Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Israel In Me

My whole life I’ve had a thirst for adventure. I admire fictional characters like Indiana Jones for their freedom to travel the globe, creating legends and fighting the paranormal in uncharted lands. I chose to study archaeology so I could live the fictional dream of exploring vast deserts and forest. Climbing through jungles and hiking along rivers. Witnessing long-lost ancient civilizations for the first time since their inception. But I’ve never stepped foot outside of my country before. I’ve never bought a passport, nor have I ever flown somewhere without one of my parents. Even after four years of being at the University of Central Florida, living in the same apartment, I’ve never been able to call anywhere but the house I was raised in “my home.” Yet all of that changed the moment I stepped off of the plane in Israel.

I was afraid I had set my expectations too high. I used to believe that all places are the same. That it would feel like any other place. But I was wrong. There is something in the land itself. Israel doesn’t feel like a foreign country. The people don’t feel like foreign people. And the land doesn’t feel like foreign land. I don’t think Israel is a location. It’s not a latitude and longitude. It didn’t matter where I was the day before I arrived. Israel is a soul. It’s a feeling and a beating heart. A life source. A moving, pulsating, life giving, breathing soul that exists within
every Jew. For the first time in my life, I called a place I’ve never been before, “home.”

There are not 40 kids on the trip. There is just one. Because by the end of 10 days there are no divisions. No judgments. The stranger whose name you never knew has become your brother, along with the soldier you would never meet. Your face is reflected in the people whose life is so different as they fight to defend our homeland. Yet the moment you put your arm around them they cease to be anything but a part of you. We were in Israel, but more importantly, we were and continue to be with the Nation of Israel.

They say every day is like a year on Birthright Israel. The friendships I’ve forged are stronger than steel. They do not exist as a memory, but as potential energy, looking to be nurtured and grow in the future. On the other side of the world eight soldiers I now call my family, remember my name and love me the same way I love them. I would never have met them had it not been for Birthright Israel: Mayanot. I owe so much to them and the UCF Chabad for organizing the trip. I’ve gained an unmistakable perspective which has stirred within me a brooding passion. The exact ingredient missing from my life.

There are literally millions of things to take back from Israel: photos, souvenirs, stones from the Dead Sea, necklaces, books, food. You could get deep and take passion and insight, which the Rabbi served on request. You could take love, which some found within days and kept. You could even take dreams, which I took by the handful. But the greatest thing about Birthright Israel is not what you can take. It’s what you can give. And as so many warriors, soldiers, and civilians throughout our history have given their life for Israel, upon being there it’s easy to see why they were willing to give so much. Because I am not here in Israel. Israel is here in me!

To read more about Joshua Zimmerman's experience at the Mayanot Men's Learning Program Click here. 

Written By: Joshua Zimmerman 
Mayanot Alumnus, 2014
Via: Chabad at UCF

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Running the Jerusalem Marathon

(From Left: Marissa Belifonte, Lauren Buchman, Stephanie Blitstein, Eliana Shwartzendruber)

This Friday I was privileged to run/ walk/ dance the 10k at the Jerusalem Marathon! I cannot even describe how incredible it was to run through the holy city of Jerusalem (including the Old City) and be a part of thousands of participants from around the world (and hundreds of athletes who flew in, to challenge themselves on the Jerusalem hills) who ran in memory of loved ones or supporting different charities, for special needs groups, etc. 

Several of the Mayanot Women ran with me for One Family and fellow students ran for other amazing organizations that they care deeply about. It was truly a surreal and beautiful experience. 

I ran in support of One Family, in awe of the incredible work they do for victims of terror, and the warm, inviting environment they create for these individuals. A few weeks ago I had the honor of hearing from one victim herself, who witnessed her mother, Dafna Meir z"l, being stabbed to death in their own kitchen by a 15-year-old Palestinian boy. She was the one who protected her siblings from the horrific image of their mother on the floor that would haunt them forever, she is the one who was brave enough to call her father in a calm voice in order to get him home safely, and she was the one left with a gaping emptiness in her life. 

