Rabbi Eliyahu Ya’akov lives in Jerusalem’s Old City, where he pursues his life’s mission to inspire in young Diaspora Jews a deeper connection to Judaism and the State of Israel. He recently spoke about his work in Israel with participants in 10-day Birthright trips and long-term MASA programs.
According to Ya’akov, “What I am trying to bring to the table [for Birthright and MASA participants are] … Israel experiences that are eye-opening and impactful, experiences that create a paradigm shift. I encourage them to take advantage of the Jewish things in Israel, to partake in what is unique about Israel. I try to encourage different ways to open them up to those experiences, in order to inspire them to take something of the Israel experience back with them. I want them to do something practical and concrete, to get involved in the community, light Shabbat candles, or to extend their stay. It’s really all about the follow-up.”
Ya’akov told United With Israel that his own childhood experiences inspired him to engage Birthright and MASA participants. Specifically, he remembers an overemphasis on practical instruction and dry explanations, without any meaningful focus on the reasons for Judaism’s sacred rituals and traditions. Ya’akov moved to Israel not only to explore the rationale behind Jewish customs, but also to share his knowledge with others.
He explained, “The goal is to share a deep, meaningful, inspirational and passionate approach to Judaism with Jews from all backgrounds, especially those that didn’t have exposure. What they do with it is their path. I share a positive message about Israel and Judaism. I share a vision of life where Judaism and Israel is essential for every Jew. I undo misconceptions and stereotypes. While a person must walk through the door on their own, I share the beauty and inspiration in Judaism.”
Frequently, Ya’akov explores ideas with Birthright and MASA participants that they were simply never exposed to in Hebrew school. He emphasized, “They are having wonderful experiences in Israel, yet what is it all about? Why should I care? Why should it make a difference to me? A lot of people are very appreciative; because they feel that they enjoy their experience yet the presentation helps them to get a bigger picture. They hear about Judaism in a way that they can relate to and take it wherever they take it.”
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About the Author: Rachel Avraham is a news editor and political analyst for Jerusalem Online News, the English language internet edition of Israel's Channel 2 News. She completed her masters degree in Middle Eastern Studies at Ben-Gurion University. The subject of her MA thesis was: "Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab media."
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