Thursday, May 17, 2018

Experiencing the Holiday of Shavuot

The Repairing Process, A Metaphor For Shavuot: 

Imagine that you have just inherited a house.  The side panels are beaten up from the wind.  Walking into the back yard, it becomes pretty clear that some of the windows are going to need to be replaced.  When you step up the front steps onto the deck, one of the steps breaks under your foot.  Inside, the couches in the living room are worn out and barely staying together.  In the dusty kitchen, you notice that the antique oven is rusted over and the table is barely standing on its three and a half legs.  Topping it all off, there is a hole in the ceiling of the upstairs bedroom, which has resulted in the room becoming acquainted with all four of the seasons.  With all the work that needs to be done, maybe it would have been better not to have been given the house at all.  
Without the proper funds, there is not a chance that the house will be in livable condition.  Out of nowhere you get a call from your Dad and he tells you that he is willing to back the project, on the condition that you do the work.  Over the next few days you collect the supplies and commence the project.  Every day you show up, and, little by little, what seemed at first to be a dilapidated mess, begins to look like a home.  Some days a friend comes by to help, other days it is just you.  Either way, each day there is clear progress.  Whenever you feel like giving up you are able to look back at what the house looked like and how far it has come.

The last task is to get the electricity running; however this is a costly bit, so you call your Dad again.  He has seen all the progress that you made and sends an electrician by to get everything running.  Before turning on the lights for the first time you realize that there would be no better way of experiencing this moment than with your closest friends.  At nightfall you and your companions flip on the switch for the first time.  All of the panels are freshly painted and the windows are crystal clear.  Instead of moldy chairs, there are couches.  A smell of freshly baked Challah floats out of the kitchen and the fixed table is covered with an assortment of cheese cake.  The ceiling has been fixed upstairs and the house is comfortably inhabitable.  Moreover, it is a place that you are able to have guests. 

Making It Practical, Shavuot Insights:

After the Jewish people had suffered years of forced labor coming out of Egypt, after Pesach (Passover) was a bit like inheriting a beat-up house.   We have inherited our relationship with Hashem (G-d) from our forefathers; Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov.  This profound unity with Hashem has to be revealed from underneath the hardship and trauma of slavery.  During the Counting of the Omer (the time in between Passover and Shavuot) is when we begin this process of repair. This is each individual’s process of cleansing and refining his or her emotional faculties. This procedure enables a person to be a proper vessel to receive the Torah.

Matan Torah (receiving the Torah) is the revelation from Hashem.  It is only once we have prepared ourselves and made ourselves into vessels which are fit to receive this G-dly expression, that we actually do.  By setting each of our individual houses in order, we receive this G-dly revelation.  We are then able to go forth and truly affect change in the world by revealing that truly we are all part of a single Home.  

While at Mayanot, I have felt a part of a single home and am very grateful for the experience of being here for the second time, for Shavuot, after learning at Mayanot for the last two years. I am very familiar with the process of repairing and rebuilding through receiving Torah, in my own life,  and I hope we are all able to receive the Torah together this year. 

Written by: Benjamin Shannon, Current Mayanot Men's Program Student 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Young Jewish Professionals, Jerusalem: Joins the Mayanot Ranks

Over the last 20 years, the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies has aimed to fill the gap in experiential and text based Jewish education. As a mission statement and organizational motto, Mayanot’s main goal is to connect young Jews from around the world to their land, their people and their heritage. Today, Mayanot’s newest division, affiliated with Chabad Young Professionals (CYP) International, joins the ranks.

Founded in January 2018 by Rabbi Levi and Rebbetzin Aidel Margolin, Mayanot Young Professionals (aka, YJP Jerusalem) focuses on engaging alumni from our Men's and Women's Learning Programs as well as Birthright Israel participants who now call Israel home, whether long or short term.

In addition, YJP Jerusalem puts a strong focus on English speaking Olim and people on long term programs living in Jerusalem. Their target market, young English speakers aged 25-40, has welcomed the new division with great enthusiasm. In just four months, YJP’s events and Shabbat meals have been attended by more than 500 people.

“We've been hosting people for Shabbos, Chanukah, Purim and more, in the almost two years we've been married,” said Levi. “We noticed a gap in the system in Israel’s capital city and we set out to fill it.” Filling that gap officially began on March 1st with a Purim Seuda at Jerusalem’s Machane Yehudah Market.

