MMY's Hashkafa

 

I had the privilege of learning in MMY in 2004/2005, one of the most influential, enjoyable and exciting years of my life! I made friends with people from all over the world, some of whom are still amongst my closest friends. After leaving MMY, I began studying Economics at London’s City University. As much as I enjoyed university, my true passion was in community work and Jewish Education – two major influences as a direct result from my time in MMY.

After marrying my husband in 2007, and the birth of our son in 2009, a work opportunity for my husband presented itself in Hong Kong. Having lived my entire life in my beloved Golders Green community in London, it seemed that I would be moving to half way across the world to a very different Jewish community in Asia.  We agreed we would give it a shot as a short-term experience, a stepping-stone for our family before settling in Israel.

Read more: Shoshana Domnitz, MMY 5765

Although it was 18 years ago, my year at MMY has stayed with me and continues to impact my life until this day. I was part of MMY’s second cohort when it was still in somewhat of an experimental stage and could not be more grateful for such a positive experience. It was a year filled with learning Torah with very little distractions. Looking back, I realize how rarely that opportunity presents itself. I am still in touch with many of my friends from MMY and I was lucky to stay involved with MMY, both personally and professionally, many years after I left my year in seminary.

My year at MMY helped me realize that I was passionate about Jewish education, I returned to the states and studied political science at Columbia University. MMY had a major influence not only on my learning, but also on my desire to be an active member of my community. This led me to become the first female president of the Orthodox community at Columbia University.

Immediately after graduating Columbia in 2002, I made aliyah and moved to Jerusalem. I began working as Executive Director of Yavneh Olami, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating and motivating gap year and college students to be engaged with Israel and nurture their Jewish identities. At Yavneh Olami, we ran a summer internship program for college students interested in spending the summer in Israel. This program gave me the chance to work with MMY as a professional, since MMY hosted a special track to enable women to learn Torah while doing an internship in Israel.

After working at Yavneh Olami, I went on to work as the Senior Advisor for the Director of the Education Department at The Jewish Agency, an organization dedicated to connecting the global Jewish family by providing meaningful Israel engagement and facilitating Aliyah.

After working at the Jewish Agency for many years, I realized that I wanted to combine my interest in social action with Jewish education. I soon became a volunteer, then board member and finally Executive Director of an amazing organization called BeMa’aglei Tzedek, which uses education and social action campaigns to create a more just Israeli society informed and inspired by Jewish values. During that time, I founded Siach, an international network of Jewish professionals involved in social justice and environmental activism.

I have recently started working as Executive Director of OLAM, a collaborative venture and shared platform to promote global Jewish service – volunteering and service learning, international development and social justice advocacy – in order to support communities in need around the world. 


This past summer, I married my husband Zeev Ben Shachar, who also shares my passion for Jewish education and activism. This year he started teaching a class at MMY through an Israel advocacy organization, Jerusalem U, and am thrilled that he too is now part of my MMY family. It’s incredible that I have been able to track where MMY has helped lead me and I look forward to all that lies ahead!

Shira (Bloch) Wenig-MMY 5761

It’s strange to think that I never actually chose to go to MMY!  Coming from Australia, I had no concept of the range of post-high school learning options in Israel and what the differences between them might be. Thankfully, though, my parents knew better. It all happened in a rush - I still remember coming home from a (December) summer day at the beach to be interviewed by Rabbi Haber over the phone – and a couple of weeks later I was on the plane, headed for a January start at MMY.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that my parents were right and MMY was a perfect fit for me.


My year in MMY was an intense, inspiring and eye opening experience which is still with me twelve years later.


I returned home to study medicine at Monash University.  In the Melbourne Jewish community, everyone lives at home while going to university, which gives us the opportunity to be involved in the community.  We’re also lucky to have a vibrant Torah Mitzion beit midrash which caters primarily to university students. I was a madricha and Rosh Chinuch in Bnei Akiva for 3 years, and also spent lots of shira phototime in the beit midrash, building on the skills I had gained at MMY.  I had to cut back on this when I got married and the later years of medical school became more demanding, but the intention to remain deeply involved in learning has always stayed with me, even if the opportunity doesn’t always present itself.

My first child was born just after I finished medical school and six months later I started my internship. I found my hospital resident years incredibly stressful, trying to juggle long and unpredictable working hours with family and community commitments and having to constantly swap out of Shabbat and Yom Tov shifts (or worse, sometimes finding myself unable to swap out of them).  During this time I decided to go into General Practice (Family Medicine as it is known in the US and Israel). Thankfully I am now able to work part time, which gives me the opportunity to spend plenty of time at home with my husband Shmuli and our kids Maayan, Ariel, Rachel and Meital.


