Thursday, June 6, 2019

The Giving of the Torah: A Gift of Waking Up!

Written by: Current Mayanot Men's Program Student Jonathan Stebbins

Shavuot is the one of three nights a year we stay up all night. On purpose!
Loud arguments, gentle prayers, long readings, a nation of words finding its voice.

So what was it like to be there? On the ground-reporting 3,300 years ago?
“The Day of the Giving of the Torah..”  (deep announcer voice)
On this, the most momentous day in history, the Jews OVERSLEPT…..

In honor of this occasion, it is a custom, to stay awake all throughout the night learning Torah. Not to repeat the mistakes of our past.
There is much to be derived from the idea of sleeping and our People having overslept.

They say the deepest sleep is right before daybreak. Our generation is on the eve of the Redemption. What that means to me, the increase in justice, prosperity, and peaceful revelation are signs of the times, the world in a sense, preparing itself for a new reality. But we’re still asleep, our G-dly core has taken a vacation to some land of dreams while we’re left to see this world with only human eyes, only the micro-perspective. We must help each other wake up. We need to wake up to our eternal heritage and the beauty within.

In our so-called modern world, we’re told of infinite possibility. We can make a utopia, we can live in outer space, we can give everyone happiness, and prosperity, for no effort, we can do this that and the other thing if only we all get on board. And so we all get on board. We’re told that everything humans ever did was because of our ingenuity, our accomplishment, our industry. That’s how we got to this sophisticated modern world of luxury, by our efforts alone. So let’s ramp it up, they say. Let’s make everyone participate. The whole world will adopt our ways, our ideas, they’ll all sacrifice their lives to create taller buildings and bigger economies and advanced technologies and new philosophies, and then we can finally make a world where we no longer need G-d. The primitives of the past needed faith, but not us. We will “back up our own hard drive,” we’ll make it on our own. And yet so many of us are convinced. Or at least feel obligated to bow to these ideas. And we throw away our eternal heritage in the process. It’s true that many theories sound brilliant, but brilliance isn’t truth.

G-d has given each of us a mission. We are delivery drivers. Our job is to deliver G-dliness into this world, one package at a time.  So we study Torah, perform mitzvos, and we expand our circle to include every Jew in acts of loving kindness. And no matter where we go we find a way to do those three things. And then no matter where our feet may lead we are playing our role in the spiritual economy, bringing blessings down through every heavenly chanel into this physical world, where we can try to provide the entire world with goodness, joy, and light.

To me, studying Torah is about awareness, waking up to the fact that we have a great potential to do good on earth and help each other. Let’s use this celebration of Shavuot to wake up, to transform ourselves, use our awareness to be better, do better and help others do the same.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

How Mayanot Changed My Life!

My Background:

Growing up, if you were to ask friends and family to describe me, they would probably say that I was quiet, shy, creative, kind, or curious, but, aside from maybe my mother, no one would have said that I was spiritual. I was raised in a microcosm of intellectuals, where spirituality was frowned upon and considered impractical and just short of useless. And so I learned, through osmosis, to shut down my spiritual side, to tuck it away somewhere where it couldn’t disturb me or distract me from life.

I continued on this path for many years, focusing my precious energy on the “important” things in life, like school, piano lessons, dance class, or Hebrew school, all the while, my spirituality was festering in some dark corner inside, like a forgotten meal at the back of the fridge. As the years passed, it became harder and harder to ignore the smell of my fermenting spiritual self, yet I was stubborn, (another adjective friends or family might use to describe me) and refused to listen to that part of me, which cried out to be nurtured.

Needless to say, I was not such a happy camper in those days. I went through the motions and stages of life without much enthusiasm or joy. I didn’t even care to attend my high school or college graduations – such milestones were just another notch in the belt for me. I probably would have continued on that path to this day if G-d hadn’t stepped in and decided to take over the reins. (Well He was always there, I just didn’t see it that way in those days.)

My Turning Point:

After having graduated college and working a couple of unsatisfying jobs, I was in a real slump when I received a phone call from Mushky, a girl from our local Chabad, who wanted to know if I was interested in volunteering with her once a week. She told me that she was starting a local chapter of the organization Friendship Circle, a Chabad based organization that paired mentors with learning-impaired peers within the local Jewish community. Having had a bit of experience with learning-impaired kids, I quickly agreed, and Mushky and I began our weekly visits with our new friend Jenny.

I really enjoyed visiting Jenny. She was outgoing, friendly, and fun and I think she knew how to bring me and Mushky out of our shells. That year passed quickly, and before I knew it, summer was upon us and Mushky told me she was planning to go away for a six week break in Israel. I was happy for her, and also disappointed that we wouldn’t be visiting Jenny together that summer. I told Mushky as much, and she replied by inviting me to come to Israel with her!

I had attended Birthright during college, which was the start of my love affair with Israel, but I had thought that Israel was “way out of my league” and that I wouldn’t have another change to glance upon its beautiful shores or ancient old city walls for a very long time. Mushky’s invitation seemed unreal and unattainable to me, so I turned her down, but whenever I would see her, she kept bringing it up, and the more I thought about it, the more realistic it sounded. Mushky described to me this wonderful place of learning, called Mayanot, that she would be going to. With warm, intelligent teachers, fun fieldtrips, and good food, it was sure to be the experience of a lifetime.

As a kid, I had enjoyed learning about my Jewish roots in Hebrew school, and always looked forward to the High Holidays each year. In fact, I understood that Temple was the one place where spirituality was sort of accepted. Now, as a college grad, I reflected back fondly on those times, and thought to myself: “what the heck, I’ll go to Israel; I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.” Although I didn’t know it then, I was about to embark on a new and beautiful life-long journey.

My Mayanot Experience:

I arrived at Mayanot at about midnight, one cool dewy night in July, and was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a bunch of friendly, cheerful, and curious young women. They were eager to introduce themselves to me and ask me all about myself. A few of them helped me settle in and to my amazement, offered to stay up all night with me if I were jetlagged! I politely declined, but decided that if these were the kind of people I was going to spend my summer with, it was going to be great! I couldn’t have been more right.

The next day, as more students and shluchas (peer teachers) arrived, I began meeting the teachers and some of the staff. I was surprised at how they just blended in with all the students and hung out with us. It was fun getting to know them on a personal level before our classes even started, and when we did finally settle down into our classes, I already felt really comfortable with my teachers, and I know the other students did too! None of us had any qualms about getting right down to the nitty- gritty questions!

As my six weeks at Mayanot marched on, I realized how much I was learning and soaking into my soul. I realized how happy I was, and wanted to stay longer. Before the end of the six weeks, I decided I would stay at Mayanot and keep learning for at least another six months. That six months ended up turning into a full year, and that full year ended up turning into a life-long connection to many wonderful women, teachers, and the land of Israel. 

Today, I live in Israel where I am building my family and continuing to enrich my life with Torah and mitzvos, and with G-d’s help, passing this beautiful legacy on to my children. 

Written by: Sarah (Kramer) Rosen, Mayanot Alumna class of 2008-9