Thursday, December 8, 2016

Alumni Spotlight: An 8 Part Series with Joshua Zimmerman

It took Joshua Zimmerman till he got to college to see how stunted his Jewish education had been up until that moment. “That’s when I began to see that, if you stopped your learning at your bar mitzvah, you go through the rest of your life with barely a seventh grade Jewish education,” said Joshua. “If you were an engineer, how could you do your job with barely a seventh grade education? Sorry but you couldn’t.”

Since he figured he wouldn’t have adequate knowledge to be able to accept or reject something he didn’t understand, Joshua knew he needed to learn more about his own religion. Fortunately, at the University of Central Florida he encountered a rabbi named Chaim Boruch Lipskier, who had a profound impact on him, inspiring in him the desire to become more observant and wear a kippa every day. More than four years ago he became Shomer Shabbat and, when he finished his degree in archaeology and film three years ago, he began seriously considering a yeshiva experience in Israel, something that would take his learning even deeper.

“It was another culture at Mayanot,” Joshua said who was 23 at the time. “Mayanot is a bit like Hogwarts (the academy featured in the Harry Potter novels). The same way wizards in Hogwarts are learning wizardry, we as Jews are learning Jewry. We’re learning how to become our best selves.”

One example of the “best self” is from his Jewish Ethics class where he learned that, in marriage you don’t marry a person but the other half of your soul, “that it’s up to each of us to find a person who can help each of us become a better person.”

Joshua’s favorite classes were, Jewish history, certainly and of course Talmud. “Talmud is the basis of what it means to be a bachur, a student.” Calling the learning at Mayanot “absolutely amazing,” he added with a sigh that “I really don’t want to go back yet. I see this as my last real chance to have the taste of yeshiva, to really grow Jewishly in such an incredible environment.” Joshua is determined to put his training in film and new Jewish learning together, with a project he calls “Endless Shabbat,” documenting Chabad Emissaries hard at work all over the globe.” It’s going to highlight how a Jew can go anywhere in the world, and because of the vision of the Rebbe, find a home.”

Sunday, December 4, 2016

You'll never guess who made Aliyah

We are very proud of our Alum who recently made aliyah and was featured on

Shayna Driscoll, originally from Brooklyn and now in ulpan & living in Jerusalem, attended Mayanot in 2012 and made aliyah in 2016.

Shayna grew up as a self-proclaimed “Rosh Hashanah Jew”– reformed and secular, with Israel totally off her radar. That changed after coming on Birthright and returning for seminary at Mayanot, but Shayna still wanted to “fit the mold”– to get a job in New York, pay off her student loans, and eventually settle down. But that was not the path her life took. Shayna made aliyah this July, leaving a great job at the United Jewish Federation of New York as a Development Associate and her beloved parents, who are now reluctant empty nesters. Shayna chose to go against the grain and fight for her long-held desire to move to Israel. Now, Shayna is focusing on her Hebrew learning at Ulpan Etzion in Armon Hanetziv, making life-long friends, and soaking up Jerusalem’s energy, which she calls “ very much her vibe.”
Israel was not on Shayna’s radar until she began college at Binghamton University, where her friend convinced her to go to Chabad for some free food before heading to the bars. There, she learned about Judaism and about Israel. She signed up for Birthright not long after and began to learn more about Hasbara, Judaism from a cultural and spiritual perspective, and eventually, from a religious perspective. After her Birthright program, she left Israel “kicking and screaming at Ben Gurion Airport,” not wanting to leave. “The madricha told me that she knew my type and knew I’d be back.” The madricha was right– Shayna came back to Israel nearly every summer following on free trips, “obsessed” with Israel. After she graduated from college, she came back to study at Mayanot’s Women's Learning Program. She hoped to do the army and get a masters, but decided against it because she felt it wasn’t was she “should do”– she chose, perhaps for the last time, to “fit the mold” by getting a job and paying off her student loans. When she got a prestigious job with the Jewish Federation’s Wall Street Division, she found meaning in her position and gracefully took on hefty responsibilities, including managing a Wall Street dinner where $28 million was fundraised, with a whopping 1,700 guests who she seated and managed. At her job, Shayna was working with millionaires and billionaires and was following the path that her UJA mentors took to reach their coveted positions. But Shayna couldn’t ignore the fact that she felt something was missing.
At a Birthright fellowship conference in Chicago, her feelings came to a head–she found herself emotional after hearing from Israeli speakers. “I want to be these Israelis,” she recollected. “I want to be the one working for a Jewish organization, flying to America and teaching others about Israel, not vice versa.” When Shayna called her mom, who wanted to keep her only child nearby, she protested, “Shayna, you have your aliyah voice on again!” But this voice only intensified a few months later when the פיגועים began almost exactly one year ago. “It was a turning point for me when Ezra Schwartz died. I felt like, what the heck am I doing here [in the U.S.]? Israel is really important to me! Where do I want to be if I die tomorrow? Do I want to be in a cubicle on Park Avenue?” In a last ditch effort to follow the “normal path,” she applied to NYU and left to staff Birthright on the same day, but within 24 hours of being back in Israel, she made up her mind. “I even began telling people on the bus. I wrote a letter to myself then to make sure I wouldn’t go back on my choice.”

