Yeshiva University offers a terrific service called Anywhere in Israel. Kids here for a year of study at any school can sign up online and request Shabbat hospitality in the community of their choice. As one of the many families registered as hosts, we receive an e-mail when someone has requested a Shabbat in Ma’aleh Adumim, and we have the option of responding with an invitation.
Anywhere in Israel has been a godsend for young students looking for home-cooked meals and new places to explore for just the price of bus fare. They can specify their priorities (English- or Hebrew-speaking, lots of children, vegetarian cuisine, peace and quiet, great food, or “just a cool place”).
With two spare bedrooms and a nearly empty nest, we wanted to emulate the welcoming hospitality that so many relatives and friends had extended to our sons when they were here on their own. It’s really been a pleasure for us.
We’ve met dozens of young men and women from across North America and beyond. Over the course of sharing meals together, we’ve learned a bit about their lives and ambitions, coming away impressed and hopeful about the future of our people.
About a year ago, we started keeping a guestbook. Looking through it, I see that we have hosted students hailing from Detroit, Chicago, Monsey, Nashville, Los Angeles, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens, Silver Spring, Philadelphia, Seattle, Boston, Riverdale, Great Neck, London, Toronto, and of course the Five Towns and North Jersey.
The project provides participants with a human touch in the person of Rachel Nadel, a sweet and perky mom from Kochav HaShachar. Rachel monitors every request and response and steps in to make arrangements when necessary – for example, when a family has room at its table but not in its bedrooms, or when a request fails to get a response. Rachel gets on the phone to secure appropriate accommodations in a broad range of cities, and follows up afterward with kids and hosts to make sure all went well.
Recently, we readily agreed to Rachel’s request to “sleep” two friends, students at different Jerusalem seminaries, who had their meals lined up. On Friday night, we always ask our guests if they want to be awakened for services in the morning. Many prefer to sleep in. But these young women wanted to accompany me to shul at 8.
I put some thought into which neighborhood synagogue to take them to. On Friday night I had brought them to the “Happy Minyan,” a Carlebach-style shul where their dinner host had arranged to meet them. Because it is located toward the crest of the central hill of our neighborhood, the short walk there gives me a perfect opportunity to show off the breathtaking eastward vista (at sunset, no less) looking over the Judean Desert toward the Jordan Valley. I explain that this was the general area our ancestors first set eyes on as their 40-year desert trek to the Promised Land came to a close.
One of the girls confided that this very view was the reason she had invited her friend to come with her to Ma’aleh Adumim through Anywhere in Israel. She had seen it from the highway during a road trip the week before and wanted to explore it from within. Wanting to show them the view in the opposite direction as well, I therefore chose a synagogue the next morning whose windows overlook Jerusalem to the southwest.
“I want to live in Israel someday, and now I’ve found the right spot,” our guest told us in all seriousness before leaving on Saturday night.
She has already met with Nefesh B’Nefesh to help her plan the most practical approach to making aliyah. We were delighted to learn that spending Shabbat in our community had sharpened her focus on this admirable goal.
Most of our Anywhere in Israel guests see their time here as a meaningful and adventurous gap year between educational pursuits back home. For them, we hope to be a tiny part of a year’s experience they will remember fondly. For those students who are already laying the groundwork for their aliyah, we hope to provide encouragement that their dream can, with God’s help, successfully be fulfilled – because we, too, have found the right spot.