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Student perspectives

Student perspectives


Birthright Thoughts








Thank you Rabbi Zev, donors and everyone who helped facilitate my Birthright trip this past summer. It was an incredible experience touring with friends, peers, and especially the Israeli soldiers, who were the highlight of the trip. We connected with the soldiers from day one and quickly realized they were just like us only with an Israeli upbringing. It was hard to believe that they were our age and had already experienced so much by growing up in Israel and serving in the IDF. By the end of the trip, the soldiers were completely integrated into our group and it was hard to say goodbye. I’m excited to return to Israel in the future and having great friends to reconnect with there.









Pink Shabbat Speech


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 All throughout October we hear phrases like “Cancer Research and Breast Cancer Awareness” But why is it so important for you to support breast cancer awareness and research? The first thing I want everyone to do is to imagine this:

Imagine a beautiful 32-year old woman, with bouncy brown hair, bright blue green eyes, and a strong, fit body. This woman you are imagining was the highest ranked female black belt in the world in the Israeli self-defense system, Krav Maga. Although she was one of the toughest fighters, she was the most loving, sweet, creative, fun and, gentle person and I was lucky enough to call her my mom. At age 32, my mother Marni, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Now picture this: In the months to follow, that beautiful woman with bouncy brown hair quickly transformed into a beautiful woman with no hair. Her strong, fit body was soon fragile and weak from chemo and radiation– sometimes too weak to drive down the block or even to walk into my room to tuck me into bed. Her strength that was once so blatantly visible in her physical appearance, was no longer seen; however, it began to resonate through her courage, persistence, and dedication to beat the disease that she was battling. The woman who you first imagined taught others how to defend themselves, yet she found herself at age 32 in the greatest battle of her life. Four years and two rounds of breast cancer later, my mother passed away. I was 9.

My mother living her life while she was sick was a blessing because she lived her life, not her disease. She went to every school play, every soccer game, and every dance recital she was well enough to go to. So while my childhood was not the norm, it was happy and full and I was lucky to have my mother in my life for the 9 years I did. To put it simply, losing my mother has defined me. As a 9 year old, I had no idea how much my mom’s disease would impact the rest of my life. As much as my mom shaped who I was, her absence has shaped me just as much. Losing my mother has made me strong. Losing my mother has made me independent. Losing my mother has made me dedicated to find a cure for the disease that took her life. Every year my family and I have organized the Stop Cancer Marni Fund 5k run walk. Through the walk and Krav Maga seminars, we have raised over one million dollars to fund breast cancer research at USC, UCLA, and City of Hope cancer research centers. My mom’s wish was for doctors to learn from her case to help other mothers, sisters, and daughters.

            So, this is why I fight against breast cancer, but why should you? Each year 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer. 8-10% of Ashkenazi Jews carry the BRCA gene, the genetic mutation that greatly increases your risk of having breast cancer. Many of the women in this room tonight are Ashkenazi Jews. Many of your best friends, sorority sisters, myself included, are at risk for developing Breast Cancer. This fact is not meant to scare you, but to empower you. Being aware and knowing the risks of the future is a powerful concept. There are a lot of important causes in the world, but this disease disproportionately affects Jewish women. As Jews, we need to recognize this fact to protect the women in our lives. I hope tonight motivates all of you to join the fight against breast cancer, not only during the month of October, but in whatever ways you can throughout the year.

By attending Pink Shabbat you are raising awareness. By making donations or becoming involved in an organization, you are taking action. Whether you are getting involved in small or large ways, you are making a difference.

 -Brooke Levine




Pink Shabbat 2016







Breast cancer. Two words when put together bring up memories of pain, strength, and courage.

Twenty days before my 4th birthday, my biological mom, Kathy, passed away from breast cancer. Kathy was diagnosed with stage 3B breast cancer at the age of thirty. Only ten years older than I am today. She fought for two long hard years, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough.

