My Maharat Life

Learning in yeshiva last year (Photo: Uriel Heilman, JTA)

I am a future Maharat.

I am a wife and a mother. A sister and a daughter. A friend. A social worker. A writer.

I am a lover of Torah and Judaism. Of Jews and the Jewish community.

I am learning Isur v’Heter and Orach Chayim. I am learning Masechet Ketubot, practical rabbinics, and pastoral Torah.

I am learning a book of Nach and a perek of Gemara as a part of the #womenleadersfortorah siyyum on Tanach and Gemara.

I am filled with hakarat hatov to JLIC, Nishmat, and Pardes for providing me with strong Orthodox women Torah teachers, and to each of those women individually for their leadership, scholarship, and mentorship. Also, to my primary mentors – women who happen to be rebbetzins but are learned leaders in their own right.

I am a rabbinic intern at The Center for Jewish Living at JCC Manhattan and I get to spend time helping infuse Judaism into people’s lives in real and practical and tangible ways across the lifespan.

I am passionate about working in diverse Jewish communities and in helping people engage their Judaism. I am an Orthodox Jew (without any modifiers). I am no less an Orthodox woman or a Jewish communal leader because of my desire to combine them.

I cannot speak for any of my colleagues at Yeshivat Maharat, or any other institution training Orthodox women for leadership positions. I can only speak for myself. And for me, being at Yeshivat Maharat makes it possible to live my dreams while also being true to who I am.

This is my Maharat life.
I heard my call and I am here. Hineni.

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Leading the Exodus

We read this past week about the moment at which three dynamic leaders stood at the edge of the sea, and how different their experiences were surrounding that moment. A mentor shared a bit about something she spoke about and it really made me think about those three leaders – Moshe, Miriam, and Nachshon.

Moshe leads the cause and then stops to pray when he feels he’s unsure of how to move forward – literally and figuratively.

Miriam packed her timbrel, inspired others to pack theirs, and was ready to celebrate the salvation she believed was coming.

Nachshon stepped right into the water and hoped the people would follow and God would provide – the ultimate display of faith.

These three leaders were all necessary, as are their leadership styles today.

We need people who are slow and deliberate and look for guidance along the way. We need people who are optimistic and ready to inspire others with their passion. We need people to boldly step out and take the first risks.

We need modern day leaders like these three to work in tandem to continue guiding Am Yisrael on our journey. It didn’t end when we exited Egypt or entered Eretz Yisrael, in fact it had only just begun.

Its my birthday and I’ll blog if I want to

Post by Melissa

Post by Melissa

I’ve started to write a few blogs recently, but feel like its weird to just dive back in after my hiatus without saying hello and giving some closure. So, I figured what better day than my 32nd birthday to do just that!

I had a very difficult pregnancy, then a very intense labor and delivery, and then got to snuggle an adorable baby boy at the end of February. He is quite possibly the cutest giant tiny human on earth (and I’m not the only one who thinks so). At this point, I am planning on not posting his photo or many stories about him on the blog, though I do occasionally post it in semi-public places online, the blog is more public than I’m willing to make his life right now.

In June we left Israel as planned, just days before the kidnapping and the subsequent turmoil and war. It broke my heart to be in CA and not in Israel, but alas – it was what it was.

We mostly spent our summer in CA with my dad, learning Gemara, visiting people and places in San Diego, and getting ourselves reacclimated to life in America. After two years in Israel, it definitely took time to get used to customer service, not bagging our own groceries, and having to check for food being kosher.

Also this summer we had the unveiling of my mom’s tombstone and the whole family was together for that, which is always nice – though I hate it has to be for such sad reasons. We tried to balance the sadness of that by the joy of spending the time with the youngest member of the family and remembering the cycle of life.

We did take some time to sign our lease in NY and then visit our friends and family in Denver, reconnecting with a place that meant so much to us for so long. And we took some amazing family photos and new headshots (as seen above) with our beloved wedding photographer/friend.

Our first Shabbat in our new community was my mom’s first Yarthzeit and yesterday was my first real Yizkor, so I’m now in a new phase post-aveilut. I’m trying to embrace all the things which reminded me of her and were too hard to deal with last year as ways of honoring her memory in the coming years. (This includes recognizing and celebrating birthdays, hence my acknowledging that in this post.)

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What now, you ask?

Well, we are finally living the dream.

