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.