After Kathy’s diagnosis, my dad found out that Kathy’s side of the family had a history of breast and ovarian cancer. Not only was every single female diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer, but none of them had survived their fight. One of the youngest people to be diagnosed was at the age of 25. What can cause such a dominant gene to take the life of so many? The BRCA 1 mutation gene had been passed down for many generations and finally being discovered in Kathy.

         BRCA 1 mutation gene otherwise known as BRCA is the gene that leads to a higher risk in breast and ovarian cancer. Women in the general population have an 8% chance of developing breast cancer in their life. Woman who have the BRCA 1 mutation gene have a 55-65% of having cancer. So how is it that every single female on Kathy’s side had developed cancer? It must have been a really powerful gene.

         If only one of your parents has the BRCA 1 mutation gene it doesn’t mean that you will 100% have the gene. Getting the BRCA 1 mutation gene is just a 50/50 chance; just a flip of a coin can decide your fate.

         The BRCA gene was passed from my grandfather to all 3 of his children. So not only females, but also males can be carriers of the gene. However, after Kathy’s diagnosis, my aunt was able to have a double mastectomy that saved her life.

         Even though I never got to know Kathy the way I wish I had (since I was only 4) I know that she is looking over me and has provided me the skills I need to be strong, brave, and courageous; and I will always be grateful for that. 


 -Reagan Bazarsky


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It feels good to live up to our values and do what is right. But what should we do if the people around us aren't? Should we get involved and try to influence them or change them? In this week's Torah portion Noah faced this very dilemma. God informed him that he was about to bring a huge flood to destroy the world that had become very corrupted and evil. God told Noah, who was literally the only good and honest man left in the world that only he and his family would survive to start the world all over. Although Noah was sad and hoped that everyone else would change their ways and also be saved, he made the mistake of not doing enough to influence them to change. We learn from here that it’s not only important to be good on our own, but it is also important to try to influence others to do what is right and have good values.

As well all know, there is no room for evil or hate in this world - we have enough of that already. This world is turning into a scary place, and the only thing we can do individually is try to make it better. If you see someone doing something not right, then tell them. Help not only yourself become a better person, but also others. By not only changing yourself to become a better person, but by also influencing others, you can save humanity as Noah could have done. Be a virtuous person, influence others to be good people, stand up for what’s honest and right, and you can make a change.

 -Noa Barazani 



Sammy Shabbat


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Shabbat Shalom everyone;

First of all I would like to thank Rabi Zev, Ariella and all the Johnsons for having us here today so we can enjoy another wonderful Shabbat.


As a member of Texas Sammy and a member of the Executive Board at Chabad, I welcome and thank every single one of you for coming here today. As you may or may not know, this is the 6th edition of Sammy Shabbat at Chabad ever since 2012, and I am happy to say that we have been able to do this ever since my cousin Jaime and couple of Sammy alumni started this great tradition with Rabbi Zev.


For those who don’t know me, my name is Julio Fascowich and I transferred to UT about 2 and half years ago and I will be graduating this coming May. Ever since I moved here, I have always been welcome by everyone, but I would like to give a special mention to Rabbi Zev and Ariella. Both of them have spent long hours making sure that every single student that walks into the Chabad feels welcome and part of the UT family, and that’s exactly how I felt when I first came for a Shabbat.


As this could be one of the few times for me to speak in public, which is something that I am actually terrified of, I believe that is important to mention all the great memories and friendships that I am taking from here.

Ever since I joined Chabad, I have always tried to help in every possible way, by helping get a minian on a weekday, set up the house for an event with the rest of the board, or even go get groceries. I am always happy to help, and even after all this, that’s not enough to thank both of our hosts.


I know I will still see all of you around this and next semester, but I wanted to acknowledge the great work that the Johnsons do here in Austin. I can’t thank them enough and I hope that both, Chabad and the relationship between Texas Sammy & Chabad, keep growing and hopefully, I will be able to come to a Sammy Shabbat as an Alumni.


