Yakir Gola and Rafael Ilishayev, both 25, have achieved great success as co-founders of 24-hour delivery service goPuff, which they started in their third year of college. The Drexel University graduates, who met the first day of freshman year, were named last year on Forbes magazine’s “30 Under 30” list. Their business operates in 36 cities and employs 400 people full-time, as well as thousands of delivery drivers.

In addition to building their business, they’re also committed to helping build Drexel’s Jewish community. The pair recently donated a Torah to Chabad Serving Drexel University in Philadelphia, run by Rabbi Chaim and Moussia Goldstein.

Ilishayev recalls meeting the rabbi on Rosh Hashanah during his freshman year and being invited to a pickle-making class a week later. Gola started attending events at the Chabad House as well, and over the years, their connection deepened. The goPuff co-founders went to Chabad for Shabbat and had regular Torah-study sessions with the rabbi.

Gola and Ilishayev decided earlier this year to purchase a Torah as a catalyst for the Chabad center’s continued growth. “We hope this will inspire other Jews to reconnect to their Judaism in whatever way they can,” Ilishayev tells Chabad.org, adding that his Jewish values helped him get to where he is today.

They commissioned the writing of a Torah, chose the Sephardic casing and filled in the Torah’s final letters at a ceremony with the community in March. After the completion ceremony, amid singing and dancing, the scroll was carried to its new home, the Chabad House, where the festivities continued.

“It’s important to me to motivate other people to do good things in the name of Judaism,” says Ilishayev. “Our hope is it will inspire people to go out and do good deeds.”

 Rafael Ilishayev, left, and Yakir Gola
Rafael Ilishayev, left, and Yakir Gola

Keeping in Touch After Graduation

The rabbi, Gola and Ilishayev stayed in touch even after graduation, says Goldstein. He’s hosted them for Shabbat dinner and put up mezuzahs at goPuff’s various locations. “We even brought Rafael to speak to our students about his business. He talked about how his Jewish connection is so important to him,” says the rabbi.

The celebration of the new Torah on parents’ weekend, which drew a crowd some 120 strong, impressed parents, students and alumni alike, reports Goldstein. “The Jewish pride they felt, how they felt like they were part of something so big and amazing, was a huge leap for the Jewish community here,” he explains. “The Torah is a bedrock. It’s our foundation. When a new Torah comes into the community, it adds more strength, more connection to G‑d, and it’s a really powerful event.” This is the Chabad center’s third Torah.

The new Torah dedication boosts the Drexel Chabad center to a next phase, he says. Chabad, which offers holiday programming, Shabbat dinners, prayer services and lunch, as well as Thursday-night cooking essions and the learning program Sinai Scholars, has plans to expand to accommodate growing student participation. They want to enlarge the dining room and the synagogue, and add a student lounge/game area and guest suites.

Rabbi Abraham Shemtov, regional director of Chabad of Greater Philadelphia, accompanies the Torah.
Rabbi Abraham Shemtov, regional director of Chabad of Greater Philadelphia, accompanies the Torah.

Josh Weiss, 23, who graduated from Drexel in March 2017, returned to campus for the Torah-dedication ceremony because of his strong connection to Chabad there. He even sponsored a word in the Torah and dedicated it to his mother’s late father. “The reach and impact of Chabad is honestly staggering,” says Weiss, who lives in Cherry Hill, N.J., but travels back and forth between home and New York for work.

“I think it’s important for Drexel Chabad to have its own Torah written and dedicated by students because that’s why Chabad is there in the first place—to serve the students,” he says. “The fact that Drexel Chabad has come to the point where alumni can pay for an entire Torah is a testament to the amazing job Rabbi and Moussia Goldstein have been doing. They’re touching lives big and small, and they never ask anything in return.”

The magnificent casing for the Torah scroll.
The magnificent casing for the Torah scroll.
Family and friends of the donors and Chabad share in the celebration.
Family and friends of the donors and Chabad share in the celebration.
Carrying the Torah into the Chabad House.
Carrying the Torah into the Chabad House.
Students at Drexel had letters dedicated in their honor.
Students at Drexel had letters dedicated in their honor.
Celebrating a milestone at the Philadelphia campus.
Celebrating a milestone at the Philadelphia campus.
The Torah scroll arrives at its new home.
The Torah scroll arrives at its new home.