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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The Weight and Warmth of Torah

Before Rosh Hashana I posted the following on Facebook:

We tend to spend a lot of time at Rosh Hashana reflecting on the past year and/or thinking about the coming one.
This year I was given a charge I want to pass on…

Stay in the present.

(For fellow parents of young children for whom time for prayer can be fleeting, make the most of it. Stay present and connected. Pray the liturgy. Talk to God. Meditate. Do whatever you need to make the most of your time.)

Let us start this new year fully present, and take every opportunity given to remain so throughout the year.

Shana Tova!

Post by Melissa (Photo taken a year ago, but its the only recent one I have holding a Sefer Torah)

Post by Melissa (Photo taken a year ago, but its the only recent one I have holding a Sefer Torah)

I walked into services late after dealing with toddler-care needs, and was almost immediately asked if I would hold the Torah in the women’s section during the reading. Of course, I said yes. So what if that was my planned time to catch up on my own tefilla, holding the Torah is such a rare and special honor, that my prayers could wait. This was more important. This was staying present and in the moment in a most profound way. This was my own call to make the most of the time. This was making the most of my time in shul.

Feeling the weight of the Torah in my arms, the wood in my hands, the cloth against my neck – was deeper than words can say. I could feel it all the way through my body. It reverberated in my soul. It warmed me, in both a literal and metaphoric way.

And then it was time for the maftir reading and I had to hand it over. I immediately felt its absence. The lack of weight and warmth was devastating. I couldn’t focus as I longed to have that warmth across my body again.

I thought about that for two weeks. As life happened and I studied more Torah and I held my own Torah (my toddler), I couldn’t stop thinking about that physical weight and warmth of our holy Torah.

As Simchat Torah approached, I got excited. I couldn’t place why I was so thrilled at the upcoming chag. It is one I’ve always loved but this year I was particularly ready. I danced one hakafa with my toddler on my back in a carrier, and then he went to my husband and I was handed a Torah. And immediately, I felt it again. That buzzing in my soul I had felt on Rosh Hashana sitting and snuggling the Torah. Only this time, I was also dancing, and singing, and surrounded by other people feeling it. It only elevated me more. And yet again, all too soon the hakafa was over and I had to hand off the Torah.

During the day, I got to sing and dance and hold the Torah more. With each passing hakafa I felt my soul and spirit soar higher and higher. I cannot adequately find the words to express how meaningful I found the weight of the Torah in my arms and the warmth of it on my body.

I hold that with me as I go about my days, and am working to find a way to feel that same soul elevating sensation even without the physical trigger.