Lifechanging: hundreds YAHAD for a week in Thailand

How does one week lead hundreds of Jewish students to strengthen their inner connection to Judaism, sense of Jewish pride, and commitment to Jewish identity and continuity?

Well, all this happened as part of an exciting journey of 600 students and young professionals from Russia and the FSU to Thailand. A journey aimed at strengthening Jewish identity and creating a deep connection to Jewish heritage and tradition, all through fun and uplifting experiences together with hundreds of vibrant youngsters united in an unbreakable bond.

The hundreds of participants students, together with their local rabbis and Chabad emissaries teaching them Torah throughout the year – within the framework of the YAHAD organization operating under the Federation of Jewish Communities (FJC) – enjoyed an experiential week of tours and experiences in Thailand. Touring unique markets, enjoying a breathtaking elephant show, and the many other attractions Thailand offers.

“Throughout the year,” says Rabbi Mendy Wilansky, director of YAHAD, “we work with Jewish students across the FSU to ensure they connect to Judaism. The rabbis learn with them and bring them closer to Yiddishkeit, yet the opportunity within this journey and the deep connection created here in a week of Jewish pride and unity with hundreds of other young people just like them, learning together, deepening and strengthening their Jewish roots – is revolutionary.”

The 24 hours of Shabbat were a spiritual and uplifting experience. With the onset of Shabbat, hundreds of students gathered in the grand hall of the Thai hotel for the elevating prayers from the depths of their hearts, followed by an uplifting Shabbat meal. After the meal, they continued to gather for group discussions late into the night.

On Shabbat day, Torah aliyas were ‘exchanged’ for commitments to observe Jewish traditions. Seven young men took it upon themselves to undergo a brit milah, and over thirty young women adopted Jewish names and received a special blessing.

In the afternoon, after a rich and uplifting Shabbat meal, hundreds of students gathered for an hour of open questions and answers with Russia’s Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Berel Lazar, and his wife, Rebbetzin Chani Lazar.

On Motzei Shabbat, Rabbi Lazar and Rabbi Wilansky summed up the journey and spoke about its great impact and the important benefit that every student should derive from it. Some of the students expressed their emotions and the profound impact of the journey on them, and the girls who took on Jewish names took the stage and received special applause. “This is the first time I observed Shabbat, and the feeling was unique. I’m going to continue,” one student said.
As the journey concluded, hundreds of students returned to their homes, where their connection to their roots will deepen. “In addition to the deep developing a sense of Jewish identity,” summarizes Rabbi Wilansky, “the most significant challenge of our time is assimilation. Thanks to this journey, hundreds of Jewish homes will be established according to Jewish tradition.”

The exciting journey was organized by the YAHAD organization operating under the Federation of Jewish Communities (FJC) and with the support and dedication of the Meromim Foundation directed by Rabbi Bentzi Lipsker of Petersburg, and by Rabbi Avi Cassel of Olami, both of whom are also accompanying this special journey.

The journey was produced by Fleishman-Peles Productions.

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