D (who is now going by his Hebrew name, so shall hence forth be N as in Nachum) is now a first year student at Yeshivat Chovevi Torah (YCT).

I am also a first year student – at Yeshivat Mahara’t! (Surprise! Only not, right?)

When Jessica and I started this blog, N going to rabbinical school was the goal but it seemed far off, and then as life happened it kept getting pushed back – so its crazy to think that its finally happening. And that I’m doing it too.

Not surprisingly, having a high-needs baby and being in my first year at Yeshivat Mahara’t already keep my plate quite full. Yet, I find writing cathartic and good for processing my thoughts – so I’m hoping to post semi-frequently both here and on the JOFA blog, “The Torch,” but I make no promises on frequency or remembering to cross post the ones from JOFA.

I hope you all had a wonderful year, and a rejuvenating Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur. 🙂

Review: Talmudic Images

Post by Melissa

Post by Melissa

Anyone who has ever learned the Talmud, be it in daily practice of Daf Yomi or a single shiur, knows that the wisdom of our sages is vast and keeping track of the sages themselves is quite a task. This is where Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz comes to our rescue with Talmudic Images, one of the recently released books in The Steinsaltz Library from MAGGID, a division of Koren Publishers Jerusalem.

Rabbi Steinsaltz brings the knowledge only someone of his vast learning and teaching experience can to this book, as he chronicles the lives of thirteen of the most often cited sages from both the Tannaitic and Ammoraitic generations. He utilizes the Talmud to paint a picture of the lives of our sages, weaving together stories from different masechtot (volumes) and incorporating bits of history along the way. Having access to the bigger picture of their lives allows us to better understand their positions and approaches to the debates in which we see their names bandied about.

In addition to the fact sharing, Rabbi Steinsaltz elucidates on the reasons for each sage’s particular approach to halacha, based on the information he has pieced together about their lives.  These insights are truly eye opening for the reader, and allow for a much deeper comprehension of the nuances of the positions which are upheld by our greatest sages time and again.

After having completed the monumental task of translating and commenting on the entire Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz is in a unique space to be able to offer such comprehensive overview, while keeping it concise and interesting. He brings enough material on each sage to allow the reader to get a clear view of who they were and the historical context in which they lived, without being overwhelmed by too many details.

This book is not only an interesting read as a stand alone book, it is an essential reference (not to be confused with Rabbi Steinsaltz’s Talmud Reference Guide) for the casual and regular Talmud learner.

Personally, I am excited to be able to have this book in our collection for a lifetime of review, and intend to purchase Biblical Images – a similar piece about the people in TaNaCh, as well.

 

*Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this honest review, though I did receive a complimentary copy of the book. 

Why (not) Pardes?

Pardes Logo – Post by Melissa

Since moving to Israel nearly nine months ago, I cannot count the number of times I have had the following conversation with people I meet once it has been established that I am learning at Nishmat….

NewPerson: And your husband? What is he doing this year?

Me: He is learning at Pardes.

NewPerson: Why aren’t you also at Pardes?

The answer is simultaneously incredibly simple and incredibly complex: Nishmat was the right fit for me for this year. I wrote about it when I first posted that I was coming here, so I won’t get into all those details again now. However, I have felt all year that I could have been just as happy at Pardes, and I would have grown just as much – though perhaps in slightly different ways and speeds.

On the surface level, the two institutions appear so very different from one another. Nishmat is an Orthodox women’s midrasha and Pardes is a pluralistic co-ed yeshiva. But realistically they are both serious places of learning with a diverse faculty and student body, where students learn Gemara, Tanach, and Jewish thought. Both are places where “young adults” take a year (or more) out of their lives in order to learn more Jewish text and explore the land of Israel.

While I’m on the more “liberal” end of the spectrum at Nishmat and more “traditional” end of the spectrum at Pardes, I am definitely on the spectrum in both places and love the different conversations and learning that come from that. (I use quotes there because I’m not really sure how to define it and that seems a good option without getting into too many labels, which you know I am not into!)

I have friends from both places and can speak about anything with any of them – from obscure things in the Gemara to the bizarre thing I saw in the shuk. Yes, some of those friends are guys and/or future rabbis of both genders and all denominations at Pardes, but that only adds to the experience. Its nice to interact with people who bring a different perspective to the table. Not that it doesn’t happen at Nishmat too (after all, my “super chevruta” this year is a 19 year old who made aliyah on her own last summer but more about her later), but its on an even larger level at Pardes.