The Purim event, attended by more than 140 people, offered guests the opportunity to perform the four Purim mitzvot - seuda, megillah, mishloach manot and matanot l’evyonim. That’s something many attendees, even those from more traditional homes, admit they may not have done. That, Levi says, “is the most important barometer of success for YJP”.

For Aidel, the launch of YJP Jerusalem signals a unique shift in Jerusalem. “We saw from the get-go, at our Purim Seuda, that people are thirsty for something more, something engaging and hands-on” said Aidel. “And with the crowd of nearly 120 at the Lag B'omer BBQ, we're certain these numbers will continue to impress.”

The Margolins have many ideas going forward, some modest and humble, like a monthly Rosh Chodesh gathering for women, or a Chassidus class once a week. Other ideas, Levi admits, will be designed to wow the Holy City. For instance, a Mega Shabbat Dinner for 500+ guests.

The goal of YJP, as Levi explains, is to offer relevant and engaging Jewish programming on a social, religious and cultural level. “We want to create a community, a place for people to meet and mingle and take the relationship beyond the program or event.”

Up next? A Shavuot late night learning with wine and cheese coupled with a walking tour of Jerusalem’s early neighborhoods and a private, sunrise Minyan overlooking the Kotel.

YJP Jerusalem can be contacted via email at or by WhatsApp and phone at +972-52-872-2886. Stay tuned and visit for more information. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Annual Women’s Alumni Reunion

This past Monday, Mayanot celebrated the third annual Mayanot women’s alumni reunion in Israel, with a gathering of over thirty women. Both alumni and current students were in attendance. The diverse group of alumni comprised of women from five different continents and various years of Mayanot, including the first semester of the program, in 2008.

Our esteemed teacher, Mrs. Gila Lowell, who has been educating Mayanot women since the program’s inception, discussed Pesach Sheini and our constant ability to imbue our lives with a renewed sense of meaning and inspiration. She dove into the text and shared ideas from Tanach (Bible), based on the concept of second chances and rousing our desire for self growth and leadership in today’s day in age. 

The level of nostalgia for the textual ‘inside’ learning was palpable from all the women in attendance. Mayanot teaches academic level learning skills that are particular to accessing traditional texts in the original Hebrew, and it was amazing to see the women innately dive in.

View The Short Event Clip Here

“The Torah is here to teach us lifelong lessons that we can apply to our lives in a practical way. This story, like so many others, has so much to teach us about how to engage G-d in dialogue”, shared Gila. “When I encounter something in Halacha (Jewish law) that I find challenging, I can gripe about it or I can wrestle with it and engage! If you’re trying to make a dwelling place for G-d in the lower worlds you’re going to get dirty, but that’s part of the work, our job here is to wrestle with it and endeavor to make a difference.

In true Mayanot fashion, the ideas were deep, relatable and relevant for the diverse group of women. Sparking in-depth questions and discussions regardless of age, situation or life status, everyone could gain insight and take away something relevant, regardless of their particular circumstances.

The evening began with a beautiful round of introductions from all the women who were meeting for the first time, and ended with an intimate farbrengun (Chassidic gathering) with Rivka Marga Gestetner, Director of Education for the Women’s Learning Program, sharing ideas about personal relationships and development.

Rivka Marga, for the third consecutive year, opened up her home with a beautiful food spread and a welcoming atmosphere. “It’s a unique pleasure to host these events and reconnect with alumni. Every year of Mayanot brings a different group of women with such exceptional experiences. It’s wonderful to see how everyone has grown”, she shared.

Rivkah Katz, a current Mayanot student and social media intern declared, “It was so amazing to meet alumni from all the different years of Mayanot and see how connected they all remain to each other and the other women from their years of learning. I hope to stay as connected to the women at Mayanot, as they have all impacted my life tremendously.”

Mayanot is grateful to all those that came out Monday night to join and contribute to the learning. Directly from the mouth of our cherished teacher Gila, “May we be blessed to have the courage to admit our lack and begin to work on it from an authentic place of vulnerability, humility and growth.” 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

8 Weddings in 2 Weeks

(Shifra Chana and Jason Segal, Image by Rabbi Yisroel Bernath)

In today’s world, threats to Jewish continuity are very real. It is a challenge for the entire Jewish people to battle growing apathy by encouraging Jewish pride and leadership. In the face of over-arching adversity, the impact of Mayanot’s efforts to educate the next generation of Jewish leaders has a profound and far-reaching effect when alumni choose to marry Jewish and build homes of Torah and chesed.

