meetings with vegan leaders in the nation state and visits to specialty farms.

“I give Mayanot a ton of credit for recognizing this was an unmet need,” said Jeffrey Cohan, executive director of Jewish Veg, a more than four-decade old nonprofit whose mission is to help people internationally transition toward a plants-based diet via the ideals of Judaism.
Cohan, based out of Jewish Veg’s office in Pittsburgh, Pa., referred to the trip as long “overdue” for two principle reasons.
“So many vegan and vegetarian young adults in the Jewish community have been estranged from that community because we haven’t been meeting their needs,” Cohan said. “And of all the amazing things that have been happening in Israel, the rise of the vegan movement is most exciting of all. It was time for there to be Birthright trips that would showcase this.”
Though Mayanot already offers specialty diets – vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc. – to those taking the organization’s regular trips to Israel, Cohan believes that the culinary component of veganism is only one facet of a larger movement that needed to be better catered to.
“The word ‘vegan’ does have more than one definition, as many English words often do,” Cohan said. “And it can often connote lifestyle as well as diet.”
To illustrate his point, Cohan referenced the proposition that many vegans would object to the thought of a camel ride, a typical activity on Mayanot trips through Israel.
“I think it’s more than just about dietary needs,” agreed Levi Margolin, director of marketing at Birthright Israel: Mayanot. “I think it’s also about the ideology of the trip. It’s something deeper.”

Margolin, who said the idea of an exclusively vegan trip to Israel had been in the works for a little more than a year before the announcement was made, said other singular activities for those onboard will include vegan shopping at local markets, cooking classes and hearing from religious leaders about the aforementioned vegan lifestyle.
Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb has been the spiritual leader at Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Maryland for the better part of the past two decades and is also a member of the Rabbinic Council of Jewish Veg.
Although he is not directly involved in Jewish Veg’s partnering with Mayanot on the vegan trip ahead, he is very excited by the notion and the impact he hopes it will have on Jewish youth.
“My primary commitment is to creation and the environment as a whole,” said Scherlinder Dobb, who confesses to being vegetarian though considering the vegan lifestyle at some point himself.
“I am mostly in this because of the simple reality that eating low on the food chain is vastly more sustainable for the global climate and for our grandkids,” Scherlinder Dobb said.
To Scherlinder Dobb, such support of vegetarian advocacy is therefore a kind of subset of environmental advocacy, both being a matter of his “living out my Jewish values.”
What particularly delights Scherlinder Dobb about Mayanot’s vegan trip is one of what he called “a classically Zionist perspective. This enables a broader swathe of people to access Israel, because like any other group with particular needs, now a certain percentage of young adults who prioritize vegan or vegetarian diet can feel comfortable [on the trip] or even be incentivized to participate.”
Though Scherlinder Dobb is of course well aware that it’s difficult for a young person (or anyone else) to turn down a free trip to Israel, he believes Mayanot’s vegan trip will help people who may have other life priorities – such as this animal and environmental advocacy he feels is so essential to the overall Jewish experience – to see going to Israel as a priority in their busy lives as well.
“I think it is important that Jewish young people will have the opportunity to enjoy this trip without worrying about their food containing animal products or their activities [involving] animal exploitation,” wrote Ori Shavit in an email from her home in Israel.
Shavit is an integral part of Jewish Veg, which brings the food journalist and highly regarded leader of the vegan movement in Israel to America through a partnership with Hillel twice a year to speak about veganism.

Shavit stated the trip will also “show [participants] and others the way that Israel became the number one vegan country in the world, how that effects everybody and why it is so strongly connected to our culture and Jewish roots.”
For more information about Birthright Israel: Mayanot’s vegan trip to Israel and other trips, visit: MayanotIsrael.com 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Alumni Spotlight: An 8 Part Series with Rebecca Bader




      For Rebecca Bader, coming to Israel to learn only became real for her, after a Mayanot representative visited the Chabad for her school, the University of Hartford a few years ago, where she and her, then fiancĂ©, now husband Eric Maurer were regulars. The rabbi suggested that she and Eric might both want to learn at the women’s and men’s programs (respectively), so they could connect more deeply with Judaism – and with each other.

“It’s so nice to be both on the same page,” says Becca, who spent many of her growing-up years in Alabama but whose family lives in Maryland. “Never would I have thought that I would come to a yeshiva in Israel but I’ve learned so much more about my Judaism, connected with Israel and really grown as a person in ways I can’t even describe.”

Before she arrived, Becca was “a little nervous that the ideas would be radical, but Mayanot brings in so many aspects; we hear from women from all the different sects and the teachers come from all different backgrounds and when they tell us their stories, they’re so honest and open. They also know so much that any question you ask they either know the answer or they can help you figure it out.”




