Monday, January 30, 2017

Alumni Spotlight: An 8 Part Series with Rebecca Bader

      For Rebecca Bader, coming to Israel to learn only became real for her, after a Mayanot representative visited the Chabad for her school, the University of Hartford a few years ago, where she and her, then fiancĂ©, now husband Eric Maurer were regulars. The rabbi suggested that she and Eric might both want to learn at the women’s and men’s programs (respectively), so they could connect more deeply with Judaism – and with each other.

“It’s so nice to be both on the same page,” says Becca, who spent many of her growing-up years in Alabama but whose family lives in Maryland. “Never would I have thought that I would come to a yeshiva in Israel but I’ve learned so much more about my Judaism, connected with Israel and really grown as a person in ways I can’t even describe.”

Before she arrived, Becca was “a little nervous that the ideas would be radical, but Mayanot brings in so many aspects; we hear from women from all the different sects and the teachers come from all different backgrounds and when they tell us their stories, they’re so honest and open. They also know so much that any question you ask they either know the answer or they can help you figure it out.”

Put together, their experience is bound to strengthen their marriage, says Becca. “We always knew we wanted to raise Jewish children, but the more we learn, the better our foundation for starting our family together, the better parents we will be. And, being in similar programs, we’re now able to really talk about how we want to raise our children with Halacha (Jewish Law), with Shabbat, something that’s going to be so much easier after our learning about it here.”

Becca says she’s also grateful to learn other aspects of practical Halacha (Jewish Law), including complex kashrut (Kosher) issues, Shabbat observance and what to look for when shopping for mezuzah scrolls for the door post. “I knew we were going to be more aware after this experience,” she says.

Another goal the couple had, was taking back to American with them: to share with others some of what they had been inspired with at Mayanot. “We were hosted so much that it’s brought us closer to Shabbat and made us want to host other young couples at our table,” says Becca, who before she came to Mayanot, was a teacher at a Boston-area Jewish preschool. “You develop such close bonds in Mayanot to all the other girls,” she adds. “The truth is besides the learning (Topics in Talmud being her favorite class) and just being in Israel, you learn so much from each other. Everyone comes from a different background, but they’re all so open. Learning things like: Rabbi Akiva saw just the good in everything and everyone and that is certainly true at Mayanot.

And, though part of her wanted to stay  into the next school year, ignoring the call of job and graduate school, Becca knew she would be back. “But next time,” she added with a smile, “it would be as a married couple.” 

(August 2015) 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Ever wonder what your first day would be like?

This past Sunday, I embarked on a journey to the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies, in the holy city of Jerusalem!

Over the past few years, I have become more aware of the immense amount of ideas, history, and intellect that there is to learn about Judaism. As I learnt stories from the Bible and laws that were commanded to the Jewish people, I couldn’t help but wonder about the why, where, when, and how of it all.

Everything I learnt evoked more questions and curiosity. Who is G-d and why has he put us here on earth? Why does hate exist and how can we find peace within ourselves, our relationships, and on earth? How can I uphold the responsibility of a Jew to be “a light onto the nations?” With so many questions building up, I just decided to go for it.

 In less than a week, I booked my flight and said, “see ya later”. I packed six months of belongings into two suitcases, and thank G-d, I arrived safely in Israel. One of my classmates was on the same flight as I was, so we ventured together from Tel-Aviv to our new home at Mayanot.

We were welcomed with warm smiles and shown to our rooms. I was happy to find out that my triple room had both adequate wifi and balcony access! After a short nap, we had our first meal. I am so appreciative for whoever has been cooking our delicious meals for us!

We dove into classes that afternoon. Over the past four days we have already covered a great deal of material. We have over 15 classes covering topics such as: history, Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, and prayer. Following our evening class, a few nights ago, we celebrated the start of the Spring semester with ice breakers, games, smoothies and treats! I feel so blessed to be living and learning with such a friendly, diverse, and motivated group of young women.