I am currently in the middle of General Practice training, which I hope to finish in a couple of years. I love working in GP because of the variety – you never know what medical problem will present itself next; the fascinating and rewarding process of working out what’s going on when someone comes in with a non-specific set of symptoms; the continuity of care and the opportunity to get to know patients over time; and the scope to incorporate anything and everything into your career.  My special interests are obstetrics & gynecology and pediatrics, and I’ve completed diplomas in each of these areas so that I can make them a focus of my practice.  I like being able to provide medical help in halachic situations, mostly involving niddah, and I’d also like to pursue an interest in public health – so who knows where GP will take me!


I have also always been interested in the intersection between medicine, ethics and halacha and would like to incorporate this into my career. Toward this end I did a course in medical halacha at Shaarei Zedek, and completed a diploma in philosophy concurrently with my medical degree. I’d love to combine these interests together with public health one day in Israel.


Community involvement for me mostly revolves around two activities: One is running a shul – over the last few years I’ve been involved in setting up a minyan for young families within the shul where my family davens.  Our minyan is now two years old, and from tefillah to kiddushim to social functions there’s a lot to do, but it’s really rewarding to see it becoming a warm family-friendly community where people can mix with others of similar hashkafa.  The second activity is judging and writing the paper for the Australian finals of the Chidon Hatanach, which is a great opportunity for chazara.


I think the greatest thing I learned at MMY is the responsibility to view everything in life from a Torah perspective and approach each issue from a halachic-hashkafic standpoint; that with any issue that arises – relating to family, work, friends, current affairs, education, anything – our starting point should be “What does halacha have to say about this?” Before I went to MMY I had a set of knowledge and skills in disparate areas, and MMY helped me mold it all into a framework that I had barely known existed, built on it, and gave me the language and tools to use this framework on my own and to ask for help when I’m out of my depth.  At MMY I started to discover that approaching all facets of life from a Torah perspective invests them with added meaning.


MMY also taught me the value of continued commitment to Talmud Torah and how the more we learn, the more we discover we don’t know. Dedicating time to learning gets harder as life commitments get in the way, especially for those of us not in the field of chinuch, but it is something we can always continue at our own pace as long as the desire doesn’t wane.


It’s really amazing how the “no such thing as a former student” phrase is taken seriously at MMY and more than a decade later I am still in touch with my teachers and get to spend real quality time with them when they come to Melbourne on recruiting trips.  For me it’s a very special way of maintaining the relevance of an extremely formative year of my life.

 

Sara Munk, MMY 5761

(Toronto, Canada, Assistant Principal)

To this day, I think I still may be the only MMY alumnus who had a “Shana Gimmel”. I didn’t really go Shana Gimmel though. After my first year in MMY (14 years ago!), I went to Stern and started as a Biology major. I took Bio and Chem with labs, and needless to say worked pretty hard. But something felt like it was missing. I thought about switching to Barnard, applied to transfer and got in. For a reason I still don’t know, I wrote to Rabbi Katz to ask his opinion. He suggested switching colleges wasn’t going to help solve my feeling of emptiness; we discussed the possibility that I come back for a semester in MMY. I thought this was crazy. Six months later, I was on the plane to Israel.

It was during those extra four months in Israel that I realized I wanted to be involved with Jewish Education. When I was younger, I would tell my parents all the time that I wanted to be a Chumash teacher. I graduated Stern after 3 semesters and luckily landed a job with Kushner Yeshiva High School teaching Tanach. I got my masters in Jewish Education from Azrieli while I was teaching. The first few years were so tough. I would wake up at 5 in the morning to prepare because I was too tired at night after a full day of teaching. As time went on and I gained more experience I was able to concentrate on becoming a better teacher. I also started coaching the girls’ basketball team, which for those who know me should be no surprise. I loved being able to educate in a completely different way outside of the classroom. Over the course of time I developed a course in modern Jewish History. Since my second year in education I was also working as the Israel Guidance Counselor. This gave me the privilege of being able to continue my relationship with MMY. While working with MMY in this realm, I saw what a well-run and professional institution it was.

I think the turning point of my career was when I met my husband, Netanel. He comes from a family of educators and he was a good sounding board for my educational ideas. We got married in December of 2008 and have since had 3 children: Gadi, 5, Orly, 3, and Dani, 1. A year and a half ago we moved to Toronto. We both got great jobs here- Netanel as a personal injury lawyer and me as an assistant principal in Ulpanat Orot. It has been a real journey to say the least. We live with no family here and knew almost no one when we came, but are slowly acclimating to the community and climate.

Upon reflection, it is very hard to articulate what MMY has provided for me in mere words. But for certain I know that I received the religious foundation I needed to get to the point that I am today. I developed the love and desire for learning that helped give me the knowledge and skills I need to teach. I was exposed to role models who exemplified what it meant to live a life dedicated to Torah. I remember the particular impact going on Heritage had. It deepened my sense of Jewish identity and connection to Israel. I also made the greatest friends while in MMY, and while I am not the greatest at keeping in touch, the friendships I made endure until today. I feel honored to be able to continue my relationship with MMY and hope that it continues for many years to come.

