Resilient Mayanot Finds Opportunity During Covid-19

As soon as COVID struck, the Mayanot Institute began searching for opportunities in a new world climate. “One thing we knew was that suspending operations, even for a moment, was not an option,” said Executive Director, Rabbi Kasriel Shemtov.

It was March 2020. The dust had just settled from a Purim now known to many around the world as the “last normal thing” before Covid 19. The world paused as we found ourselves at a crossroad. What direction should we go? How could we make sense of this? 

In the Capital of the Jewish World, Jerusalem, the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies was asking themselves these same questions. How indeed would the crucial task of ensuring a strong, Jewishly educated future continue under the new reality? 

“One thing we knew was that suspending operations, even for a moment, was not an option,” says Executive Director, Rabbi Kasriel Shemtov. “Our responsibility to the Jewish future does not stop” That’s when Mayanot began to find the opportunities in a new world climate. Mayanot was resilient and focused, quickly learning how to cater to their students, alumni and supporters via new avenues not prior explored. 

“With the Jewish future at stake, we overcame the challenges and with a resilient stand, found unique opportunities to move forward with our mission” said Mayanot Dean, Rabbi Shlomo Gestetner. “Resilience in the face of adversity. Opportunity in the face crisis. That’s how we like to look at it at Mayanot.”

Within days, Mayanot launched the “Mayanot Online Academy” for men and women that were then enrolled as well as for alumni, supporters and parents. The results were astonishing. 

“We could not have imagined how quick and how big this program would grow,” said Rabbi Tzemach Chazzan, director of the Mayanot Online Academy. “This is a testament to the need for relevant Jewish engagement across the entire spectrum of the Jewish world.”

Over the course of several months of online classes, Mayanot hosted hundreds of students, ages 19-80, for 20 weekly classes in Talmud, Chassidic thought, Jewish law & history, Hebrew language and other topics relevant to their audiences. The classes spanned more than 60 hours of Jewish education online weekly. 

“My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed the winter semester classes,” said Marion Goodwin, who attended Mayanot’s online courses this winter. “My mind felt expanded after every one of the Rabbi’s classes and I loved that you brought out aspects not commonly addressed.”

In their Birthright Israel division, Mayanot was gearing up to welcome nearly 4000 participants between May and September 2020 before Covid 19 forced trip cancelation. But once again, Mayanot set out to devise a plan to engage applicants and alumni alike. 

In May, Mayanot hosted a virtual event celebrating 20 years of partnership between Birthright Israel and Mayanot. More than 90 Chabad on Campus and Community Shluchim attended. Birthright Israel International CEO, Mr. Gidi Mark addressed the gathering. 12 Rabbis were awarded certificates for their accomplishments over the course of the program’s 20 years.

Stories spanning the 20 years of the program were shared by Shluchim and remarks were delivered by Rabbi Shlomo Gestetner. Brandon Rumann, an alumnus who started his journey on a Birthright Israel trip with Mayanot, shared his story. 

“I could never thank Birthright Israel and Mayanot enough for what they gave me on my trip,” Rumann said then. “Rabbi Yossi Lazaroff and the other trip staff ignited a fire in me which, G-d willing, will never go out.”

Interactive Hebrew language courses were launched online for eager-to-learn applicants who had involuntarily postponed their Birthright Israel trips. Virtual tours of Israel’s most popular sites, Q&A sessions with Gift of Life Bone Marrow foundation, Israel’s first Olympic Bobsled athlete, popular tour guides and other original programming were offered in June-September. 

“Our mission at Mayanot’s Birthright Israel division has always been to engage young Jews and help them learn to make Judaism relevant in their own lives,” said Levi Margolin, director of the Mayanot Birthright Israel division. “The pandemic couldn’t change our direction, it just challenged us to be creative and find new ways to accomplish our goals.”

In October, in partnership with Birthright Israel’s educational team, Mayanot launched the “Zoom Reunion” project to re-engage hundreds of past participants with their group, their Judaism and with Israel. By mid December, more than 300 participants had attended a “Zoom Reunion” with their group, getting reacquainted and sharing their own stories of resilience and opportunity during Covid. 

Mayanot’s “pivot to online programming” is a demonstration of the organization’s firm commitment to Jewish education, the Jewish future and the Jewish people. On Dec 30-31, you can make your commitment to the Jewish future by supporting Mayanot’s crucial work. 

The campaign is all about how Mayanot ROCs. That’s not a typo. It’s about the R.O.C. Of Mayanot. Resilience. Opportunity. Commitment.

Visit our $1,800,000 campaign page and make your commitment today at

Video: Rabbi Yossi Marrus of S. Antonio, TX, shares a Birthright Israel story.

Video: Rabbi Shlomo Elkan of Oberlin University, shares a touching Birthright Israel story.

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