Dafna Meir z"l was well known by her community, not only as the most caring wife, mother of 6, and nurse, but as a generous individual who lit up the world around her. Her daughter stood before me and my classmates courageously explaining her story for us so we could get a glimpse of her heart-wrenching experience. This very night she was also glowing in the light of her recent engagement. She told us her life would never be the same, she told us it still hurts everyday, but she also told us that despite all this, she still believes in G-d, and that she believes that is what helps her to continue on, knowing she is not alone. She also told us what One Family was for her: A place where she feels comfortable amongst others who understand her pain, her situation, and her needs. A community, or rather a family, where she can be herself, and help others like her at the same time. 

I decided to run in memory of Dafna Meir, Z"L. The support we saw from spectators along the way was amazing! Tons of people seeing our red shirts and cheering on the one Family team. I encourage you to read more about this inspiring organization Just click on the link. 

With gratitude, Lauren Buchman
Current Mayanot Women's Program Student

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Alumni Spotlight: An 8 Part Series featuring Elliot Friedman

 Eliyahu Dovid (Elliot) Friedman may had only been 19 years old, but for someone so young, he already knew what he wanted out of life! In fact, by the time the Florida native arrived at Mayanot in May 2014, he knew that Judaism and Jewish thought were central to who he was and that he needed to learn everything he could about them as soon as possible.

Eliyahu sayed that it made his parents “more than a bit nervous” when he told them he needed to be in a yeshiva ... in Israel. His is a home where synagogue attendance could be measured by holidays, and his was a school where there were few other Jewish students. What’s more, none of his three siblings had yet hungered for a religious immersion.
“But in middle school when a kid at school asked, ‘What do you believe in?’ Why don’t you believe in Jesus? You killed him,’ and I had no idea what to say, I knew I needed to find out more,” he said.

By high school he was trying on agnostic and even atheistic world views, and doing plenty of reading and writing on the subject, “I had concluded simply that G-d does not exist but one night I said out loud, “I want to believe in You.” One thing he had learned, though, was that a number of his relatives had been killed in the Holocaust, a fact that made a profound and lingering impression on him. “I realized that I need to find some answers so I started to dig.”

Eliyahu began researching late into the night, everything from prophecy to the relationship between science and religion and that’s when he began entertaining thoughts of becoming a rabbi. A year later when a Chabad rabbi offered to have a class with him via Skype, he readily accepted.

It was a connection that’s spanned the years and as soon as he arrived at college he quickly made contact with the University of Central Florida's Chabad Rabbi, Rabbi Chaim Lipskier, and there his learning intensified. Before long the former “theater kid” was keeping Shabbat and his plans to become a rabbi began to make even more sense to him. Which is when he was asked: “What would you say if I could help send you to yeshiva?”

What began as a three-week stay at Mayanot has certainly grown too, Eliyahu extended his stay another six months. “There is so much to learn, it’s amazing,” he says. “Mind-expanding Chassidis, free will vs. determinism, how a spiritual G-d effects a physical world, the nature of good and evil, the hiddenness of G-d and the Holocaust. One of the things I’ve learned is that being Jewish is being able to hear G-d’s Voice behind the silence.”

Eliyahu also says that Mayanot’s teachers have made this world come alive for him. “These are the greatest minds I’ve ever known. They actually have answers to your toughest questions, the ones you’ve always wanted to ask.”

But perhaps the greatest lesson he’s learnt at Mayanot is that “everything isn’t the way I’d assumed, nor the way it seems. Basically what I say to the people back home is: ‘If you want tools to self-discovery, to discover G-d and His world, if you want the kind of deep friendships you won’t find anywhere else, if you want all your questions answered, come to Mayanot. But don’t expect it to be easy. If you want to be comfortable and not question your assumptions or take risks, don’t come here, but if you want to grow in every way, Mayanot definitely is the place.”