Unlike for many olim chadashim, for Shayna, the hardest part of her aliyah process didn’t happen in Israel– rather, it was telling her parents that she was moving. As an only child, it was “horrible” telling her parents. In January, she told her mom. In April, she told her dad. In July, she made the move. “My dad didn’t call me for four months after I told him. It was the worst time of my life,” said Shayna. Her dad began to understand once terrorism around the world increased. “I think it put it in perspective for him that I wanna be where I wanna be,” and Israel isn’t necessarily more dangerous than any other place. In fact, Shayna feels the most safe in Israel where “safety is not scary or intimidating, but there is a subtle feeling of security.” And anyway, physical danger isn’t as scary to Shayna as other dangers. While she spoke about ulpan friends from Turkey and France who couldn’t wear kippot in the street or had to sneak in Kosher meat from the butcher, Shayna said her motivations for aliyah include an escape of ideological and emotional nature more so than an escape for safety reasons. “Americans are fleeing from a sense of complacency and apathy towards Judaism. To me, that is scarier than ISIS, because you can’t bomb apathy.” The result, for her, means she doesn’t have to struggle to identify Jewishly when living in the Jewish State. “Here, you can be who you are. You can wear pants and cover your hair if you want. You can really be whatever you want.”

Even with the hardship of skeptical parents, Shayna feels she made the right decision. She loves ulpan, where she has found “the most incredible friends” in what she calls a “very soft landing.” Shayna loves walking around, looking at old street signs, finding new restaurants, being outdoors, and exploring nature. To her, Jerusalem is the “heart of Israel” and says she “needs to be in the heart,” even though most of her friends live in Tel Aviv. “I love history and I am a spiritual person so I love the energy here in Jerusalem. Sometimes if I’m bored, I’ll just go to the kotel,” she said, laughing. Her Hebrew learning is also coming along. Even though it’s easy to speak English outside of Ulpan, she has found ways to practice, such as “learning all the names for the vegetables from the guy at Jachnun Bar in the shuk- I go there all the time,” she tells. “After all, I didn’t move to Israel to live in the upper west side!

In terms of struggles, there are many, as always. She cites the language as the biggest challenge and resulting in funny mistakes like when she answered “שתויות רק” instead of “שתיות רק”” when asking if she wanted anything else at Aroma. There are also those not so funny mistakes, like paying for 20 24-hour bus tickets instead of 20 tickets on her Rav Kav because she asked for “פעמים עשרים” instead of “נסיעות עשרים.” While she is “very much a New Yorker” and “doesn’t let Israelis walk all over her,” her strategy for getting by in Hebrew speaking environments is to just say, “okay, okay.”

Now is another critical time for Shayna, who is beginning to think about what is next for her: nonprofit work or starting something completely new. But one thing is certain– like many olim have proven before her, with a mix of her American positive outlook and Israeli don’t-take-no-for-an-answer grit, Shayna’s future is bright in Jerusalem.

We wish you much success and nachas here in Jerusalem, Shayna, and hope you will come back and visit us from time to time! 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Alumni Spotlight: An 8 Part Series featuring Josh Crisp

Joshua Crisp’s first real introduction to Judaism was the day he walked into the Chabad House at his school, the University of Sussex in England. He’s not sure exactly just what pulled him in, but once he got the taste of Jewish life and learning, he found himself wanting more.
A junior investment analyst with a degree in economics and finance, Joshua was raised with some sense of his own identity as a Jew but, he said, not much. “Growing up I didn’t know much about Judaism,” he noted. Until he began to “get inspired” at the British South East Coast Universities Chabad House. “Even though I was a real beginner, for some reason I wasn’t intimidated or overwhelmed, just interested, very interested”.
That was only one and a half years before he decided to attend the Mayanot Men’s Learning Program, because, although he enjoyed the learning at the campus Chabad, he knew that, after graduation he’d be ready to pick up the pace of his Jewish journey.  That’s when he discovered the Mayanot website online, “I knew I was looking for a Chabad yeshiva for the Chabad philosophy and the Chassidut. 
Chabad is Judaism that goes from the inside out -- it doesn’t hide away because it’s not afraid of the rest of the world. So the place just sounded like a really good fit for me.”
At 21 years old, Joshua was immersed in the intensity of the Mayanot learning environment  and he summed it up by saying: “There’s a lot of joy here, I’ve learnt so much so fast, but it’s also a lot of hard work.” One thing he did not completely expect, he said, was the dramatic “character development” that goes hand-in-hand with the intellectual learning at Mayanot. “Judaism is not a walk in the park,” Joshua beamed. “To be a Jew means to be always working on yourself.”

