Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Thank You Note from Elana Afrika

In South Africa I have the best of all worlds. I mean ALL worlds. I have a great Shul and community. I'm independent, I own properties, have great relationships with my Entertainment and Media Clients, and best of all...I have an extremely supportive family in Cape Town. My life here is perfect. But, being in media and entertainment and, working with more than 6 charity projects hardly prepared me for the journey that I was going to have when I finally left for Israel.

When writing in my diary on my bed one night last year August, I made a decision to make Israel the one place I have to visit before the end of 2011. I also made the decision that it won't just be a visit or travel like any tourist..I wanted something unique and chose Mayanot. I was born to Christian parents. I am Jewish and attend a Chabad shul and was ready for an experience that was different than the public life I had led up until then in South Africa where I host television and radio shows.

I traded my luxury car for a pair of Ugg boots that I would wear in Jerusalem that winter. I bought a new house a week before leaving for Israel, so that when get back to South Africa, I would move into a new home. I took the last post out of my postbox on the Monday, that Tuesday I resigned all my projects. I was a bridesmaid on the Wednesday and on the Thursday evening I left for Israel to settle in Katamon, Jerusalem.

Arriving in Israel and walking my first steps in the shuk, the hustle and bustle of Friday morning had me in awe. I knew everything was gonna be in order when, a man selling challa on the other side of his counter shouted at me, screaming, " Hey Janet Jackson! I love you!!".  It left me in hysterics! But not only that, I felt free to have my trendy Janet Jackson hairdoo in the best city in the world, surrounded by people who I could freely express myself to. I am Jewish ,and here, not even in the shuk, anyone questioned it. I was embraced. At Mayanot I attended lectures on Chassidus and learned from knowledgeable young women who knew the value of a lifestyle that is lead by Torah. I was, and until this day am extremely inspired. My lecturers were amazing. Being introduced to different topics and tours that I could only dream of, was real, and extremely hard to leave behind when having to head back to South Africa.

And then there were the woman who attended, who each have a different story and reason for attending Mayanot. Their stories would each be a script for a bestseller novel or billion dollar feature documentary film. I declared my "For me" moment. I expressed to the girls that when I head back to South Africa I am going to have a project that is "For me!" and made friends. Good friends.

I am back in South Africa. My community missed me. I tell them stories every week as a reminder of my time in Jerusalem. My new home is lovely. The postbox is filled with mails again, and my "for me" moment has arrived. I have learned that life starts from within before you can truly live it fully. I am living a few "For me" moments.  I'm delighted. It took a visit to Israel to show me what life is really about.

I will return next year, and the year after and beyond. Thank you, Mayanot.


Monday, June 13, 2011

The Peculiar Nature of the Jew

I have thought before about the fact that many Jews have this strange look and way about them. How terrible, how racist, how politically incorrect, I know.

But let's be honest, you agree.  Even if you won’t admit it to your non-Jewish neighbors, even if you won’t write about it or let your mind ponder over it because you believe that something is wrong with that statement.

But the truth is there is something so wrong and yet something so right about it, if only you look closely enough.

You know what I’m saying- that slightly off, slightly kooky, quirky, way of being that typifies the Jew. Big nose, we might say; Semitic origins. Or neurotic tendencies; years of persecution and exile. Those being the reasons and the answers.  Prescriptive answers for a self-medicated generation.

But maybe there’s something, something deeper, some other message that God’s sending to the Jews.  And this message, I believe, can be found in the Holy Land.

Israel and Israelis are, in one word, ridiculous.  The interactions, the bartering, the unusual way of expressing disgust and joy simultaneously. Existing below the surface of frenetic, crabby energy, however, you can hear something within them whisper “It’s all good”. “You’re all good.”

There’s something else there, if you listen closely. A certain calmness, a certain truth, a certain tenacity and stubborn persistence of values and honesty and trust.

When the Jew is in his element, when he hasn’t been inundated with the mind boggling hip hop shenanigans of the world, when he is the king of his own land, his true essence emerges.

Perhaps what God is saying in all of this is that that Jew might not have the physical even and calm proportions of the “Aryan” superior race. But within that neurotic complexion and fevered speech, deeper, below the surface, he is just that - deeper. Richer.

There is something so off and something so on about the Jew.

On the surface, he might appear erratic, but there is gold hidden beneath those hills. And all one needs to do is look, and look closely. I’m telling you, I’ve seen it. I’ve found gold beneath those hills.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

From Sinai to Cyberspace

In honor of Shavuot, the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and TorahCafé.com created a Webcast which highlights new and revolutionary programs offered to learn Torah. One of the 5 programs which was profiled was the Mayanot Women's Program. As an alumna of Mayanot, it was a true honor to take part in the creation of this Webcast. A huge thank you to Rabbi Levinger and current Mayanot WP students for being so accommodating!

A little of the philosophy behind the Webcast....

The receiving of the Torah is not something that happened on one day, thousands of years ago; it is an ongoing process. Every year we are meant to receive the Torah anew in a deeper and more complete way. Yet, each year that has passed since Matan Torah has taken us further away from that original time it was given, a time when Torah seemed so real and present. Today we live in a world where many people see the Torah as an icon of history - distant from their modern life. My goal with this video was to bring out the idea that Torah is not a history book - its our living and breathing connection to our Creator. As Jews, no matter where we are physcially or spiritually, there is always a way to incorporate Torah into our lives. I hope you enjoy this video and please share it on Facebook, tweet it, send it to friends - get the word out there!

Miri Birk



Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Special Goodbye From Yoel

Editor's note: Yoel Clark, a recent graduate, left recently from Mayanot and forgot to leave a letter for all of us.  So he emailed us one.  We thought we'd make it available here, as well as at the Men's Program, so everyone that met him can read his special goodbye.

To the Rabbis, bocherim, shluchim, and staff of Mayanot,

Thank you for everything. I'm sorry this letter is so late; perhaps it's because I feel like I never left. It is pointless to try and list the ways that all the people at this Yeshiva have completely reshaped my life, because they are so numerous I would go on for pages. I came here a year and a half ago one person, and came out someone new (and improved).

So many guys grow into menschen here, people who have shared my experience of this gevaldik place. I can't say a bigger thank you, or give a bigger complement, than that.

Advice for newcomers: Mayanot is THE place to learn and ask questions. Explore, learn from everyone you meet, and don't be afraid to challenge. BUT, always be challenging yourself that much more. This place WILL change you, and change is scary, so jump in with both feet. The only guarantee is that you'll end up better for it.

If anyone is in ever the SF/Bay Area, look me up.