Chabad is a great organization committed to show, teach and enhance the Jewish identity of every Jew that comes to this great university, undergraduate or graduate student. As we just celebrated Rosh Hashana, I want to wish Shana Tova to all of you and once again, thank the Johnsons for all the great things they have done for us. Lejaim!!


Thank you, Shabbat Shalom and please enjoy the rest of the amazing dinner that Ariella cooked for all of us. 

Dvar Torah










First and foremost, I’d like to thank Rabbi Zev for welcoming Sammy to Chabad Shabbat Services tonight to join his wonderful family in this beautiful home. Chabad here at UT is always a great place for Jewish students to come together for holidays, events, and amazing food!  

Tomorrow marks five years since I was Bar-Mitzvahed back home in Fort Lee, New Jersey. I remember specifically at the end… Rabbi Stern shook my hand and told me “This is The Beginning.” It wasn’t until years later that his words sunk in for me.

It was when my family dropped me off this past August…when my dad shook my hand and told me “This is The Beginning.”

Because that brings me to this week’s Parshah, Bereishit. Bereishit is about Beginning. G‑d created the world in six days. On the first day He made darkness and light. On the second day He forms the heavens. On the third day He sets the boundaries of land and sea. And so on until…  G‑d ceases work on the seventh day, and sanctifies it as a day of rest.

He soon formed the human body from the dust of the earth, a man, and, soon after, a woman, named Adam and Eve respectively. G-d commanded not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. But a serpent persuades Eve to violate the command and she shares the forbidden fruit with her husband. Consequently, because of their sin, it is decreed that all gain will come only through struggle and hardship.

The Beginning was difficult. But similarly to how the Beginning demonstrated in Bereishit didn’t seem to go as planned, it is reflective of how our lives may be today. I know that that day in August when my time in Austin had just only begun, it wasn’t easy. I knew a good friend of mine, but that couldn’t make up for the inevitable homesickness I’d later experience. But that’s when Chabad came into the picture. That’s when Sammy came into the picture. I was welcomed with absolute open arms by Rabbi Zev, his family, and the Jewish community here at UT. I joined an incredible brotherhood at Sigma Alpha Mu that I wouldn’t trade for the world, and it’s only been almost 2 and a half months! The support everyone here provides each other means the world to me and is something worthy of acknowledgement. Especially my parents and older brother…even from 1200 miles away, I’m confident they always have my back.

But remember… no one said the beginning was supposed to be easy. The beginning is something new, it’s foreign, it may just be out of your comfort zone. But with the right mindset and the right support, you will be able to get through anything…whether that’s research you want to begin, whether that’s an internship you’re nervous to start or apply for. And what I learned here at UT so far, coming to Chabad, being involved in Sammy, attending class…most of time… is to trust the process, trust the people around you, and trust yourself. Be grateful for where you stand now, but know that wherever you are, it could very well be just a new Beginning.

Shabbat Shalom.




Mayanot Birthright experience









Thank you to everyone who made my Birthright trip so meaningful! It truly was the experience of a life time and I’ll forever be connected to those I got to explore the Holy Land with!
- Jacob Taub






Mayanot Birthright experience






















Birthright is the reason that I will always stand for Israel. The connection that I made with the country can never be duplicated. I cannot be more thankful for the donors who are responsible for sending me on the trip of lifetime. The moments that we shared with each other will never be forgotten.

-Daniel Warner 



Mayanot Birthright experience









 To start, thank you for providing my entire bus and I the trip of a lifetime. I certainly had my expectations... everyone did... but this trip far exceeded those by light years. I had taken a trip to Israel with my family when I was about 5 years old; well before I could appreciate what this special place had to offer. This trip not only deepened my connection to my religion and my jewish roots, but further, allowed me to connect with roughly 50 people, some whom I knew very well prior to the trip, and some whom I met for the first time upon my arrival to the holy land.

