Sunday, January 20, 2013

Jerusalem Snow Day!

Having spent eight years living in Philadelphia and four years attending university in upstate New York, snow is something I’ve definitely grown accustomed to.  Certainly, Northeast America as a whole is well equipped to deal with snow; we’ve got an appropriate arsenal of salt trucks and plows ready to go at the first signs of snow.  Most families I know own a snow blower, and everyone is well stocked with coats, scarves, and winter boots.  In short, it takes a pretty serious blizzard to slow things down back home.

Israel, on the other hand, is – as you’d probably expect of a Middle-Eastern country – decidedly unprepared for anything resembling snow.  About three weeks after I first arrived in Jerusalem last January, I got a taste of a Mediterranean winter: rain, rain, wind, and more rain.  Snow chose not to show up.  This winter, however, gave me what’s probably a rare opportunity to see how Jerusalem handles real snow.  Spoiler Alert: Everything shuts down.

 The day before the forecasted snowfall I noticed things were a bit off throughout the city.  People were unusually hurried, and dressed more heavily than normal, even though I wouldn’t have called the weather particularly cold.  Walking to the mikvah for my morning dip, I saw a crowd of students from a nearby yeshiva standing outside, looking up at the sky and pointing, while a teacher angrily yelled at them to go back to class.  My Hebrew isn’t good, but the context of the situation was pretty obvious – snow-craving Jerusalemite students don’t strike me as being especially focused on learning.

 Later that night, the snow finally made its grand appearance, accompanied by hail, thunder, and lightning.  Once the ground was sufficiently coated white, several Mayanoters took the chance to go to the Old City and enjoy the majesty of a snow-covered Jerusalem.  The following day, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  The rooftops were covered with a THICK layer of snow.  Davidka Square was filled with parents and excited children building snowmen and throwing snowballs.  The shops and streets were, of course, empty.

Back at Mayanot some students took the chance to enjoy the weather outside, while others remained inside learning. After a quick walk around, I also returned to the toasty study hall.  Most of the classes were cancelled, so I took the opportunity to catch up on my personal learning, a rare opportunity.  In the evening, students gathered downstairs for an impromptu farbrengen.  Singing songs and sharing stories, we reveled in Mayanot’s warm atmosphere of brotherhood and friendship, made all the warmer by a Jerusalem snow-day.

Written By: Yoni Taylor

Thursday, January 17, 2013

“Hebrew for All” at Mayanot

Shlomo Eitan, seasoned educator, is revolutionizing the way Mayanot students learn Hebrew. After teaching Hebrew for 7 years at Mayanot, Eitan, along with Rabbi Chaim Moss, decided to make free Hebrew lessons available to prospective Mayanot students online. That way, students could arrive in Jerusalem with some Hebrew knowledge, helping them maximize their Torah learning experience at Mayanot.

Rabbi Moss is very pleased with the effect that Shlomo Eitan’s Hebrew instructional videos are having on Mayanot students. He declares that, “Having students start the Hebrew learning process prior to their arrival is having a profound impact on their progress toward our goal of Hebrew independence.”

“Hebrew for All” was born in May 2012. Eitan started uploading videos of himself teaching Hebrew, packaging each lesson into a short, easily digestible YouTube video. He believed that it was essential to produce these videos and make them accessible for free to the general public, since so many of the Hebrew lessons that exist online are taught by Christian missionaries.

Eitan explains that that his drive behind creating Hebrew for All was the need for “A free source for people to learn with a’s a shame that they click in the hundreds of thousands on missionaries...let 'em get it from a Jew!”

Currently featuring 30 instructional videos, Shlomo Eitan’s YouTube channel is gaining popularity, with over 1300 views. To view Eitan’s videos, click here.

Shlomo Eitan is a graduate of Yeshiva University with over 25 years of experience in teaching Hebrew. He made Aliyah 33 years ago from America and currently resides in Jerusalem. To contact Shlomo Eitan, email: [email protected], or visit his website,

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Mayanot Women’s Program 5th Annual Anniversary Dinner

Last night, hundreds of women gathered in the Mayanot Shul to eat, dance and be merry in celebration of the Mayanot Women’s Program’s 5th anniversary. The energy in the air was palpable, as women greeted each other, embraced and reveled in each other’s company. The evening, which was organized entirely by Mayanot students, included a reception hour, followed by a buffet dinner and entertainment.

As MC, Rachel Willins introduced the first speech, which was given by Mayanot student Dayna Driscoll. Dayna thanked the women who host Mayanot students for Shabbat, saying that “they physically and emotionally welcome Mayanot students into their homes” and “feed our neshamas (souls) with their generosity and warmth.”

Afterwards, a video of the Rebbe was screened, wherein the Rebbe articulated the importance of a Torah education for women.

Mayanot student Rachel Bennov gave a Dvar Torah on this week’s Parsha, Parshat Va’era. She explained that according to the Alter Rebbe, the Exodus from Egypt was also an exodus of the soul from the material world. Rachel spoke about how Mayanot helps its students make an intimate connection with Hashem through Chassidus. She raised a glass and made a L’chaim saying, “I hope that every one of us can take the lessons we’ve learned and the people we’ve met and the conversations we’ve had and lead us to a place that we take our souls out of exile.”

Later, a video that was produced by Mayanot student Natalie Itzkowitz was enjoyed by all. The crowd was laughing and cheering as Mayanot students explained what Mayanot means to them on screen.

The student choir sang an originally composed song that was written by Zisi Wolf called “Lighthouse”, accompanied by a live guitar and drum. The song caused the entire room to break into song and dance. There was a real feeling of celebration in the air. All of the guests were up on their feet, dancing and singing niggunim together.

Mayanot Gemara teacher Adi Silverman said a few words, articulating why Mayanot can be compared to a lighthouse. She said that Mayanot, like a lighthouse, is a source of light, and gives a sense of direction for people. By fostering relationships with the text, teachers, peers and G-d, Mayanot students create meaningful bonds that endure and serve as a reference point that they can look back to, long after they have left Mayanot. Adi proudly declared that, “At Mayanot, everyone is searching, everyone is passionate, and everyone cares”.

Tzippi Glick, a frequent Mayanot student hostess, spoke about her memories of the early beginning of Mayanot and her involvement in its development. She shared her admiration of Mayanot and her delight with hosting Mayanot students in her home.

Rabbi Meir Levinger delighted the crowd with an impromptu speech about what makes Mayanot special. He said that Mayanot women have a duality to them, that they appreciate the beauty of “being within while staying above, being grounded while being lofty.” A special thank you was given to Mayanot’s many partners and supporters, most notably Mr. George Rohr, founder of the Mayanot Women’s Program, whose significant contribution made all of this possible.

The night concluded with a spiritually uplifting Farbrengen, led by Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz, which left all those involved with a sense of accomplishment and growth.

For pictures, visit:

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Mayanot Winter Shabbaton to Tzfat

One week into the Mayanot Winter Program, we had our first Shabbaton of 5773 to Tzfat. Although our large bus had some difficulty navigating the narrow streets and alleys of Tzfat, we arrived safely at the Hotel Ron, where we threw our bags down and headed into the Artist’s Colony for a glassblowing exhibit.

During our tour, we learned that as one of the four holy cities in Israel, Tzfat is the city of air, which was undeniable as we walked around the holy city prior to Shabbat. Even a quintessential city girl like myself was able to appreciate the relaxed atmosphere of the secluded city and the spirit of its residents. Upon lighting candles together in the hotel lobby, we departed for the shul of our choice, for a spiritual Carlebach prayer experience.

Having been a proud Mayanot student for the past three months, I can say with certainty that during our Friday night meal we sang the most nigunim we have ever sang in one night. During Shabbat dinner, we heard a dvar torah from Marina Gromberg and more words of Torah from our host family, the Zadoks. We all found Mr. Zadok’s Yemenite pronunciation of kiddush to be very interesting and he taught us that we’re supposed to say “Chayim Tovim” when someone sneezes!

In my opinion, the highlight of Shabbat was our fabrengen with his wife Sarah Zadok, a former Mayanot teacher. The fabrengen, which lasted until about 3 AM, was rich with never-ending nosh and even some tears. I felt as if Mrs. Zadok’s passion and honesty, which couldn't have been more genuine, provided us with the bits of clarity we always pray for. As she told us her story, being a Grateful Dead fan and Machon Alte alum, we found that we could identify with her.

The story of Mrs. Zadok meeting her husband was what I found most interesting. She gave us profound advice on dating and encouraged us to find “the one that fits our mold.” She also told us that being the best Jew she could be transcended the need to have a specific hashkafa, explaining that “Judaism isn’t part of your life, life is part of your Judaism.”

On Shabbat morning, many women davened at the Tzfat Citadel, which had the most breathtaking views of the entire city of Tzfat and of the Kinneret. Lunch had even more nigunim and dancing, which led us right into a Shabbat nap and an optional tour of the Old City. After Havdalah, we took part in a delicious melava malka and a unique dance-movement exercise with a Mayanot alumna. The night ended with game night, snacks and hours of singing.

A fellow Mayanoter and I woke up for sunrise at the Citadel and davened overlooking the city as the sun rose. The intense beauty of the view made us feel the greatness of Hashem. Rows and rows of mountains were illuminated by a bright pink sun, with a fog rising above Tzfat’s greenery as we davened. We were tempted to camp out there indefinitely, but we had a mountain to hike!

When we finally returned to Jerusalem, we unanimously agreed that this Shabbaton was the best way to connect with old friends on new levels and to bond with the Winter Program girls. As much as I wish we could have bottled the Tzfat air, rich with mysticism, I am even more appreciative for the air of Jerusalem and our home at Mayanot. There is no better place in the world to learn how to make “life part of our Judaism” and to become the best Jewish women we can be than at Mayanot.

Written By: Dana Driscoll