It is therefore with great joy that the Mayanot family announces a ground breaking number of recent weddings, celebrating the marriages of eight of our alumni in the span of only two and a half weeks time.

These weddings took place all over the world and amazingly Rabbi Shlomo Gestetner, Dean of the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies, and Rabbi Kasriel Shemtov, Executive Director, were able to attend five of the eight weddings, collectively.

Celebrating a wedding, which is such a momentous occasion in a student’s life, hearing how much their learning impacted their journey, is as consequential for the faculty as it is life changing for the alumni. Thus, it is a great privilege for us to share a few alumni testimonials from those couples recently married.

Chava Hinsey, a 2015 Mayanot alumni articulated, “Baruch Hashem, I got married a month ago and I am now living in Morristown with my husband.  As I look around the little cul-de-sac where we are living, I see how many people here have been impacted by Mayanot.  In my journey of returning to Yiddishkeit , Mayanot was a fundamental experience in my growth. At Mayanot, I learned how to balance my passion for Torah study with the larger picture of what it means to be a Jewish woman.”

Sabrina Benros a 2016 alumni from Arizona recounted, “Mayanot allowed me to open my eyes to the importance of having a Jewish home and even more so, the importance of having that home follow the path of the Torah. My time at Mayanot was very well spent and the memories I made will certainly impact my life forever.” 

Yacov Segal, a 2017 alumni related, “The rabbis at the Mayanot yeshiva showed me that not only was it OK to be myself, but they encouraged me to delve into my neshama and find a way to inspire those around me. I am ecstatic and very grateful to Hashem that several months after returning to Vancouver, Canada I met and married Shifra Chana Landry from Montreal on Yud Beis Adar. I want to send a special thanks to Rabbi Baitelman who officiated our wedding and Shira Malca Zornitsky who was our shadchan.”

Chaya Bekermus, who recently married Adam Garcia a current student from California, shared, Mayanot serves as a stable and balancing platform for my husband to learn Torah and was an immense support for us during our dating process, and continues to be in our marriage. I am deeply thankful to Mayanot for being such a conduit of holiness and acceptance.”

The list of recent weddings:
Ruchama Steben to Eliezer Phillips                                              (February 22)
Bracha Rivka Kappah to Moshe Nachman Abramson                  (February 28)
Sabrina Benros to Harel Baruchi                                                   (February 28)
Yacov Segal to Shifra Chana Landry                                             (March 1)
Adam Garcia to Chaya Bekermus                                                 (March 4)
Chava Hinsey to Chaim Ahron Green                                           (March 5)
Danielle Savva to Yoel Kaufman                                                   (March 6)
Zach Gilbert-Burke to Ayla Pastelnick                                           (March 8)

We want to wish a big Mazal Tov to these and the hundreds of other alumni couples from past years of Mayanot, as well.  It’s a pleasure to watch our Mayanot family grow and flourish.

(Chaya and Adam Garcia)

(Sabrina and Harel Baruchi)

(Chava and Chaim Ahron Green)

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The New Mayanot Learning Network Spreads Even More Torah Worldwide

Mayanot joins JNet to bring students Torah on a global scale. With an ever growing group of students inspired to begin their learning early and/or continue their learning after they leave Mayanot, this opportunity has proven positive for many of our students and alumni. We sat with Eytan Waxman of JNet, a past Mayanot alumni, who gave us the full scoop.

(From Left: Eytan Waxman, Matt Dubron, Rabbi Yudi Dukes) 

The Jewish Learning Network, fulfills an important need in a convenient way for Jews to connect to their heritage over the phone. Utilizing partnership learning and the traditional styles of Torah learning, JNet pairs students worldwide for half an hour long learning sessions. Usually this entails partnering individuals who don't know each other, but share a similar schedule or desire to learn certain topics.

Eytan’s involvement with JNet began after a year of learning at Mayanot, when he was approached by Rabbi Yehuda Dukes, JNet’s Managing Director, to teach someone in French. Although he wasn’t able to at the time, he suggested another teacher and after demonstrating how many people he knew that would be happy to teach or happy to learn, Eytan and Rabbi Dukes continued to discuss possibilities, and their connection took off from there.

When Eytan began, he thought the priority should become students on campus and young professionals, since a taste of Jewish learning could help inspire them to actually make the leap and try a Yeshiva program. In essence, his goal was to show them how relevant Torah could be in their everyday lives and how much it could add to their overall sense of purpose. Additionally, this age group is prone to travel, has changing schedules, and this type of learning opportunity caters to them perfectly, as it can be done from anywhere and at any time.