Students traveled from Russia, South Africa, Australia, France, Mexico, Canada, and of course, the good old, U.S.A., to study here. The staff have been so warm and welcoming and the teachers have been absolutely incredible! I am so inspired by their depth of knowledge and investment in their students. I look forward to meeting the rest of the teachers this week! The city here is beautiful! Definitely a different vibe than NYC!

(First Station, Jerusalem)

Friday is the first day of the weekend here in Israel, so I slept in, went for a little jog by the First Station tracks, and prepared for Shabbat! On our first Shabbat of the semester, we davened Kabbalat Shabbat (Friday night prayers) at the Kotel (Western Wall). During our walk to the Old City, the sky behind the clouds reddened as the sun set behind the hills of Jerusalem. It was absolutely stunning! 

Our Shabbat meals were spent at Mayanot with one of the teachers, Gila Lowell, and her family. We stayed up until 2am farbrenging (singing and celebrating). It was so special to hear each person’s story of how they got to Mayanot and it gave me a whole other level of appreciation for my new family!

This week I learned the story of Miriam, Moshe’s older sister. When Pharoah decreed that every male child be killed in Egypt, Moshe and Miriam’s parents divorced as not to potentially have to kill their child. At the age of 6 or 7, she responded by telling them, “by divorcing you are preventing both males and females from entering the world”. She shared a prophecy with them that they must remarry because they will give birth to a boy who will lead the Jewish nation. In essence by speaking up she saved the Jewish people by allowing Moshe to come into the world!

 The name Miriam is related to the word meri, meaning rebellion, as she refused to accept the despair in the world. Her name is also related to maymirut, which means bitterness. Bitterness is discomfort, the recognition of responsibility that propels change. In contrast, Atzvut is sadness, a sense of hopelessness or “learnt helplessness” that stems from constant rationalization. With sadness, a person becomes the victim, not taking responsibility. This week, I wish you all the strength of Miriam, to find the courage to take action on any bitterness in your own life or your surroundings!

Much love,

Lauren Buckman
Current Mayanot Institute of Jewish Learning Student.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Alumni Spotlight, an 8 Part Series: with Elisheva Rina Kruse

Twenty-five-year-old Elisheva Rina (Rayanne) Kruse told Mayanot about the summer that changed her life. Over pizza and a salad, she told her story.

Her first exposure to Jewish life (her maternal great-grandmother had been Jewish) began the moment she answered an ad for a babysitter. Who opened the door but the wife of the Chabad rabbi in Flagstaff, Arizona who was in the market for an extra hand with her growing family. Working with the family, Elisheva “began to feel the connection with Judaism and Israel too.” So much so that, five years later, she found herself delving deeply into Jewish life and learning in Mayanot’s women’s program. Snuggled between homes in Jerusalem’s Katamon neighborhood, the women’s center is quite simply, she says, “an experience that has changed my life.” 

Raised with little in the way of religion, --- years ago, Elisheva got happily hooked on Jewish learning -- and the joys of Shabbat – at the Chabad Center that serves the campus of Northern Arizona University where she was studying. Soon she was enrolled in the Sinai Scholars Learning program which was quickly followed by Israel Links, her first taste of Israel. There she spent one week engaged with a group of young women learning in Tsfat and another in Jerusalem. And when some scholarship support came available, “suddenly it made Mayanot possible for me.” 

When she told them of her plan, Elisheva, who’s the youngest of three, encountered some concerns from her mom and middle brother, but was pleasantly surprised to find her dad and older brother supportive. “There was my dad who’s not even Jewish telling me, “Things are always going to be happening over there; you should just go.”

