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Davening Mincha with more than one hundred baal habatim and unaffiliated college students in perhaps the oldest semi-existent Bais Haknesses in the world was somewhat of a theme setter for the entire Mentors Mission. Although the Romans had destroyed the city of Gamla and its inhabitants some two thousand years ago, they did not succeed in breaking the neshamos of Klal Yisroel. The Gamla shul indeed lies in ruins, but two millennia later we are witnessing Nishmos Yisroel from college campuses across North America rediscover their heritage. The Gamla Bais Haknesses was very much alive again that day with the sounds of Hashivainu Avinu Lisorasecha and Vikabtzainu Mayarba Kanfos Ha’aretz. Klal Yisroel continues to thrive despite all the trials and tribulations we have endured both physically and spiritually.
Although the five day Mentors Mission brought the participants to places such as Jeeping, ATV’ing, Barkan Winery, City of David Tour and other exciting activities, it was the ruchniyusdike aspect that clearly dominated the Mission. The learning sessions between the baal habatim, who had traveled to Eretz Yisroel specifically for the mission, and the unaffiliated college students were a sight to behold. The sessions lasted past their scheduled times as the sugya of Rodef was being soaked up by the mentors and students. Walking along the Kineret on Friday morning behind the hotel we were staying in, one could hear the electric kol torah emanating from the Bais Medrash. Here were students who for the most part had never learnt any Gemara at all yet the milchamta shel Torah and its emes was something that connected them to yiddishkeit right away.
Motzei Shabbos we all went to the Kever Rashbi in Meron. Seeing the students’ daven with such a dveikus at the tziyon was truly an inspiration to everyone. Later on there was a Melava Malka with the Simply Tzefas band. The simcha and dancing went on until the wee hours of the morning as hundreds of visitors who had come to Meron joined in this most festive Kiddush Hashem. Seeing the true simcha in frum yidden showed the students the pnimius that lies within the Torah Jew.
On the bus ride back to Yerushalayim on Sunday for the farewell dinner at Entrecote restaurant, the atmosphere was unbelievable. On one side of the bus, A.J., a student from Wisconsin was engrossed in Rav Dovid Gottlieb’s book “Living Up.” After hearing Rav Gottlieb speak numerous times during Shabbos, A.J. was thirsting for more. Behind A.J., six students were involved in a discussion with some staff and mentors regarding general hashkafa topics. Two seats in front of them, a student was learning from an Artscroll Gemara. Another student was learning Michtav M’Eliyahu in English. Replacing the IPod’s filled with raging music and lyrics that dominate the ears of today’s bus traveling college youth were literary guides and verbal discussions containing the emes of creation.
Clyde, a law student from Florida revealed what he deemed to be a revelation. Although American law contains sophisticated and intricate details, its study does not excite him. After studying Gemara for the first time, he was so excited by Jewish law. He said the reason for this is that American law is there to preserve society. Jewish law, aside from preserving society, is there to preserve the human soul!
Wednesday night, the Rosh Hayeshiva Rav Nota Schiller delivered an insightful talk to the mentors about the history of the kiruv movement and the seeming reasons that the outreach phenomenon unfolded the way that it did.
Friday morning mentor David Martin delivered a moving address that included a powerful personal story regarding a pair of tefillin that he had purchased as a youngster by saving up money his parents gave him for transportation. Instead of taking the bus to yeshiva, he walked a far distance and saved the money to purchase tefillin. Ilya, one of the students was so taken by the episode that he committed to put tefillin on every day. Rabbi Binyomin Holland, Menahel of Ohr Somayach arranged for the purchase of tefillin and a personalized tefillin bag that was presented to Ilya by his mentor Eli Rakower at the farewell banquet.
In his remarks during Shabbos, Rav Yitzchok Breitowitz, senior lecturer at Ohr Somayach, extolled the level of ruchniyus that the mentors and students had been exposed to on the Mission. He quoted the Chofetz Chaim who said that Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu by the burning bush that the ground you are standing on is “Admas Kodesh.” This teaches us that no matter who we are or where we are, even when we are not on the makom Hamikdosh or even in Eretz Yisroel, the situation and place we find ourselves in can be Admas Kodesh. Many of the students are returning to the liberal college campuses of the Western world. What they need to take back with them is the knowledge that no matter where one finds himself, you can make the ground that you are standing on into Admas Kodesh with the proper spiritual approach.
As so many of the mentors remarked during and after the trip, “we came to motivate and inspire but we ourselves have become motivated and inspired.”
B”h, so far nine of the students who were on the Mentors Mission have decided to stay on at Ohr Somayach to learn. Hashivainu Avinu Lisorasecha…
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