After spending the past few years on a soul-searching study of Jewish theology and culture, Yerachmiel Goldstein calls Israel’s Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies “the oasis through the desert [that] has been able to supply flowing water for the rest of the journey.”

For the past 13 years, Mayanot’s various scholarship funds afford students like Goldstein – many of them with little or no formal background in Judaic Studies – the opportunity to explore their Jewish roots in an academically challenging and spiritually nurturing environment located within walking distance of Jerusalem’s historic Old City.

The Chabad-Lubavitch run institution’s students hail from all over the world, including American college graduates looking for advanced lessons in Jewish education to complement their secular degrees. The two single-sex programs – which include options for month-long, summer-long, semester-long, or yearlong study – is open to men and women ages 20 to 29 years old.

“The experience at Mayanot has not been merely an experience of building a foundation of Judaism for the future,” says Goldstein, a Queens College graduate from Huntington, N.Y., who is currently penning a screenplay about his experience at Mayanot. “The emphasis I have found is the asking, ‘Who am I?’ and, ‘What can I do?’ and, more than anything else, ‘Am I getting to know G‑d?’ ”

“At our yeshiva we emphasize a strong academic background in Talmud and Chasidic thought,” adds Rabbi Kasriel Shemtov, Mayanot’s executive director. “People in the program learn how to integrate their professional career with that they’ve learned. Almost all of our students leave and bring the richness of Torah with them. They become literate in almost every Jewish topic that exists.”

A Talmud class at Mayanot draws students of different ages and backgrounds.
A Talmud class at Mayanot draws students of different ages and backgrounds.

As the men’s yeshiva approaches its ‘Bar Mitzvah’ year (the women’s program was established three years ago), program directors are pushing to double Mayanot’s enrollment, hoping to make Jewish Studies available to more students seeking a full immersion in coursework covering lessons in Torah, Talmud, Hebrew language, Prayer and Jewish History and Law, among many other classes.

“Today, students and young adults are better educated yet more alienated from their Jewish roots than ever before,” proffers Rabbi Shlomo Gestetner, dean of Mayanot. “Our educational philosophy encourages, intellectual rigor, textual analysis of the classical works of Judaism with a desire to find meaning and relevance.”

Currently, there are approximately 80 men and 50 women enrolled in each Mayanot program. The goal is to increase these numbers to 160 and 100 respectively. In support of this effort, philanthropist George Rohr, who helps fund both the men and women’s programs, has committed to giving 100 airplane tickets to 100 prospective students hoping to study in Israel. Mayanot has also acquired an additional building to help expand its women’s program.

“The men’s program has 80 students from 80 different places, which means that they all take that feeling of belonging back to their communities,” says Shemtov. “They all return home with a sense of excitement about their Jewish knowledge. Consequently, the fire of Jewish traditions are passed along to others.”