And she’s glad she did. Mayonot, Elisheva says, is “by far the most intensive learning I’ve ever done.” It’s been even more intense than her coursework for her Master’s Degree in Communications -- she graduated about two years ago with hopes of building a career in health marketing. “Here, though I’d call myself basically an anxious person, I have 40 girls as a support group, and amazing teachers in my Jewish Studies program, where we learn a lot of fundamentals of Jewish thought and practice Hebrew too.” Two standouts: The morning Chassidis Class which she calls “really cool” and the Jewish Philosophy Class, where they bring in women from a range of Jewish groups from Breslov to Mea Sharim, to give the women a taste of the diversity within the religious Jewish community. “What I’m seeing is that, with every new thing I learn it makes me more educated and stronger about what I want to do and who I want to be,” she says. “I want the kids I have someday to grow up with what I didn’t have.”

Thursday, January 19, 2017


JTASaul Kaye never wanted to be a “Jewish blues” player.
In his opinion, the Jewish music he had heard growing up in Northern California’s Bay Area ranged from “really bad to horrible.”
In 2009, he was touring as a rock musician, playing hundreds of shows a year with various bands at bars and clubs. And though he had never been very religious, he experienced a bad breakup and felt the need to do something spiritually “radical.”
So Kaye decided to take a Talmud course at the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies in Israel. One morning, a fellow student approached him and left him with an intriguing prophecy.
“He says, ‘Saul, there’s a reason you’re at a yeshiva and you know who Muddy Waters is — you have to figure it out,’” Kaye said. “I let that marinate for a while and I thought: Why is there no Jewish blues music? It doesn’t make sense. Our people have suffered forever, and blues is about suffering, blues comes out of the slavery experience. How come no one has put this together yet?”
Eight years later, Kaye is now seen by many as the “king” of Jewish blues, having released four albums in the genre that range from twangy fingerpicking to more uptempo electric rock in the vein of B.B. King. He plays over 100 shows a year at synagogues, Jewish conferences and festivals across the country — that’s down from the more than 200 shows he was playing a few years ago, but that’s because Kaye is now a father of two.
Kaye is part of a growing trend of Jewish musicians who combine Jewish spiritual or religious lyrics with Americana music — an umbrella term that encompasses genres such as blues, bluegrass, folk and country, as well as a distinctly homegrown, old-fashioned American sensibility.
Since Jews were viewed as immigrants in the United States for a large part of the 20th century — and are still widely seen as an ethnic “other” in American society — Jewish music and Americana, at first glance, seem an unlikely mixture.
But in addition to Kaye, artists such as Nefesh Mountain, a husband-and-wife bluegrass duo from New Jersey, and Joe Buchanan, a convert to Judaism from Houston who plays James Taylor-esque country, are gaining in popularity on the national Jewish music circuit. Joey Weisenberg, a Brooklyn-based prayer leader and music teacher, has garnered praise for his modern bluesy, indie rock-inspired takes on “niggunim,” or traditional Jewish melodies.
These musicians are building upon the foundation laid by other artists such as Andy Statman (an Orthodox, Grammy-winning multi-instrumentalist who plays bluegrass with his eponymous trio), Jeremiah Lockwood (leader of the band The Sway Machinery who is also known for his virtuosic blues guitar playing) and Klezmatics co-founder Margot Leverett (whose group, Margot Leverett and the Klezmer Mountain Boys, combines klezmer and bluegrass.)
Of course, American Jews have long incorporated spiritual music with the popular: in the 1960s and ’70s, for example, Jewish music icons Shlomo Carlebach and Debbie Friedman turned prayers and Jewish melodies into folk songs that are still sung today.
But the signs are indicating that Americana could be having its biggest moment in the Jewish community right now. The trend follows a train of greater experimentation throughout the Jewish music world.
“For a long time, it felt like the only artists that we were representing or were out there in congregations were a guy or girl with an acoustic guitar, singing acoustic music, singing Debbie Friedman kind of music,” said Mark Pelavin, the chief programming officer for the Union for Reform Judaism, which invites groups at the top of the Jewish music scene to play for the 5,000 attendees at its annual biennial.
“I think now there’s an interest in a greater diversity of musical styles across the board,” he said. “Some of it’s funkier — more drums, bass and loops — and some of it’s twangier. There’s a lot of experimentation going on right now.”
Over the past decade, Americana has seen a comeback in the broader pop music world. The British band Mumford and Sons, which plays a combination of bluegrass, folk and indie rock, has sold millions of albums worldwide since 2009. In 2010, the Grammys instituted a Best Americana Album award. And last May, Billboard began devoting an album chart to Americana and folk records.

