Chabad-Lubavitch: Largest Birthright Israel Provider

by R. Wineberg - JERUSALEM, ISRAEL

August 22, 2002

In its busiest season ever, the Mayanot Institute of Jewish studies in Jerusalem has coordinated Birthright Israel trips this summer for over 900 Jewish students, becoming the largest Birthright provider.

Birthright Israel, a revolutionary idea conceived and funded by philanthropists Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt, the State of Israel, and local community federations, sees its goal as giving every Jewish student the opportunity to experience Israel for 10 memorable days, at no cost to the participant. Birthright provides the funding and the basic parameters of the trip, and partners with Chabad Houses, Hillel houses, temples, and synagogues, who recruit the students and arrange the actual tours. Birthright staff carefully monitors each tour to ensure it meets security, technical and educational standards.

Mayanot, a Chabad-Lubavitch yeshiva for college age students, became a Birthright provider three years ago, further enhancing the Israel experience for thousands of teenagers with a deeper dimension of spirituality and unique Chabad spirit.

According to Gidi Mark, International Director of Marketing for Birthright Israel, the Lubavitch Mayanot Institute has been the largest North American provider of Birthright trips this season. In an interview with Lubavitch International, Mr. Mark attributed their success to an incredibly hard-working and devoted staff both in the US and Israel. "In addition to their professionalism, Rabbi Gestetner and his staff have devoted heart and soul to the goal of bringing Jewish kids to Israel," he said.

Rabbi Shlomo Gestetner, director of Mayanot yeshiva and the Birthright tours, credits success of the program to a superb staff, both behind the scenes recruiting participants and on the tours, and the spiritual content offered. “We show these kids a connection to Judaism that goes far beyond the inspirational high of being in Israel,” he says, “We show them how to translate those feelings into their lives in a very real, meaningful way instead of them wearing off after the program.” Unique features of a Mayanot Birthright trip include a Bet Medrash study evening at the Yeshiva, guest lecturers, farbrengens (Chasidic gatherings), and intense discussion groups that inspire serious thinking.

The success Mayanot has had in recruiting students, notes Rabbi Gestetner, is due largely to the efforts of Mr. Yisroel Schulman, director of American Friends of Mayanot, based in New York City. Working closely with Chabad-Lubavitch shluchim, particularly on campuses in the United States, American Friends of Mayanot recruits students who often come in large numbers along with their rabbi. “Students who share their Israel experience with their rabbi have an easier time relating the inspiration gleaned from the trip to their lives back in America,” says Rabbi Gestetner.

Tremendous positive feedback follows every tour. “The combination of intense Jewish pride and tradition that is so vibrant in Israel, along with a serious approach to living spiritually on a daily basis is something that students find very inspiring,” Rabbi Gestetner explains. Large numbers of participants have stayed on in Israel to study at Mayanot yeshiva, and the others leave Israel after only ten days, their lives enriched in that short time by a deeper, more profound connection to the land and their Jewish heritage.

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