MMY's Chain of Educational Tradition

educators

Many MMY talmidot whose passion and committment to Torah learning was sparked during their year in Israel are nervous about whether that passion will carry over into the next stages in their lives.  Of course, one solution to this problem is to attend a Jewish university which provides with Torah classes such as Yeshiva University or Touro.
Tali Kern (MMY 5769) is one such student who studies at Stern. When she saw Rabbi Katz on one of his recent trips to New York, she  shared her excitement about her Judaic studies classes there.  He pointed out that two of her teachers, who have phenomenal repuations in Stern, are actually MMY talmidot themselves.  In fact, he said, both Mrs. Nechama (Friedman) Price and Mrs. Yael (Klein) Leibowitz not only went to MMY, but they were in the same machzor (5758), and were chavrutot for in Mrs. Isaacson's Parshanut class!  At roughly the same time, Anna Bernard (MMY 5770) had a conversation in New York with Rabbi Haber in which she mentioned something she had learned from one of her professors at Touro’s Lander College.  Imagine the scene when Rabbi Haber informed her that Dr. Dana (Wenig) Fishkin is also an MMY talmida, from the very same machzor 5758!   Recognizing the significance of these conversations, we decided to discuss this matter more closely with both "generations" of these women - the teachers and their students - and hear what they had to say about this chain of MMY continuity.
All three of the professors commented on the influence their year of learning in MMY had on their lives and careers.  They agreed that one of the qualities MMY instilled within them was the desire to explore Torah knowledge  and maximize their learning.  Mrs. Leibowitz said, “The experience of learning at MMY had the wonderfully multifaceted effect of educating me so that I felt equipped to handle a sophisticated level of learning, while simultaneously opening up portals to vast storehouses of knowledge, so that I was acutely aware of how little I knew.”  Mrs. Price said she felt encouraged not only to learn more, but to think independently and formulate her own thoughts: “The teachers provided the physical resources for me to prepare my own articles, and the publication of the school journal Kol Mevaseret allowed me to print those very same articles and distribute them to my peers and friends.  Furthermore, and most importantly, members of the faculty would read my articles and have long discussions with me about what I wrote. These conversations became the basis of further exploration and development of ideas.” In this way, MMY served as the springboard for their future careers in women’s higher Torah education.  In fact, Mrs. Price continued, “Many of the

"Many of the foundations of my knowledge and skills that led to teaching my classes were first fostered at MMY...
foundations of my knowledge and skills that led to teaching my classes were first fostered at MMY.  It was there that I had my introduction to learning Gemara with Rabbi Haber, who made the experience fun and exciting.  This, in turn, motivated me to push myself to take Gemara courses in Stern and, subsequently, to learn in the Post College Talmud Program.”  Mrs. Leibowitz echoed, “The variety of teachers and personalities that I was exposed to at MMY enabled me to hone in on those facets of Torah study that appealed to me the most, and laid the groundwork for what I teach today.”
Dr. Fishkin remarked, “MMY imbued me with a deep appreciation for textual analysis. I fondly recall how Rabbi Lerner guided students through the nuanced layers of halacha, beginning Hilchot Shabbat in the Chumash and tracing its development through the responsa of modern rabbinic authorities.  In Shuli Mishkin's Israeli geography class, we placed personal experience – gained by visiting local sites – alongside textual sources about the history and evolution of Jerusalem. The majority of my classes exposed me to various methods of reading and using texts. Whether teaching the history or literature of the Medieval or Renaissance periods, I strive to create dialogues between my students and the pre-modern texts. I encourage students at Lander College for Women to engage with the texts before them, often resulting in very insightful and personal discussions. It is this valuable skill, sparked by my learning at MMY that I aim to instill within every student in my courses.”
When Rabbi Katz told Tali that Mrs. Price and Mrs. Leibowitz both went to MMY, Tali admitted being a bit surprised because their teaching methods are quite different from one another. “I realized that coming from MMY doesn’t automatically give you a certain style of teaching and learning. There really is no ‘typical MMY student’,” Tali reflected. “I feel privileged to be part of this MMY mesorah. My teachers were once students, and
"There really is no ‘typical MMY student’..."
I will also, G-d willing, be a teacher to others in the near future.”

This enthusiasm was shared by her teachers as well. “I get much pleasure being able to teach MMY girls,” said Mrs. Price, “I feel a connection with them, based on our shared background and experiences. It's always nice to keep connected to MMY, to be able to hear about its continued successes and to see some of those successes sitting in front of me in class.”
Reflecting on the same connection, Anna commented, “Dr. Fishkin is really very involved in the well-being of her students.  Her warm attitude definitely makes it easy for students to approach her with questions on the subjects she teaches, and she also assists in general academic counseling. When I discovered that she was an MMY alumna, I was very excited and realized that no matter where I go, even outside of Israel, there are always ways to connect back to MMY!”
It is clear that the enthusiasm for learning that MMY students leave with is palpable. We, the staff and administration at MMY, observe this with pride, and wish all our students and future teachers continued success.