The magic of birthright is evident, yet it is intangible. Indescribable, perhaps. That same feeling I got when I approached the Kotel for the first time - those who have been on birthright understand the physical energy that radiates off of the Wall - is the same feeling that comes over me when I reflect on what could be the greatest 10 days of my life. From visiting Misgav-Am, the kibbutz at the Lebanon border, to floating in The Dead Sea, to celebrating Shabbat in Jerusalem, I will remember it all.

Thank you to those that make this trip possible. In my particular case, it was the perfect way for me to end the chapter in my life titled, "The College Years." Though the trip focused on educating the jewish "youth" to deepen our appreciation for the religion, itself, and what our people have endured over the years (and it definitely did), it also acted as the perfect way for me to sit back and think about my four years at The University of Texas at Austin. What had I learned? What skills would I carry with me into the real world? What did I want my next four (or more) years to look like? Birthright oddly helped answer all of these questions because it grounded me.

I will repeat it, again. Thank you to those that made this trip possible. It was truly humbling!

Matthew Feigin




Mayanot Birthright experience

I have grown up with a love for Israel and had been three times before. I did not think anything could top my previous experiences but Birthright through Chabad at UT was the ultimate trip of a lifetime. Getting to experience Israel with my friends from UT and Rabbi Zev was absolutely amazing and lifechanging. The best part was seeing my friends that did not grow up religious or knowing much about Israel fall in love with the homeland.
--Cayla Sher 


Mayanot Birthright experience







 I can barely fathom the fact that I had the opportunity to travel across the world with close friends and new friends to the holiest place in the world. Israel should have seemed foreign to me, but it quickly became a place of comfort because of all the rich history and culture I could easily relate to from years of Judaic studies. Our Birthright experiences ranged from discussions about the power of relationships in the Mikvah in Zfat, to camping under the stars in the Bedouin tents, to singing “Bo-bo-bo-boker Tov” every morning in the bus. Spending Shabbat in Jerusalem was one of the most meaningful parts of the trip. It was so powerful to visit the Kotel, slip personal notes into the wall and participate in the Israeli dances with fellow Jewish women from all over the world. Celebrating the B’not Mitzvah, performed by Rabbi Zev, Director of the Chabad student center at UT Austin, in front of the Kotel for the two girls in our group was such a special moment as well. The Birthright trip could not have happened without the generosity of each donor and the dedication of each staff member. Also, the soldiers were such a big asset to our group because they gave us a taste of their life in Israel, and we began to realize that they were strong and mature in most ways but just like us in other ways. I would go back to Israel in a heartbeat. Mayanot 504 became such a tight knit group and the bonds we made are irreplaceable, and I will continue to cherish each one of them. I look forward to the day we all go back to Israel together. I cant express how thankful I am for Birthright, and how it helped bring me back to my Jewish roots and remind me why I am so proud to be a Jewish woman.

--Hailey Hoppenstein

Terumah, Michael Simozar's speech


This week’s parsha is “Terumah,” in which God gives Moses instructions on how to build a specific type of house - a mishkan, also called the Sanctuary. God tells Moses that the Jewish people will build the mishkan so that God can dwell among us. It will be built so that it can be easily dismantled, transported, and reassembled. This is the first we are told of Moses upon his arriving to the top of Mt. Sinai. We are told to contribute 13 different materials to this sanctuary and build two chambers. The inner chamber, the ark, was to contain two tablets engraved with the Ten Commandments; the outer chamber would contain a menorah.

We build the mishkan as a semi-portable sanctuary so that God can continue to dwell among us as we wander in the desert for the next 40 years. From, this, we take two big takeaways. The first being that we do not leave God behind when we move. As Jews were persecuted throughout the ages and were forced to leave their homes, God came with us. With each step and stop of the way, God was right alongside us, and helped us get through our arduous travels. We also take this to remember that God is with us through each step of our endeavors. Whether we face slavery, exile, or genocide, God dwells among us and gives us the strength to persevere as a people and as individuals.

So for those of us here tonight who may be struggling to live away from the homes we lived in for most of our lives, for those of us getting accustomed to new homes, and for those of us saying goodbye to our homes in Austin, we remember that through each step of travel and of hardship, we will always have a home here at Chabad and that we will always have a home in our hearts for God.





Mishpatim, Koby Sokoloff's speech



This week’s parsha is Mishpatim, meaning laws in Hebrew. This is what I would consider one of those boring Torah portions or at least one where you have to dig a little bit deeper to find any meaning for us today. In this Torah portion we read about all of the laws G-d wants us to follow as a part of our covenant with him. After receiving the Ten Commandments in last week’s parsha these laws seem small and less important. Additionally, many of them seem out of date. For example, we no longer have slaves, and if we did I’m pretty sure we would not let them free after six years of labor. That being said there was one law in this week’s parsha that stuck out to me.

It read, "Do not oppress the stranger, for you know the feelings of a stranger since you yourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Upon reading this law I immediately realized how important this was to our daily lives as Jews even in the year 2016. Let me explain.

Over this winter break I went on Birthright. It was my first time in the Jewish holy land, and I was a little worried. Not for my safety, as the security in Israel unfortunately is always something to worry about no matter when you go, but rather the concern that my whole bus of Jews would have such vastly different definitions of what it meant to be Jewish that it would be as if we were strangers to each other and our homeland. How was a bus full of 38 college students ranging from 19 to 26 years old from across the US going to possibly feel connected in their Judaism at a time when the Jewish diaspora is so divided. In the states in 2016 one of the first questions someone asks you after they find out you share your Jewish faith is: How to you associate yourself? Are you Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, or non-practicing? Immediately, whether we like it or not, it becomes a game of who is the better Jew. Do you keep kosher, do you go to temple every Friday or only on the holidays. The religious aspect of Judaism has seem to conquer the entirety of what it means to be Jewish and share a common culture and memory.

However, to my pleasant surprise over the ten days our bus of 38 became one tight knit misphucheh (family) bonded together by our Judaism. We did not look down upon one another as strangers if some of us kept kosher and others did not. We did not look down on one another if some had had a Bar/Bat Mitzvah when we were 13, and others had not. We did not look down on one another if one could sing all of the prayers, and another could hardly read a word of Hebrew. Instead, we realized that we were all family experiencing what it meant to be home. We all realized we had a special connection to the land of Israel that we previously did not know existed. Most importantly over the ten days we realized that if Israel and the Jewish people are to continue on we must be united as a people.

We are already a small group who have been and continue to be hated by many. Further our homeland is surrounded by enemies who would like nothing more than to wipe Israel from the map. Therefore, we cannot afford to be divided. We cannot afford to treat each other as strangers just because some of us go to Shabbat services every Friday night and others might be here for the only time this semester. We cannot treat each other as strangers just because we have all Jewish friends and grew up in a mainly Jewish town and others made their first Jewish friend once they came to UT. Like this week’s Torah portion teaches us we cannot treat each other as strangers because we know firsthand how that feels, and what happens as a result.

It creates apathy. It creates a world where Jews do not care about what is going on in Israel because they do not look at the Jews living there as their brothers and sisters. It creates a world where Israelis do not care about how Jews in the U.S., Europe, and all of the world are helping lead the fight for Israel’s survival away from the battle lines. It creates a scary world where the Jews are no longer united as one amazing group of people.

So my challenge to all of you is to never treat your fellow Jew as a stranger, even when it seems almost impossible to find any similarities between you. Because behind all of the differences is a shared history, culture, and value system. If we are all able to foster that connection with each other, the Jews with their unmatched ruach will continue on strong amidst all of the hatred and chaos in this world today. Shabbat shalom. 


Sydney Brobjorg's speech


Hello everyone and good Shabbos. 

This winter-break I had the opportunity to spend three amazing weeks in Jerusalem studying on a Mayanot program. The Mayanot program I attended was an all-girl yeshiva, or as the rabbi there would say is not a religious program, but a Jewish studies program.

Now, if you would have asked me 3 years ago if I would have even considered going to study at a yeshiva… willingly for 3 weeks, I would have thought you were crazy. I was always that girl in Sunday school never paying attention to what the rabbi was saying and occasionally getting kicked out of the class...  (sorry rabbi zev)

But through Chabad on campus and the Sinai scholar’s program I was exposed to a different view on Judaism that I found interesting and that I wanted to incorporate more of Judaism in my life.

Getting off the plane at Ben-Gurion, I was very nervous because I was going into a yeshiva program without knowing anyone there, I had no idea what to expect and was worried that the other girls would not accept me because I was not raised “religious”.. It also didn’t help with the cab driver even ask me if I was in the right place because girls who go into this building are always wearing skirts…  However, my expectations were totally inaccurate.

The moment I walked through the gate of Mayanot, friendly faces greeted me as if I have been there for months and had just returned from a holiday. I felt so comfortable around these girls and the Mayanot community made me eager to learn right away.  The girls in the program came from all different religious backgrounds and from all around the world and were there for the same purpose, to learn and study together. Since everyone grew up in different Jewish backgrounds this made the classroom discussions unique. Everyone brought something different to the table. And naturally the different classes spoke to us individually.

My favorite class there was on Sunday mornings where we would learn about the torah portion of the week.  While I was there, we were reading the Book of Exodus. Before Mayanot I barely knew what the book of exodus was about, sure I knew when it was when the Israelites were leaving Egypt, but I never knew or understood the main message behind it. Who would have thought that Moses was so humble that he was constantly asking Hashem why him, or the plagues had a significant reason behind them.

Along with the Torah studies, we were also taught skills on how to be a Jewish women, and positive habits that we should incorporate into our lives to become more balanced . these classes  encouraged giving and receiving in our relationships with family and friends. With these class we were taught skills from a book called the 7 habits of highly effective people. These habits ranged from being proactive=which means you can’t just sit around and expect things to happen….As well as having the end in mind and putting important things first.


One of the first classes I was in we learned the story of Rabbi Akiva. Long story short. He was a man that was traditionally Jewish, however he was not educated in Jewish studies. At the age of 40, he was encouraged by his wife to go to school, where he learned for 14 years, and became one of the greatest rabbis in history.

The moral of the story is. No matter of your background or religious background everyone has the potential to connect with their relationship to G-d.

It sounds so cliché, but all of the classes that were in the program were truly incredible. The courses were taught by Rabbis and Rebbetzins that were so full of knowledge and enthusiastic about their subject it was impossible not to participate and want to learn.

If you are interested in hearing more about the program, feel free to come up and ask me! I would definitely recommend the program to anyone that is interested in learning more about Judaism.


Hannah Lerner's speech


“The Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”

Abraham did not reply.  Abraham did not ask, “Why me?”
Abraham did not argue or protest.  Abraham did not hesitate.

“Abram went forth as the Lord commanded him.”

There are times when we are called upon, perhaps by family, perhaps by a friend, perhaps by circumstances, perhaps by an inner tugging at the heart, to encounter a situation when we do not know the outcome.  It may be moving to a new destination where we will have to make new friends; it may be a situation that is not necessarily safe; it may be circumstances that test our physical or emotional strength.

I have a cousin who after he graduated from The University of Texas in pre-med could have proceeded directly into medical school and be a practicing physician by now.  However, against advice from friends and family, he enlisted in the Air Force in Para-Rescue.  The training in itself is difficult to the extreme and many cannot meet the qualifications.  However, with God’s help, he completed six years of enlistment as a Para-Rescue, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is now in medical school.

Not all of us can answer such a call, but there are times when we all have felt a call to step out in faith because we feel compelled to do so.  And we must never underestimate what a single mitzvah can achieve, what a kind word or gesture can accomplish.  We may not be called as Abraham was, but we all do have that small inner voice that will lead us in the right direction if we are attuned to it.

Shabbat Shalom

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