So as this year started to wind down and I had to make my plans for next year, one thing really stood out to me. Why (not) Pardes? I knew I wanted to continue learning full time for the next year (and beyond), so I needed to be someplace with serious learning for a 30 year old English speaking woman, and I knew I wanted more Gemara. With those factors, plus what I know about the amazing community that is Pardes, it became clear that there was only one right choice. I spoke with some of our friends there and got more excited about the possibilities that would await me, and then broached the topic with my mentor who also agreed that for what I wanted, it is really the best option here in Jerusalem, and I applied.

And I am now happy to say that next year I will be joining the Pardes community, not as a wife or a Monday night seder attendee, but as a student.

M & D learn together on Monday nights at Pardes already, and are excited to do it more next year!

M & D learn together on Monday nights at Pardes already, and are excited to do it more next year!

Living History

I am still in shock over these experience, but knew that I needed to find a moment to actually write about it, so I am going to attempt to encapsulate two of the most amazing experiences of my life in words.

1) Maccabean Mikvah!

The 8th day of Chanukah, the women of Tochnit Alisa (the English language college and beyond program at Nishmat) had a lovely tiyul. One of our instructors live in Modi’in, just down the road from a relatively recently discovered archaeological site – a Hashmonean era site for Jewish ritual life. For those of you who might not be making the connection, the Maccabean revolt was in the Hashmonean era, so visiting the site on the last day of Chanukah was a pretty amazing way of connecting to history, both religiously and physically.

Post by Melissa, who appears here in the mikvah!

Post by Melissa, who appears here in the mikvah!

As we approached the site, it became clear that this was a unique find. The group gravitated towards the large space that was once the Beit Knesset (area where they prayed), however I was distracted by a series of steps leading into a hole in the ground. Could it be? Was I really seeing an ancient mikvah? Our guide began to speak about the space and referenced the mikvah and as quickly as I could, I scurried away from the group and back over towards the mikvah to investigate. I walked down the steps and just stood there – soaking up the moment. Here I was, standing the space where women (and men) had immersed thousands of years ago, in an era where ritual impurity had a meaning beyond what we can imagine.

I have a personal tradition to always think about my ancestors upholding the laws of taharat hamishpacha and immersing in the mikvah around the time of my own immersion. I always take some time in the waters to reflect upon their living nature and that of the history which they inherently tie me to. Now, that will take on a whole new meaning. I can connect to this phyiscal space as well and the emotions of really feeling that connection.

2) Holy of Holies!

Last week, Tochnit Alisa again had an outing. This time, we went to the Generations Center and on a Kotel Tunnel tour. (It was a nice touch that our guide for the latter was my Nach teacher!) One of the first things we saw on the tour was another ancient mikvah! Though this one was through a piece of glass on the floor because it was so very deep compared to where the “floor” of the tunnels is, it was still an amazing thing to see.

Women pray continuously near the Kodesh Kodeshim

Women pray continuously near the Kodesh Kodeshim

As we walked along and stopped to learn about the history I kept noticing religious women bustling past. At one point, we looked at the various archways and discovered that just ahead of us was an archway, directly underneath Wilson’s Arch – which is the closest place that men can pray to the Kodesh Kodeshim, the holy of holies from the time of the Beit HaMikdash, the ancient temple in Jerusalem. It turns out, there is a place directly under that in the tunnels where women can also pray. However, unlike the men’s area – there are always women there and anyone who knows how to get there can go at almost any time they want. We stopped in this place and our guide/my teacher allowed us some time to daven (pray) there. I stood in place and sung my favorite meditative line to myself and was almost in tears. I felt so connected to the history of the Jewish people and the plight of the temple eras and its destruction.

While I am the first to say that living in Israel is not an idyllic thing, these moments of being a part of the living history of the Jewish people is what makes the experience so important and profound. I am not going to start saying everyone needs to move here or make aliyah, but I do think it is important to take some time to get to experience the places which connect us all on a deeper level than we can cognitively undertand or expect.

Mel’s First “Quarterly” Review…

Post (and photo) by Melissa

After three months in Israel, I find that people tend to ask about the same things, so I thought it might be nice to address the big picture of them quarterly. Both to keep you all in the know and for my own reflection on the journey.