Eytan therefore contacted Rabbi Chaim Moss, the educational Director for the Mayanot Men’s Learning Program, who saw this as a great opportunity for future students and alumni. On the spot Rabbi Moss mentioned Matt Dubron, a student that could benefit from the program; he signed up but couldn’t attend for a few months. Eytan contacted Matt right away and he was very happy to start learning. Matt was matched with a young man from Crown Heights, New York, and after two weeks the two actually had a chance to meet. After the meeting, Matt was so inspired he decided to buy Tefilin. "So on top of the learning”, Eytan shared, “some other great things come out of these connections as well”.

Eytan related, “We have since setup, through the Mayanot Learning Network, students from England, Australia, South Africa and all over the United States including Fairbanks Alaska! We started this initiative about one year ago, and since then have students joining almost every week, and we are soon reaching our 100th chevrusa!”

The benefits of this program are twofold, advancing both incoming students and alumni. Firstly, when someone shows interest in learning at Mayanot, the Mayanot Learning Network offers them an opportunity to get started even before they begin at Mayanot. The benefits are tremendous. They can get a head start and feel more comfortable when they do start their learning in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Moss shared, “Why should a student have to wait until their physical arrival to start learning? If the student opts in, they can begin learning one-on-one over the phone before they even attend. They can begin working on their Hebrew skills, if they’d like, and generally become much more prepared for the amazing experience that awaits them with their physical arrival at Mayanot.”

Secondly, this benefits alumni as well. They now have an opportunity to stay connected and continue to build on the skills they learned while at Mayanot. “It is essential for a healthy transition that, when even after students leave Mayanot, they have an ability to stay connected to their learning and continue to develop in their growth”, said Rabbi Moss. “We knew we needed to create a system that made it a bit easier for our alumni, once they returned to their home communities, to stay connected to their learning. JNet was the perfect way for us to assist students, even after they leave the program”.

Mayanot is always looking for creative ways to help ensure that the momentum and incredible growth of learning and experience at Mayanot continues and has an impact even after students return to their home communities. Seeing what kind of an impact this initiative has had for some of our recent alumni makes it clear that this is one of the best follow up efforts we’ve made”, said Rabbi Shlomo Gestetner, Dean of the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies.

When Eytan was asked about his Mayanot learning experience he stated, “The best part of Mayanot for me was learning how to learn. Since my year at Mayanot, I have received Semicha and now teach and mentor people around the world. I definitely attribute my teaching skills to the Mayanot faculty who didn’t just teach me what the Jewish texts say, but they taught me how to learn the text. Now I am involved with helping to teach others as well and since I knew for myself how amazing the Mayanot learning experience was, I knew others would want to get involved too”.

For many alumni, especially from the shorter term programs, such as the Post Birthright Israel extension, the Summer Program and Winter Program, this initiative has been an incredible follow up opportunity. Our alumni can now keep up with their learning even after they leave the program.

We are very grateful to our alumnus, Eytan Waxman, who made this opportunity possible. We hope that these connections will continue to be available to our alumni and future students, the opportunity to continue building their skills, confidence, and increasing their overall connection to their Judaism.

For those interested in joining the Mayanot Learning Network please contact:

(From Left: Zalmy Gansburg, Matt Dubron, Eytan Waxman)

(From Left: Eytan Waxman, Matt Dubron, Levi Liberow)

Pre Pesach Mazal Tov's

May we only continue to celebrate simchas together.

Penina and Jason Allen had a baby boy 
Pia and Amram BenDavid had a baby boy
Max and Mariya Dayan had a baby girl
Chaya and Shimon Dubinsky had a baby boy
Elizabeth and Matt Esterhorn had a baby girl
Yossi and Shterny Glick had a baby boy 
Nessia and Yerachmiel Goldstein had a baby girl
Shula and Lior Gorgi had a baby girl 
Jesse and Chanie Kaufman had a baby girl
Noa and Michoel Klein had a baby girl
Ariella Malka and Moshe Kranz had a baby boy
Ariella and Jacob Rich had a baby boy
Yosef and Devora Romano had a baby boy
Isaac and Natalie Schapira had a baby boy
Rachel and Shachar Shaltil had twins
Lauren and Dovid Ussishkin had a baby girl
Shana and Daniel Wirzberger had a baby boy 
Hannah and Gavriel Witkin had a baby girl

Bracha Rivka Kapp to Moshe Nachman Abramson
Sabrina Benros and Harel Baruchi
Chaya Bekermus to Adam Garcia
Ayla Pastelnick to Zach Gilbert-Burke
Chava Hinsey to Chaim Ahron Green
Danielle Savva to Yoel Kaufman
Ruchama Steben to Eliezer Phillips
Shifra Landry to Jason Segal
Shterny Fogelman to Mendy Tubal

A big Mazal Tov to our Board Member
Yaakov and his wife Karen Cohen on the birth of their grandson,
and to the parents Michal and Yoni Katzir!