Thursday, March 9, 2017

#1 This Summer Season

With three of the newly launched "7-Day Birthright Israel Trips" landing next Tuesday, Mayanot will be winding down their Winter 2017 season. And without skipping a beat, the summer season will be upon us. With registration having been open for one month, Mayanot's Birthright Israel division finds themselves exploring uncharted territories, a potential season with more than 90 groups! That would be the largest season in Mayanot's history, boasting more than 3600 participants from across the United States and Canada. 

The seven team Birthright office works year round to give this gift to the thousands that choose Mayanot. Thank to their efforts, our partner Chabad Houses across the USA and a strong marketing effort - including very effective word of mouth recruitment campaigns - Mayanot has been able to reach this milestone. Long standing as the most popular choice for college students, Mayanot has made positive headway in the young professional sector, this summer even offering a trip for those up to age 29. With several specialty trips - including the first ever trip for Vegans - Mayanot has something for everyone. 

Mayanot is offering more than 35 departure dates beginning April 30th through the end of August from nine departure cities. Mayanot is proud to be offering their first ever trips from the international airport in Austin, TX and a trip from Chicago, IL. And we are excited to bring back flights from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Miami, NY and more. Mayanot aims to be a comfortable home for every Birthright participant, and participant feedback proves their success! 

For more information on Mayanot Israel trip dates, click here.
To watch the Mayanot video click here.

Recent Mazal Tovs

Mazal Tov to all the new additions to our Mayanot family:
Ritter Baby

Dr. Chaim Binyomin and Leah Arias had a baby boy
Mia Rachel and Arye Baldioceda had a baby girl
Sarale (Gurary)  and Heshy Benshimon  had a baby boy
Chana Rosa and Shlomo Bogart  had a baby girl
Yita Mirel and Shneur Broh had a baby boy
Dovid and Chana Burns had a baby boy
Sherianne (Crouse) and Danny Lillian had a baby boy
Aviva (Pobiel) and Danny Linton had a baby boy
Tzachi and Tzila Magnagy had a baby boy 
Mikey & Talia Nomi Mitnick had a baby girl
Davida (Linzer) and Binyamin Murray had a girl
Dr. Avrohom and Yutty Pollinger had twin boys
Sara Shifra (Swerdlow) and Ariel Rice had a baby boy
Harry and Rebecca Ritter had a baby boy 
Chaim and Arielle Schimm  had a baby boy
Gabe and Naomi Schwed had a baby boy 
Elana Yakovlev and Aron Seigel had a baby boy
Chava (Zviklin) and Michoel Shapiro had a baby boy
Yehudis and Yitzchak Smith had a baby boy
Adam and Jodi Weinstein had a baby boy

טובים ולמעשים לחופה לתורה לגדלה
We are so pleased for you and know that your children will be great sources of joy and pride to you. May you be blessed with good health, happiness and much nachas!

Ariel Sharon Yomtovian is getting married to Arye Canter
Chaya Kalmenson recently married Heshy Ceitlin
Mushky Lesches is getting married to Mordy Gershon
Shayna Rapp recently married Mendel Jaffe
Rachel Gelfand is getting married to Aaron Kornbluth
Chana Engel recently married Adam Nisenoff
Hadassah Silberstein is getting married to Zalmy Shemtov
Anna Israel recently married Alex Colin

May we only continue to have nachas and share simchas together!

If we have not included you in our Mazal Tovs please send us an email and we will be sure to do so in our next newsletter. 

Weinstein Family 

 Baldioceda Family

Shapiro Family 

Ritter Family

Schwed Family 

Smith Family 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Thanks From One Of Our Soldiers

Dear Mayanot,

I am a soldier in the IDF, Paratroopers 890 who participated on Birthright Israel: Mayanot bus 517. I want to share my thoughts and feelings on this incredible and life changing trip! I now call Birthright a lifesaver for the 'soul', especially for the Jews in the diaspora. I feel as though it is their last chance before the grind and routine of day-to-day life takes over. It was a life changer for me; it opened my eyes and heart to what Jews in America are really going though.

