Written by: Ilana Ellison
In 2008, I began attending the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City. Being all alone in the big city, I was looking for a way to meet new people. My search eventually led me to the FIT Chabad House. What I ended up finding was a small 10’x10’office, and Mrs. Malka Werde.
Throughout my first year at FIT, I became very close with Malka, other Jewish students on campus, and Chabad. Everyone was so nice and welcoming; it was like an instant family. Even though I had little knowledge of observant Judaism, the Chabad Club gave me a chance to ask questions and learn more about Judaism. I slowly started keeping kosher, lighting Shabbat candles, and learning more in depth. In the summer of2009 I decided to go on the Mayanot Israel Links trip for a chance to learn more and go back to Israel. I had been on Birthright and lived in Israel, but had never experienced it like this. With the help of Yehudis Bluming, shlucha to UNC and Duke, I was able to stay in Jerusalem and attend the Mayanot summer program.
Mayanot was an amazing experience that channeled my passion for Judaism and gave me the tools that has helped me succeed post college graduation.
The variety of classes as well the lifestyle at Mayanot gave me the courage to explore my own relationship with Judaism. It also gave me the confidence to talk to my peers about Judaism and being Jewish. This was something I had never felt comfortable doing growing up. I finally had the right vocabulary to discuss my feelings and ask questions that I didn’t know to ask before. Throughout my final year at FIT I continued to work with Chabad on Campus, increasing the number of Shabbat dinners we held throughout the year, as well as helped Malka Werde create new events and programs for students.
After graduation, I went on to work at Chabad of Midtown Manhattan, with Rabbi Josh Yehoshua Metzger and Mrs. Brocha Metzger. My Mayanot education definitely came in handy while helping to plan holidays and Shabbat dinners that sometimes had up to 300 people attending. My responsibilities included planning these Shabbat and holiday meals, coordinating classes held at the Chabad House, and running the office.
I am now the Young Adult Associate of the Jerome Robinson Family Young Adult Division (YAD) of the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, a long way of saying Jewish Outreach. Working at the Federation, my job is to reach out to Jewish young professionals between the ages of 21 and 39, and create compelling, impactful, and fun programming. We have events such as a Jewish New Year’s party, a Business and Professional event, and even a community wide day of volunteering.
YAD reaches the affiliated and unaffiliated, the secular and the observant, and helps them to connect to the Jewish community in the most meaningful ways. We try to have a program or event that reaches every type of Jew. We also work with congregations and other Jewish non-profits in the community to get young people further involved in Houston philanthropic community.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Houston does a lot to include Jews from all walks of life, and supports Next Generation initiatives. Our newsletter title, “Being Jewish Matters”, is a tag line that I think Mayanot embodies. My education at Mayanot has helped me recognize why leading a Jewish life is important, as well as given me the tools to spread the message.