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.

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.

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