As a combat soldier, I was taught not to show much emotion, but on this trip the tears just kept coming. On the first Shabbat, we sat in a room in the hotel with Yoni, our fantastic tour guide. We went around in a circle and each person talked about the reason they decided to come on Birthright Israel. I couldn’t believe my ears, as I heard each individual person sharing their reasons for coming on the trip. It was so clear to me, they were all trying to find their Jewish identities, what it meant for them to be Jewish and their connection to the Land of Israel. They traveled halfway around the world and this was the beginning of their very powerful journey.

On Masada, when Liebel, our trip Rabbi, conducted Bar & Bat mitzvahs for some of the people on our trip, everyone got up and spoke about why they decided to do it and I just couldn’t stop the tears. While I was listening to their heartfelt speeches of why they wanted to have a bar or bat mitzvah on this trip and how they had never received one or even knew what it was, their connection was palpable and the opportunity to experience this with them, just literally, brought me to tears.

Har Herzl was another extraordinarily special experience with the group. An Israeli war veteran told the stories of his experience in the war, fighting for Israel and the safety of its citizens, which is always difficult for me to hear & experience with a veteran. It was so moving, what a privilege to hear.

I hope I am expressing how much I feel the trip affected me and that I honestly think I might have gotten even more out of it then the participants. The trip was even better than I could have imagined.

The participants were constantly asking me questions about Israel, Judaism and the army. They challenged me in so many ways. All of the things I took for granted as a child, my family & my Jewish education, this trip made me appreciate it all so much more.

I really liked the balance of Judaism & Israel that the trip provided us with. It covered it all I don’t think there was one person who didn’t feel connected to Israel after the program. I got so much from this phenomenal journey, it made me really want to get involved in an even greater way then I am now. This trip has given me so many ideas of how to reach out to Jews in the diaspora, in a way that they don’t need to wait until their mid-20’s to feel connected to Israel & Judaism. I would also like to say thank you to the staff, they really were incredible. I know what it's like to be responsible for people and their well-being and it's not an easy task. The staff were very professional, always available, and overall interesting, good people.

Birthright has given me so much spiritually, and made me feel so much pride in being Jewish and being a combat soldier in the IDF. I formed bonds with people which I hope will last a lifetime. It gave me such fulfillment when some of the men and women on the trip came up to me and told me I inspired them, but the truth is that they were the ones who inspired me.

Most of them used their vacation days to come to a foreign country not knowing anyone, not such an easy thing to do. They came on this journey with an open mind and gained so much knowledge, a new found love of Israel, and pride in our heritage.

What I gained from this trip, are the friendships I made and the feeling of empowerment I know have, to share my experiences and stories from my time in the army with others. I had no idea how impactful these things were to young American Jews looking for connection and wanting to know about our lives here in Israel.

I truly understand the importance of bringing Jews to Israel now, to teach them about Israel and connecting them to the land of our forefathers. This was a priceless experience that has changed my life, thank you for allowing me to be a part of it!

Written by: Chanoch Berman, IDF paratrooper 890 
& Birthright Israel: Mayanot Participant

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Join Us for Purim

Check out the Facebook Event. 

Join us at the Mayanot Shul
Purim Party 

 The Shapiro Brothers Band
from 7:30-9:00pm
& an All Women's Dance Party 
from 9:00-11:00pm 

Sunday Night March 12th, 2017
Maariv at 6:15pm
Megillah at 6:30pm

Additional Readings:
2nd Megillah at 9:30pm
3rd Megillah at 10:30pm

The Mayanot Shul
28 Narkis Street
Nachlaot, Jerusalem

Shachrit Monday March 13th, 8:00am
Followed by Megillah at 8:40am

Sponsored By:
Dr. Daniel and Chaya Wunesch 
Abe and Nili Erdynast
Elisha Dickman
Yossi and Hindel Swerdlov 
In loving memory of 
HaRav Shlomo Yitzchak ben Moshe Schwartz

For more information or to sponsor, contact: