By: Josh Blicker  | 

Hisoriri: Enhancing Shabbat for YU Students and Diverse Communities

Many small Jewish communities struggle to run lively, engaging services for all of their congregants. Enters Hisoriri, an organization started by RIETS student Dov Winston. Hisoriri sends Orthodox college students, from YU and other institutions, to enhance the religious community experience for those who live in smaller to medium sized Jewish communities by running programming for Yamim Tovim (Jewish festivals) and Shabbatot throughout the year.

Student Hisoriri participants run a number of educational and recreational programs specifically designed for a given community on each Shabbaton, a weekend-filled bonanza of religious and social activities for adults and children alike. On Friday night, the students organize and run engaging prayer filled services with inspirational singing and dancing. The students also provide explanatory prayer services—a running commentary of the meaning of each prayer during services—depending on the interest and religious education of the congregants.

Throughout the Shabbaton, the students give formal and informal sermons to members of the community—in place of the rabbi’s formal sermon or in a more informal setting, such as a small group— and lead prayer services. Hisoriri’s four Shabbaton coordinators work closely with communities to ensure that students create content and run activities that will prove engaging for each community. The students often run social programs custom-designed for each community, such as Torah oriented activities for the youth and discussions of topics that are of interest for community members.

Since September of 2015, Winston has created and filled a number of administrative and leadership positions to enhance the quality of the programs that Hisoriri runs. For example, the Torah committee, headed by Yeshiva College junior Yair Lichtman, creates engaging pamphlets that explain the Torah reading, rendering the religious service more meaningful for the congregants.

Similarly, the organization has created the position of Shabbaton coordinators , individuals who work closely with communities to arrange the student led Shabbatons. There are currently three full-time Shabbaton coordinators : Elliot Heller, Rachel Lelonek, Sharon Cuchacovich, a group of YU students who communicate with the leaders of different communities to ensure that Hisoriri provides them with the best students and activities for their congregation. According to Hisoriri’s assistant director, Moshe Kurtz, the personal attention Hisoriri gives to each community enables the organization to fulfill its mission statement: providing custom-designed programming for each community to which it sends students, enhancing the Shabbat experience of both the students and communities involved.

Hisoriri primarily sends groups of four students—typically comprised of two male and female students—to each community, to enable the group to provide more inclusive programming for community members. In specific cases, communities may request more male students to help arrange a minyan or more female students to run other specialized programs.

The organization rarely sends more than six students on a Shabbaton, for it may “ruin the cohesive team bonding experience,” Kurtz asserted. Kurtz also said that his experience with Hisoriri has enabled him to “improve my ability to give shiurim on a wide array of topics and expand my social circle beyond the people with whom I attended yeshiva and those who I see on a regular basis.”

YU students can choose to run Hisoriri programming for a host of reasons— from making new friends to spreading the beauty of the Torah lifestyle with others, to name a couple. Moshe Gelberman, a YC junior student majoring in Political Science, enjoyed his experience on Hisoriri, because “it allowed me to visit a new community, lain [publicly read]from the Torah and bring simcha [happiness] to the members”.

Winston and Kurtz have increased the frequency of the Shabbatons, especially as the number of its student members and participating communities have increased as of late. The student members of the organization have proven so exceptional that a number of new communities have started reaching out to the organization via the Orthodox Union’s department of Synagogue services. In the fall 2015 Semester, Hisoriri ran 14 Shabbatonim and they ran an additional 12 in the Spring semester of 2016. At print, Hisoriri had just completed their 10th Shabbaton for the fall 2016 semester. They plan on running at least 7 additional Shabbatonim between November 2016 and January 2017. They have also started to plan Shabbatonim for the Spring 2016 semester.

The immense success of Hisoriri programming can be highlighted by the following anecdote. Last semester, a group of Hisoriri students ran programming in Bayonne, a growing Jewish community located in New Jersey. After a student had delivered a particularly inspirational speech, he was approached by a middle-aged woman:“I stopped attending synagogue for the past few weeks, because I have not found it engaging, but today, for some reason, I felt compelled to come. Then I heard your speech, which has inspired me to start attending on a more regular basis,” the woman stated. Upon visiting Bayonne a few weeks later, Hisoriri student participants noted that the aforementioned woman was in the audience again.

The story mentioned above barely scratches the surface of the indelible positive impact that Hisoriri has had on countless Jews and Jewish communities since its inception. Under the leadership of Winston and Kurtz, Hisoriri’s future, and that of North American Jewry, looks brighter than ever before.