Put together, their experience is bound to strengthen their marriage, says Becca. “We always knew we wanted to raise Jewish children, but the more we learn, the better our foundation for starting our family together, the better parents we will be. And, being in similar programs, we’re now able to really talk about how we want to raise our children with Halacha (Jewish Law), with Shabbat, something that’s going to be so much easier after our learning about it here.”

Becca says she’s also grateful to learn other aspects of practical Halacha (Jewish Law), including complex kashrut (Kosher) issues, Shabbat observance and what to look for when shopping for mezuzah scrolls for the door post. “I knew we were going to be more aware after this experience,” she says.

Another goal the couple had, was taking back to American with them: to share with others some of what they had been inspired with at Mayanot. “We were hosted so much that it’s brought us closer to Shabbat and made us want to host other young couples at our table,” says Becca, who before she came to Mayanot, was a teacher at a Boston-area Jewish preschool. “You develop such close bonds in Mayanot to all the other girls,” she adds. “The truth is besides the learning (Topics in Talmud being her favorite class) and just being in Israel, you learn so much from each other. Everyone comes from a different background, but they’re all so open. Learning things like: Rabbi Akiva saw just the good in everything and everyone and that is certainly true at Mayanot.

And, though part of her wanted to stay  into the next school year, ignoring the call of job and graduate school, Becca knew she would be back. “But next time,” she added with a smile, “it would be as a married couple.” 

(August 2015) 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Ever wonder what your first day would be like?


This past Sunday, I embarked on a journey to the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies, in the holy city of Jerusalem!

Over the past few years, I have become more aware of the immense amount of ideas, history, and intellect that there is to learn about Judaism. As I learnt stories from the Bible and laws that were commanded to the Jewish people, I couldn’t help but wonder about the why, where, when, and how of it all.

Everything I learnt evoked more questions and curiosity. Who is G-d and why has he put us here on earth? Why does hate exist and how can we find peace within ourselves, our relationships, and on earth? How can I uphold the responsibility of a Jew to be “a light onto the nations?” With so many questions building up, I just decided to go for it.


 In less than a week, I booked my flight and said, “see ya later”. I packed six months of belongings into two suitcases, and thank G-d, I arrived safely in Israel. One of my classmates was on the same flight as I was, so we ventured together from Tel-Aviv to our new home at Mayanot.

We were welcomed with warm smiles and shown to our rooms. I was happy to find out that my triple room had both adequate wifi and balcony access! After a short nap, we had our first meal. I am so appreciative for whoever has been cooking our delicious meals for us!

We dove into classes that afternoon. Over the past four days we have already covered a great deal of material. We have over 15 classes covering topics such as: history, Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, and prayer. Following our evening class, a few nights ago, we celebrated the start of the Spring semester with ice breakers, games, smoothies and treats! I feel so blessed to be living and learning with such a friendly, diverse, and motivated group of young women.

Students traveled from Russia, South Africa, Australia, France, Mexico, Canada, and of course, the good old, U.S.A., to study here. The staff have been so warm and welcoming and the teachers have been absolutely incredible! I am so inspired by their depth of knowledge and investment in their students. I look forward to meeting the rest of the teachers this week! The city here is beautiful! Definitely a different vibe than NYC!

(First Station, Jerusalem)

Friday is the first day of the weekend here in Israel, so I slept in, went for a little jog by the First Station tracks, and prepared for Shabbat! On our first Shabbat of the semester, we davened Kabbalat Shabbat (Friday night prayers) at the Kotel (Western Wall). During our walk to the Old City, the sky behind the clouds reddened as the sun set behind the hills of Jerusalem. It was absolutely stunning! 


Our Shabbat meals were spent at Mayanot with one of the teachers, Gila Lowell, and her family. We stayed up until 2am farbrenging (singing and celebrating). It was so special to hear each person’s story of how they got to Mayanot and it gave me a whole other level of appreciation for my new family!


This week I learned the story of Miriam, Moshe’s older sister. When Pharoah decreed that every male child be killed in Egypt, Moshe and Miriam’s parents divorced as not to potentially have to kill their child. At the age of 6 or 7, she responded by telling them, “by divorcing you are preventing both males and females from entering the world”. She shared a prophecy with them that they must remarry because they will give birth to a boy who will lead the Jewish nation. In essence by speaking up she saved the Jewish people by allowing Moshe to come into the world!

 The name Miriam is related to the word meri, meaning rebellion, as she refused to accept the despair in the world. Her name is also related to maymirut, which means bitterness. Bitterness is discomfort, the recognition of responsibility that propels change. In contrast, Atzvut is sadness, a sense of hopelessness or “learnt helplessness” that stems from constant rationalization. With sadness, a person becomes the victim, not taking responsibility. This week, I wish you all the strength of Miriam, to find the courage to take action on any bitterness in your own life or your surroundings!

Much love,

Lauren Buckman
Current Mayanot Institute of Jewish Learning Student.