So without further adieu, here is my first quarterly review! (Yes, its been almost an extra month, but with the lack of time I have it took longer than I anticipated to write it out. So the “quarter” may be a bit flexible as we go forward.)

Learning:

Amazing! Seriously, I cannot imagine anything more amazing to do with my time right now. Nishmat has been more enlightening and challenging (in a good way) than I ever could have imagined. With the growth in my skills already, I cannot wait to see where they are by the end of the journey. (D is also loving his learning and feels that Pardes is the right fit at this time and that it will prepare him well for the next step.)

Living:

We live in a small 1.5 room (a studio with a door to the “bedroom”) apartment in Nachlaot, which is an experience.  Luckily, we’re really never home so its not such a big deal that it is tiny and relatively sparsely furnished. We love how centrally located it is – we each are able to walk to school most mornings and take the bus home via direct routes, and have pretty much everything we could want in a close proximity. Plus we get to shop at the shuk which we have a love-hate relationship with.

Exploring:

Unfortunately, we really haven’t done much of this yet. We have such busy days of learning and had such a rough start here that we haven’t had time. We do spend a lot of time walking the streets of the city though, so thats something at least! We have done a few tiyulim (trips) in the city and hope to do some more over Chanukah when we have a few days off from classes.

Community:

While we live in Nachlaot and there is a great community here, it hasn’t really been where we’ve clicked. We find ourselves spending many Shabbatot schlepping out to Talpiyot/Baka where many of the Pardes students live to spend time with them. It is such an amazingly diverse group and it meals are always fun and engaging. We have also connected to the Spanish-Portugese community here and enjoy the one Shabbat a month we get with them (and any other stray meals we pick up along the way) As of now our favorite places to pray are Shira Hadasha, Yakar, Spanish-Portugese, and Addes (well, only D has been to Addes, but he enjoys it and at some point I’ll make it over there with him.)

As you can see, there isn’t really any strong sense of community in our experience yet, but hopefully as we continue to settle we will find it a bit more.

Food:

Our kitchen is a two burner hot plate, so we’ve had to get a bit creative, but it is a fun adventure – or so we are telling ourselves. Luckily we live close to the shuk, a grocery store, a small market and when all else fails – there is not a lack of kosher food ready for purchase. (One advantage to not being in Denver anymore, I suppose.) Oh, and many of you will be pleased to know that I now enjoy chummus!

Safety:

I said shortly after I moved here that I was more concerned about my safety as a result of the people driving in Jerusalem than any current activities of terrorists, and I still feel that way. However, the reality the number of rockets which continue to rain down in other areas of the country and the issues around our borders do not evade me. This is a constant war zone and that is scary, however it is only in the back of my mind and not something I feel that I face in my daily activities at all. I do not put myself in the regions where it is a larger concern intentionally, but my heart is with all those who make a life there for one reason or another

Surprising realizations:

Cats, clementines, and cobblestone. Seriously, I knew there were a lot of cats, produce was better, and the streets were old – but until I experienced these things first hand I could not have begun to really grasp it. Also, everything really is uphill both ways!

We are also very surprised at the level of homesickness we have going on. It has not disapated at all really since we arrived, and at times only increases. People keep telling us it will get better, but we are still waiting for that to happen.

We also really miss Sunday. We call is Israeli Monday now, and we miss it. If anyone can figure out how to get a real weekend day into the world of Israel, we’re all ears!

Rak b’yisrael (Only in Israel):

– The prevalnce of honking and fireworks never ceases to amaze me.

– Men in tight tshirts and kippot smoking while talking Torah at the bus stop.

– Busses which randomly leave one person at the bus stop when they decide they have enough people on board.

– The complete lack of structure or timeliness. Nothing happens on any sort of schedule, even if there is one.

– Religious men dressed for Shabbat and carrying around their guns.

– Soldiers everywhere, just doing normal things.

– Actually being able to find tzniut (modest) clothing in stores.

I’m sure thee are many things to be said, but there are the ones that are sticking with me now. If you have a question I haven’t answered, feel free to ask it in the comments and I will do my best to respond quickly and honestly.

{Note: I am here to learn and sharing that as a part of the journey we are on to being a rabbi and rebbetzin. I am not here to discuss the politics of this country. If you want to do that, please go elsewhere. I will not approve any comments which are political in nature. You have been warned.}