Thursday, December 15, 2016

Alumni Spotlight: An 8 part series with Augusta Niles

Since she was little, Augusta Niles has always been a person who’s hungered to know “the why and the how of the world-- that’s why I went into engineering, to figure out exactly how things work.” That’s also why many years later, the Vermont native landed herself in Jerusalem, for the opportunity to learn at Mayanot.

“I grew up with very little religion in my home, and I didn’t know where to turn,” says Augusta, who was in the midst of her conversion process. One day she picked up a copy of Harold Kushner’s classic, “To Life!” and following that, “A Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Judaism.” Before long she was listening to shiurim online, test-driving Shabbat and every week adding more observances and attending services at the Harvard Chabad and Hillel, all the while taking her Master’s degree in engineering and business at MIT. At Chabad, she met two women, both Mayanot alumnae, who told her that Mayanot is a “good place to grow into your Jewish skin.” 

So after graduation, Augusta told her future employers at Amazon in Seattle that she wouldn’t see them till the fall, because she had something very important to do first: learn everything she could about what it is to be a Jew. “I remember how Rabbi Wineberg came to the Chabad and spoke about real freedom as not being free to do whatever you want at the moment but the freedom to connect with our Creator. He told us that that is the greatest joy in life.” 

Rabbi Shneur Wineberg, who regularly recruits at Harvard University, says, "Mayanot offers a chance for personal investment, something that is regularly taken for granted in today's society. Careers need investing in, but we ourselves also need an investment. At Mayanot, students get a chance to grow within themselves, learn about their own lives purpose, ask the questions that aren't addressed in everyday life but which can make a huge difference in a person’s overall fulfillment."

“My career used to define my identity”, Augusta said. “But I could see how much I had to learn about Judaism and also how much I needed a supportive community around me. All of a sudden,” she continued, “I began to realize that these things were not just more important theoretically, but that it was vital to take action and to devote real time to growing myself.”

All of which she felt she found at Mayanot. In addition to the fundamental Jewish skills she’d been seeking, Augusta surprised herself with how quickly she learnt Hebrew. “It’s incredible that a whole new language can come together in just a few weeks,” she noted. “My memory’s not very good but for some reason when it comes to Judaism, everything just sticks.” She also calls Mayanot “my first community really steeped in Judaism. I feel such a love and respect for all the girls here who come from all over, talented beautiful souls wanting to do so much for the world.” And, she added, she “didn’t realize until I came to Mayanot that if you truly immerse yourself and take the time to let the learning seep into you, you are transformed. I can see the Hand of G-d in my life on a daily basis here. I hope that, even after I leave, I can see everyone who approaches me with that same kind of baseless love.”

Help us create more stories like this one. 
Spread the word, Mayanot will be raising $2M starting on Dec 21st, ONE DAY ONLY! 
Every dollar is x4! Lets Build Mayanot! 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Inspired to Inspire

“Troubled Times” By Rocky & The Goldstein

Mayanot Men's Program Alumni Yerachmiel Goldstein and Isaac Schapira collaborated on this incredible project to bring music to the masses. Have a listen! 

Although I can take credit for the music, the lyrics of Troubled Times were entirely composed by a Mr. Isaac Schapira. The songs tells of trying times, hard earned lessons from our fathers and a simple trust in the L-rd above,
Lyrics by Isaac Schapira
Music by Rocky (Yerachmiel) Goldstein
When I was very young
My old man told me son
This whole world will put you to the test
But when things in life go bust
You must have the simple trust
That everything in life is for the best
It’s hard to stand your ground
When the wolves are circling round
Sometime I think I lack the strength to fight
But I remember my old man
Drinking beer straight from the can
Telling me that things will be alright
You’ll see troubled time my friend
And I know you will contend
With the challenges that every man must face
But if you look back on your years
You’ll see the worst of all your fears
Were calamities that never did take place
When my ship is far from port
And my main sheet comes up short
And I feel as though the wind has left my sail
Well I just sit and think things through
And remember that this too
Was a test I was never meant to fail
Man is born to strive
For as long as he’s alive
The day is short and the list of tasks are long
But when things don’t go as planned
I remember my old man
And those words of his have never steered me wrong
Now that I am grown
With some sons to call my own
I’m raising them the only way I can
And if they trust the one on high
I know they can get by
With the wisdom that I got from my old man
When harvest time begins
And my crops are looking slim
And the winter time is not so far away
I might tighten up my belt
But that snow is bound to melt
When it does we’ll see a better day
You’ll see troubled times my friend
And I know you will contend
With the challenges that every man must face
But if you look back on your years
You’ll see the worst of all your fears
Were calamities that never did take place
As seen on 

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.”