And, back in England Joshua has parents who, though they are “amazing people,” tend to worry. They worry about international antisemitism, “especially given the non-Jewish environment I grew up, but I see it as my mitzvah (good deed) to be a strong Jew in the world, to show the world what a Jew can be.”
“Mayanot has prepared me for that,” Joshua adds. “It gave me and the bunch of like-minded guys, who were with me, the skills we all needed by steeping us in Yiddishkeit, and helping us build a stronger identity.” Joshua said he knows that, “if you wear a yarmulke (traditional head covering) in the workplace you need to know enough to answer questions. Mayanot arms you with that knowledge, making you a good representative of the Jewish people. That’s how Chabad changes the world.”

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Experiencing Hevron for Chayei Sara

Sharing this wonderfully descriptive experience of going to Hevron for Parshat Chayei Sara, from our dear friend and current student Baba Boteach. 
I'm currently squished on a bus, stuffed between a suitcase, and my sister sleeping next to me. We, along with thirty five thousand backpack baring, aggressively pushing, passionate Jews are on our way to Chevron, the burial place of our three fathers and three mothers. Being that this weeks Parsha is "Chayei Sara" (the life is Sara), the whole Israel empties out and embarks on their voyage to Hevron, to pay our mother Sara a visit, and show her how much we miss her.
Standing there, waiting as patiently as I could for the bus to arrive, as elbows jabbed, and feet stomped, I wondered how it was possible that thirty five thousand people, many of them young yeshiva students from abroad, were eagerly on their way to show their love to a person that passed away thousands of years ago. Someone we only read about. Someone we are told loved and lived for the Jewish people, yet has never been seen in the flesh. I couldn't help but laugh and tell G-d how lucky He is that He has such devoted, dedicated children.
Although I wish we could all be here together, with Sarah walking around, telling us how long it's been and how good it is to be back, and the Beit Hamikdash standing tall in all its glory, that is not the case as of yet (it will be soon, don't worry).
So, because I can't help myself, and I have to mix chassidus into this somewhere, I would like to give us all a blessing. May we all be able to hear ourselves, our real inner selves, that spark of G-dliness inside us. Communicate to G-d, father to daughter, husband to wife, master to servant, G-d to nation, that we will bring Him down here to live with us, no matter what it takes. May we be able to block out the "many waters" the incessant distraction that try to drown us, and realize that G-d loves us and wants us to choose Him, just like he chose us a very very long time ago.
I really do wish you were all here to see this.

Shavua tov everyone, may we all bring the energy of Sara's life into our week!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Chassidic Formula to Emotional Well-Being

During this week's Parsha of Chaya Sarah, we learn about the first formal shidduch to take place in history, of the union between Yitzchak and Rivka.

We know how critical the time before marriage is and the importance of taking advantage of the opportunity we are given as independent beings to work on our selves, refining our character traits so we can bring our best and most developed selves into a union with our partner.

In creating a oneness and completeness, so to speak, we first need two halves that are whole, in and of themselves, in order to create a wholeness together.  Two halves make a whole only works if each individual is whole in and of themselves, before they can be united as one.

In order to reach this healthy place of unity and marriage, we advocate for the importance of emotional well being for each individual student. It is an apropos time to share this wonderful class by Mayanot Senior Talmudic and Chassidut lecturer, Rabbi Boruch Kaplan on the chassidic formula toward emotional well-being.

We hope you have a wonderful Shabbat!

To watch the class click here!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Jewish Life on Campus, Making Big Waves

Chabad didnt stop on campus for us, but introduced us to an entire 

network around the world in which to feel comfortable. 

(Rachel & Jared with the Rabbi Dovid & Goldie Tiechtel)

When I began my sophomore year of college at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, there was nothing more exciting than signing up for the annual Birthright Israel trip. My spirit was dampened, however, when I learned to my dismay that my boyfriend, Jared Neuhausen, and I were placed on the U of I Chabad trip instead of on one of the many other Birthright options that we were hoping for.