“Jews have always taken popular music and brought it into shul because that brings people into shul,” said Kaye, who has also begun leading Shabbat services on his tours. “There’s been a resurgence in coming back to more organic music because it just resonates — wooden strings in a room is a physical feeling that you aren’t going to get from techno, dubstep, house, trance or whatever other million genres.”
In the end, American Jewish music and Americana music might actually be two sides of the same coin. While Jewish musicians brought their European influences with them when they immigrated to the U.S., they’ve been forging their own American musical style for nearly half a century, according to Mark Kligman, an ethnomusicologist at UCLA.
“In the ’50s and ’60s, most of American Judaism was leaning towards trying to find its Americanness,” he said. “[Jews] took European elements — cantorial klezmer and other things — and started adapting those. By the time you have an American-born generation in the 1970s, around [the time of] Debbie Friedman … they wanted to have an American-born tradition.”
Still, for many, the juxtaposition is a bit unusual. According to Nefesh Mountain’s Eric Lindberg and Doni Zasloff, even after two years of using the term “Jewish bluegrass,” some people still laugh at it at first.
“But what we’re doing is not goofy at all, it’s very soulful and very honest,” Zasloff said.
The group has found serious success, touring the country constantly. Nefesh Mountain is in the midst of recording its second album with some of the world’s most respected bluegrass artists, such as mandolin player Sam Bush, guitarist David Grier and banjo player Tony Trishka.
Joe Buchanan, a 40-year-old former human resources manager who grew up Christian in Houston, often recounts to his concert audiences how converting to Judaism resolved his self-esteem issues. Like Kaye, who produced Buchanan’s debut album a couple of years ago, he thinks that the country music he was raised on, along with other Americana genres, go well with Jewish culture.
“Americana is strong in storytelling, which is something that we’ve always been really good at as a people,” he said. “It’s a huge part of it; we’re always telling stories from the Torah.”
“If someone asked me how to describe Americana music, I would tell them: Imagine country music and rock and roll had a child, and it was raised by their uncle bluegrass, and their other uncle blues music and cousin folk came over and spent a lot of time — that child is Americana music,” he said. “That and Jewish storytelling is a natural fit.”

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Mayanot Community Comes Together In A Big Way!

Mayanot educational center in Israel is raising $2,500,000 to build a new, state of the art center to help them continue to connect young Jewish people to their heritage and future.
Mayanot opened its doors in 1996, in their warm yet modest home.

Their goal then and now, is to connect young Jewish people from around the world to their past, present and future, truly acting as crossroads of Jewish life for many throughout the years. From the birth of the Women’s Program in 1998, and the launch of Mayanot’s Birthright Israel program in 1999 to the start of the Post High School Gap Year program just last year, Mayanot has always been building the Jewish community.

Today, Mayanot is moving to the next phase, building the Mayanot World Center.

The Future World Center, located just beyond Jerusalem’s city entrance, boasts five floors and will more than double the size of Mayanot’s current facilities. With it’s rooftop, panoramic views of the city, the new center will become the main hub for many of the organization's existing programs and will be the catalyst for the creation of several more.

Rabbi Shlomo Gestetner, co-founder and director of Mayanot, described it as a “Center for Chabad Outreach in the heart of Jerusalem.” The centrally located property will house a study hall, lecture halls, classrooms, internship opportunities and roughly 220 beds, offering more than “80,000 nights of Mayanot!”

