On Shabbos, Parshas VaY’chi, Emet Outreach held a community Shabbos of Chizuk and Inspiration in Jamaica Estates and Fresh Meadows. “This was a watershed moment for our organization,” said one Emet staff member. “We had the exciting opportunity to share our success with this amazing community, and we’re hoping to build on our new partnership by working together moving forward.”
Founded 15 years ago, Emet has been a Queens staple for many years. Last year, it moved into its new headquarters in Jamaica Estates, and has been welcomed graciously by the surrounding neighborhoods.
Five shuls participated in this jam-packed Shabbos: the Bukharian Jewish Congregation of Jamaica Estates, Bet El, Beit Eliyahu, Anshei Shalom, and Kehillat Avodat Hashem. Six Emet rabbis and staff members participated, most spending the entire Shabbos locally with their families. Rabbi Akiva Rutenberg, Rabbi Mordechai Kraft, Rabbi Reuven Kigel, Rebbetzin Devorah Kigel, Rabbi Nissim Musheyev, and Rabbi Hersch Goldberger all spoke at local shuls, sharing divrei Torah and words of chizuk during Friday night services, Shabbos morning services, and s’udah sh’lishis. In addition, two community lectures were given by Rabbi Kraft and Rebbetzin Kigel.
Beyond the uplifting messages, Emet’s staff raised awareness of their mission to connect with unaffiliated college students who have minimal yeshivah backgrounds and show them the beauty of Torah. With programs on eight campuses, Emet attracts college-aged adults, many of whom are searching for answers and meaning, and teaches them all about Judaism and Torah observance. Rabbi Musheyev observes that what makes Emet unique is that it remains connected with students for years after they graduate. “Unlike other organizations, Emet develops deep relationships with students that last throughout their lives. We have programming and divisions dedicated to young professionals and married couples, most of whom have been homegrown and nurtured through the Emet system.”
In 15 years since its inception, the Queens-based organization has had enormous success. It has over 6,000 students and alumni, and its couples’ division has over 1,200 members. Each year, hundreds of classes are given on and off campus, over 100 Shabbatons are held, a weekly Beis Midrash Program, and the organization offers community lectures, one-on-one counseling, learning, and educational trips to Poland, Prague, Israel, Miami, Arizona, Los Angeles, as well as oceanside weekend alumni retreats, and much more. Many Emet students have become fully Torah observant, raise frum families, and many go on to attend yeshivah in the summer and after they graduate.
Rabbi Musheyev told community members that Yaakov Avinu sent Yehudah to Mitzrayim to open a yeshivah, because the Jewish people cannot survive without a Jewish education. Today, thousands of Jewish college students in the New York City area are severely lacking Jewish education. Tragically, they are assimilating and intermarrying. The average college student who grew up with limited background has no desire or motivation to go to shul, keep Shabbos, or be involved with anything Jewish.
Yet astoundingly, many of them are extremely receptive to learning about their heritage and discovering the beauty of Torah. But it takes manpower to find and connect with these students. Rabbi Musheyev points out that Emet is fulfilling a major need. “These students would not come to us. We go to them and bring them Judaism. Ten fellowship classes per semester, food, and Shabbatons, trips all subsidized. We do all this is to attract students and build a lasting relationship.”
Many community members were surprised and awed by all that Emet has done. They were unaware of the pressing need and urgency across local campuses, and the dangers of assimilation by thousands of Jews who live so close to their community. One staff member remarked, “This showed congregants problems that they were unaware of, and the many programs Emet offers to fill that void.”
Throughout the community, approximately 400 people participated in this historic, eye-opening event. Rabbis and board members partnered with Emet on this initiative, and graciously welcomed staff members to join their congregations. They were extremely supportive of Emet’s message and mission. “This Shabbos was a tremendous kiddush Hashem,” said Rabbi Goldberger.
In addition to hearing from staff members, congregants witnessed a genuine glimpse of EMET’s work. Over 70 St. John’s University students and their friends participated in a special Shabbaton, with lavish catered meals at the Bukharian Center of Jamaica Estates, held in conjunction with the Shabbat of Chizuk. These members of the school’s Jewish Students Association, many of whom attend EMET Fellowship classes each week, have partnered with the organization on many joint programs. This large crowd of enthusiastic students gave the community a very tangible picture of the work JSA and EMET do in tandem.
Emet’s leadership was extremely encouraged and energized by the support and warm reception they were greeted with from these communities. They’re looking forward to a continued partnership with local shuls, and hope this is the first of many events, in which they can work with community leaders and members to continue their mission and – with Hashem’s help – enjoy ongoing success.