May 25, 2024
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May 25, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

YU Undergrads Enrich Holiday Celebrations in 48 North American Jewish Communities

During the holiday season, more than 200 Yeshiva University students traveled to 48 communities across North America to share their passion for Torah and bring their energy and enthusiasm to local celebrations as part of YU’s “Torah Tours” mission.

For more than 40 years, Torah Tours has sent students to synagogues as close as West Orange, New Jersey and as far as Montreal, Quebec and Palo Alto, California, where they deliver shiurim (lectures), lead prayer services and programming for children and add their spirit to the dancing on Simchat Torah, all while gaining valuable insight into how Jewish communal life functions in different areas.

“We are so proud of our students who spent their Yom Tov (holiday) bringing their energy, spirit and Torah to Jewish communities all over the United States and Canada,” said Naomi Kohl, director of student life on the Israel Henry Beren Campus and coordinator of the Torah Tours missions.

“We have heard back from many of the communities about how thrilled they were with our students and how they went above and beyond in their roles over Yom Tov. Our students have also expressed their appreciation for the amazing opportunity they had to share their knowledge and spirit with those in need and have hakarat hatov (gratitude) for the wonderful hachnasat orchim (hospitality) they received as well.”

For the students, this year’s mission was a deeply moving experience.

“Having been impacted and inspired by a Torah Tours mission that came to my hometown when I was growing up, I wanted to sign up so that I could have the opportunity to do the same for another community,” said Meredith Shapiro, a junior majoring in business intelligence and marketing analytics from Chicago, Illinoi, whose team traveled to Keneseth Beth Israel in Richmond, Virginia. “The most meaningful moment of the trip was when Ava, the little girl whose house we were staying at, told my partner, Goldie, and I on the way back from shul that she had the best experience dancing with us all day long.”

Yael Steinberg, a senior from Queens, New York, majoring in biochemistry, noted that this year’s visit to Congregation Shaarei Tefillah in Newton, Massachusetts, was her fifth Torah Tours trip because she loves the opportunity to meet people and connect with Jewish communities all over North America. “I really enjoyed eating a meal at the home of the shul’s rabbi, where we got to meet some incredible community members. As with my previous Torah Tours experiences, Simchat Torah in Newton exposed me to different practices and ideas,” she said. “Every community is different, and it is always interesting to see how those differences play out.”

“The entire situation was so different from the large Jewish towns that we are so familiar with,” added Shimon Niren, a junior from Elizabeth, New Jersey, majoring in accounting and minoring in architecture, who was struck by the challenges that confront smaller communities like Lake Park Synagogue in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “The trip was empowering and really showed me how much of an impact I have as a frum (pious) Jew. For people in these communities who want to grow, seeing young, dedicated and happy Jews inspires them to keep striving for personal greatness.”

Tehilla Berger, a biochemistry sophomore from Far Rockaway, New York, and Yehoshua Szafranski, a sophomore from Teaneck, New Jersey, studying political science and educational psychology, felt a connection to Congregation Beth Israel in Metairie, Louisiana, right away.

“The most meaningful part of my trip was our spirited dancing with Rabbi Gabe and the rest of the congregants in front of the synagogue’s ark,” explained Szafranski. “Plastered upon the ark is a verse from Song of Songs (8:7): ‘Mighty waters can’t quench our love (for You)…’ Even after being under 10 feet of water—twice!—this community continues to show what it means to serve God and their fellow man with love and joy. I am forever grateful for this experience.”

Berger added that their team of six students increased shul attendance by 30 percent and brought the Simchat Torah experience to a whole new level. “There is a large age gap in the shul, primarily because of Hurricane Katrina — virtually all the families with teenagers were displaced and few have returned. We were able to bridge the gap, jumping with the children while simultaneously circle dancing with the older members. I came into Metairie feeling like a guest and left feeling like part of the community.”

The team of YU students was so moved by the community’s warmth and hospitality that they purchased a shtender (prayer stand) cover for the shul with the Hebrew verse ‘How I love Your Torah/It is my conversation all day’ embroidered on it. “We were enlightened by the rich history, the southern culture and the difficulties and challenges of being part of a small, devoted Jewish community, and we had the opportunity to share Torah, meet fascinating individuals and learn about their past and perseverance,” added Berger. “But most importantly, we felt as though we had made a difference.”

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