The center will include accommodations for Shluchim, particularly those on Campuses worldwide. With the opening of the World Center, Mayanot will have the ability to host Shluchim and their communities for Shabbatons, volunteer programs, internships and much more.

“Our location in Jerusalem gives a unique opportunity to bring the dream to reality,” said Rabbi Kasriel Shemtov, co-director of Mayanot. “As a top destination for young Jewish travellers, Jerusalem is the place where the Jewish soul becomes hungry. Mayanot will be there to feed that hunger.”

In addition to the Mayanot Institute’s educational programming, the new Word Center will usher a new era in Mayanot’s offerings for today’s Jewish youth. Among the new projects, Mayanot will house a state of the art Lone Soldier Center, complete with a lounge, laundry facilities, break room and more. “Nothing is more important than giving back to those who already give so much to us” Rabbi Gestetner said.

“We are coming back to you, you who have gotten us this far, to help us move this project to the next level,” Rabbi Shemtov concluded. “Together we can do this, Let’s build it!”

On Wednesday Dec 21st, Mayanot took their cause to the masses with the 2.5 million dollar #LetsBuidlIt Campaign. The masses responded with a resounding YES!

With 1443 individual donors contributing, Mayanot was able to raise $2,870,979 in 28 hours. These contributions not only helped Mayanot beat their previous goal, but stands as a beautiful reminder, of how important the mission of strengthening the Jewish people through inspirational Jewish education is to so many people. The donations from the campaign will go directly toward funding the construction of the Mayanot World Center.

Mayanot thanks the several generous matchers & Mayanot family members, that made this campaign possible and with whose help, every dollar donated to the campaign was quadrupled.

Click here for everything you need to know about the Mayanot World Center.

Learn more on Facebook (Men’s Women’s)

Have questions or want to get more involved?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Mayanot Spotlight: An 8 Part Series, Featuring Hanna Bergman

1.      It was only after her mother embarked on a spiritual journey that Hanna Bergman learned about Judaism, not because her father is a Holocaust survivor from Czechoslovakia.

In fact Hanna was already 13 when she learned of her father’s past. That’s when her Christian-born mother’s wide-reaching religious search ultimately led the family to the door of the local synagogue. One Friday afternoon in 1997, Hanna returned from school to a novel sight. “The table was all in white, filled with food and candle holders. My mother sat us down and said, ‘We’re Jewish now. We’re going to start keeping Shabbat. We don’t use electricity on that day and we’re going to keep kosher.’ I had to phone my friend and tell her I wouldn’t be going out with her that night.”

After an intensive year of her mother reading and learning, the next year the entire family converted. “It made my father very happy,” Hanna recalls. And that’s when they learned his whole story. Having lost his father in the camps, he had been unable to speak of his experiences. “He’d get upset when we’d ask him questions so we didn’t really probe too much”.

Hanna decided to live her dream – and her parents’ -- with her first visit to Israel two years ago, to participate in the Mayanot women’s program for three months. (She follows on the heels of her brother, who made aliyah and served in the IDF six years ago). 

In a voice that revealed her South African roots, having also spent many years in her mother’s native country of Namibia, Hanna described her own journey, including the pivotal moment when a Cape Town rabbi told her about the Mayanot program. “I only knew that I wanted to increase my Yiddishkeit in Israel and the name Mayanot kept coming up again and again.”

Hanna’s favorite class was “Halacha,” she shared without hesitation. “I’m a person who loves structure, so I love Jewish law. It’s about committing to Hashem in definite ways. I also enjoy Chassidut; it’s an inner refinement, a whole new way of looking at life, and it’s also amazing.” These are not things most of us are able to think about in our ordinary lives, she added. “When you learn how to serve G-d with your whole self, it puts your ego in the right proportion and moves you out of ruts you’re stuck in. With teachers so knowledgeable but also so open-mined and patient, here you are free to become who you were meant to be."


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