(Chava Hensey and Chaim Ahron Green)

(Chaya Bekermus and Adam Garcia)

(Sabrina Benros and Harel Baruchi) 

Please email us to share your good news!
 Send your Mazal Tov's to: 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Alumni Spotlight: Music Through Torah

(Zach & Nadine Epstein)

We sat down with Zachary Epstein to find out about the inspiration for his new single and what he took away from his first Yeshiva learning experience at the Mayanot Men's Learning Program.

How long were you at Mayanot and what did you gain from the Program?
I went to Mayanot the summer of 2013 for six amazing weeks. There were so many things that I loved and took away from the program. The most memorable experience at Mayanot was a Shabbaton we did in Tzfat. It was my first Shabbat without using a phone, and it was full of Torah, hiking, exploration, and hitbodedut (meditation).

What is the most important thing you took away from the Program?
At Mayanot I developed the faith and strength to grow in observance even when there is adversity and even when it contradicts Western values and culture. I also learned to have an extremely healthy relationship with Jewish Law. I received excellent guidance regarding the importance of slow but steady growth in mitzvah observance and the great value of honoring one’s mother and father. Mayanot also instilled within me a fiery desire to serve G-d and to love my fellow Jews.

Can you share your favorite part of the Program?
It is so difficult to choose my favorite part, it would either be the inspirational d'var Torahs, the spiritual fabrengens, tours of the Old City, or discussions with Mayanot’s incredible students, shulchim, and rabbis about life and Torah; and of course, Chassidus has been a constant source of inspiration and joy since I learnt about it at Mayanot.

Did Mayanot impact your decision to get involved in this music project?
Music has always been a love of mine, and as a youth I had the privilege of performing around the Chicago area as a boy soprano. I'm no longer a soprano, but I do still perform and record. Modern country music is my genre of choice. Mayanot was however, the motivating factor that enabled me to make time for music as a physics PhD student again and to overcome the resistance inherent in attempting to do that.

How did the idea for your new single happen?
I had experienced so much tremendous growth in my Jewish observance at Mayanot and in my understanding of humanity and reality through Torah. I was feeling very proud looking back at my decision to attend even though I am doing my PhD and had little time to do so, realizing that Mayanot had been such a gift, feeling very grateful, the idea for the song occurred to me. King David’s phrase, “One thing I ask is to dwell b’veis Hashem for all the days of my life”. This music project just took off from there. 

Within my music in general, my main goal has become to inspire connection and to bring Jews closer to their creator. This particular song has turned into a project meant to bring Jewish friends and family closer to their heritage and I hope when people listen to it they want to share it.

What else has inspired you to get back into your music?
I once took an undergraduate course on Negotiating Social Change through Music and learned that music has an incredible power to affect one’s emotions and thereby influence one’s perspective. There are many amazing and successful Orthodox Jewish musicians – they give so much, and have so much to give, both to the Orthodox Jewish world and to the world as a whole and I have been inspired by so many of them within my own music.

How have you used what you have learnt at Mayanot to help you in your music?
Two years after writing the song, I saw friends and family moving in the direction of intermarriage and assimilation, and I felt very sad. I took the song, which was then focused on my own Jewish journey and turned it outwards. I completely redid the melody and chords, revamped the lyrics to expose people to a Torah perspective in a way that would resonate with all kinds of Jews, and tried to subtly make a strong case for living a Jewish life within the song, which is something I feel passionately about.

Mayanot inspires people to think beyond themselves. Not just to focus on their own journeys but on others as well, and I definitely internalized that message. 

What is your main goal with this song, what do you hope people will get out of it?
Within my music in general, my main goal has become to inspire connection and to bring Jews closer to their creator. This particular song has turned into a project meant to bring Jewish friends and family closer to their heritage and I hope when people listen to it they want to share it.


We want to Thank Zachary Epstein for sharing his thoughts and insights with us.
Take a listen and enjoy this beautiful recording entitled ‘One Thing I Ask’. 
For a free download, click here.