I didn’t know what Chabad was, or who Rabbi Dovid & Goldie Tiechtel were, but I knew that this was supposed to be my trip to break free from the Chicago Jewish circle that I was raised in, and to meet new people from across the US. I worried that a trip with Chabad wouldn’t offer me the new experiences I was looking for.
(Photo via

I definitely could not have predicted the effect that the Birthright Israel: Mayanot trip in 2009, would have on Jared and I, and that I would be mentioning that very trip at our wedding seven years later, with Rabbi Dovid laughing in the audience. Not only was that trip a great introduction to a new way of living Jewish life on campus, it was the first of many experiences with Chabad that has weaved itself through our young adult lives and helped us develop into the strong Jewish couple that we are today.

Just last month, an independent study of Chabad on Campus found that participation at Chabad while at college significantly increases participation in Jewish life after graduation. Jared and I can personally attest to this, and can attest to having seen this happen to dozens of other young Jews.

(Photo via

The study, commissioned by the Hertog Foundation and conducted by leading sociologists, surveyed and interviewed 2,400 students and validated much of what I already knew about Chabad. One of the key findings was that 88% of the students who participate at Chabad, like myself, do not come from an Orthodox background. This holds true for us as we both were raised in conservative Northshore Chicago homes, with family Shabbats and weekly services.

I’ve had the opportunity to experience Chabad on campus as both a student leader as well as an observing adult, after returning to the University of Illinois for my master’s degree. I would describe much of Rabbi Dovid and Goldie’s success as stemming from their ability to relate to the students so well. The rabbi is a Facebook master, and he Instagrams and Snapchats. He visits fraternity houses, and lets them ask whatever questions they want.

But when they’re not throwing high fives and sending texts, Dovid and Goldie also act as your Jewish parents right in the middle of campus. When you’re ill, you can count on hot matza ball soup, delivered. When you’re homesick, you can count on a traditional home-cooked meal nearly every night of the week, and five children pulling you in every direction making you forget you’re on a college campus. For me, it was at my most vulnerable moments that I needed a heartfelt reminder that as a Jew, you stay strong and repair the world with goodness, light, and compassion.

My husband and I lost a family member during our undergraduate tenure, and Rabbi Dovid and Goldie played an active role in helping us cope with the loss. This included picking me up from class one day when my stress turned into a full-blown panic attack. The rabbi even drove up to Chicago several times to make house calls to both our families, and did the same for many of our friends as well when they were in similar circumstances.

The study’s report says that out of the 2,400 alumni that were surveyed, the most frequently used word to describe Chabad was “welcoming.” This sort of judgment-free atmosphere opens a host of opportunities for young adults to begin exploring their lives and opportunities, including determining whom they marry, what they study, and how to handle life’s challenges.

As the survey indicates, Chabad didn’t stop on campus for us, but it introduced us to an entire network around the world in which to feel comfortable. My husband and I love to travel, and as Jews, we feel better knowing that we have a safe haven wherever we go. All it took was one phone call from Rabbi Dovid, and we were connected to a network of families that hosted us overnight for amazing meals and holiday celebrations. I stayed with the Chabad family in Costa Rica while I studied abroad my junior year, while my husband visited the Chabad in Rio de Janeiro. Together, we visited Chabad in Panama for Passover, and spent Hanukkah with the Chabad in the Dominican Republic. Likewise, as our lives took us to central Chicago, we continue today to be active with our local Chabad house, and feel well-educated on maintaining a Jewish home.

This is our story, but it is one of thousands being written around the country.

A Birthright trip that was supposed to offer us new experiences gave us that and so much more. Our lives were changed in so many ways from that one trip and from meeting Chabad. While this study has proven the success of Chabad as an organization and in general, for me it is personal. Chabad has offered me a home, a lifestyle, and connection to something so much bigger than myself.

And I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

Rachel Neuhausen is currently pursuing her MBA at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Before returning to school, Rachel worked as a management consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton, and held a presidential appointment with the Obama administration in Washington. Rachel lives in Chicago with her husband, Jared, and their dog, Pearl.

As seen on

Monday, November 21, 2016

We have a baby in the Mayanot family!

Mazal Tov, Mazal Tov
Yita Mirel & Schneur Broh 
on the birth of their firstborn son!

Mazal tov to the new Grandparents:
Our esteemed Rabbi Shloime & Rebitzen Rivka Marga Gestetner
and Rabbi Lior & Tirzah Broh from Melbourne Australia.