Miriam (Shaffren) Hirschman – MMY 5759

Alum profile Miriam Hirschman

 Miriam (Shaffren) Hirschman works in marketing research. After many years in Bergenfield, NJ, she and her family made Aliya this past summer to Alon Shvut. We recently caught up with her to interview her.

MMY: Let’s start way back when you were in high school. Do you remember what caused you to choose MMY (which had only been in existence for two years) for your year in seminary?

MH: Interesting question – digging back in the annals of memory to high school is a bit taxing! In truth, though, I do remember quite well why I chose MMY, maybe because it’s such a weird reason.

I think it’s very hard to get a sense of Israel schools when you are in HS. They all start to sound the same – a lot of learning, love of Israel, tiyulim…what makes each one unique? And this was only (ha!) 14 years ago, back when you could probably count on one hand the number of girls Israel schools there were. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be for girls choosing now!

Anyway, one thing I knew for certain was that I wanted a place that offered a high level of learning, including Gemara, and a place where the girls would take that learning seriously. I narrowed down my choices to two based on the type of learning I was looking for, but how to assess whether the place attracted serious girls? In my 12th grade wisdom, I decided that since MMY had a curfew and the other school I was considering did not, a school with a curfew would be more likely to attract students who meant business!  (Funny logic…and I don’t regret my decision for a second, but as it turned out I knew many girls who went to the other school – and met many more – and they were also a great crew!)  Clearly, though, Hashem knew what was right and helped me decide!

MMY: Tell us about your experiences in MMY – what particularly made a strong impact on you? 

MH:  Wow, I think that’s harder than the first question. I think one of my favorite things about MMY was the way the rebbeim and teachers represented a beautiful range of styles and hashkafot. And no matter who the teacher was of any given class, their goal was the same – to get the talmidot to think, to question, to explore, and to find. One line I remember we used to quote a lot was “Yesh al mi lismoch,” not because anyone was kula-shopping (or chumra-shopping, for that matter), but more because it drew our attention to the fact that with library of sifrei Tanach, Gemara, Halacha, Hashkafa, as they used to say about the yellow pages, “if it’s out there, it’s in here.” That’s a message I carry with me to this day and, I think, one of the most beautiful things about Torah: that it has something to offer everyone and has something to say about even the most mundane aspects of life.

MMY:  Is there anything about your experiences that you understand differently or that looks different with the passage of time?

MH:  Not so much about my experiences, but about how time changes as life progresses. To be “kovea itim laTorah” – who needs to be kovea itim when you have all the time in the world? It seemed so optimistically easy to find time for learning in the years immediately post MMY. But as life goes on and gets increasingly busier – family, home, job, appointments, carpool, cooking, email, kids’ homework, etc. – finding that time becomes harder and the only way to do it is to be kovea – to plan for it and set it aside.

MMY: Tell us about your professional life.

MH: My professional life has taken a bit of a zig zag (from business to teaching to business), but Baruch Hashem there are two things I love. For the last 6 years – before making aliya this summer – I worked at a small company in NY. What I learned very quickly there (and at internships prior as well) is that being genuine about who you are and what you practice quickly earns respect from others for those practices. Just the other day I saw a discussion that mentioned the phenomenon of the “Friday afternoon Jew” – yes, everyone in the office may know that you’re the one who leaves early on Fridays, but hopefully, rather than begrudge you for leaving them stuck at work just before the weekend, they respect you because they see it’s part of a whole package. I think it’s really important to take very seriously the responsibility you have in representing Judaism to coworkers who may range from no preconceived notions of what a frum Jew is like to having negative beliefs and assumptions. Without being in anyone’s face, simply being genuine about what you do (only eat kosher, not work Shabbat or chagim, speaking kindly to everyone – superiors, subordinates, clients, and even the cleaning lady – and bringing integrity to everything you do) speaks volumes about what being a Jew means.

MMY: Over the years you maintained a particularly strong kesher with MMY.  How did you do that?

MH: First of all, I say this with deepest apologies to all those reading this with whom I’ve ever been friends, acquaintances, crossed paths, promised to write, etc – I am actually terrible at keeping in touch. The only way a relationship works for me is if someone still remembers me a year, two years, six years after the last time we made any contact.  I think MMY must have some magic memory dust they sprinkle in the teachers’ water or coffee, because unfathomably, any time I’ve been back to visit MMY since my time there as a student, the rebbeim and teachers I see there remember me!  While that’s not surprising for Rabbi Katz (who as you all know remembers everyone) it does kind of stretch believability a bit for anyone else. But to get such a warm welcome whenever I’ve visited MMY or attended the ymei iyun really reminds me of an expression I’m sure I’ve heard somewhere – “there’s no such thing as a former talmida” ;)

MMY:  What made you choose to make Aliya to Alon Shvut? How has your klita been so far?

MH: I think we’re back to mundane reasons leading to happy outcomes here. Some like it hot. I don’t. And the Gush Etzion area is probably the coolest place in Israel (speaking temperaturely here). B”H, not long after our pilot trip, a friend we visited while we were here told us about a home in Alon Shvut that was soon to be posted for rental…but if we were interested she could put in a good word for us before it was even publicized. That’s the very short version of how it started. Now that we are here, I wouldn’t trade it for anywhere else. The kehilla in the yishuv is amazing (if a bit intimidating at their collective smarts!), I love the women’s daf yomi shiur that meets every morning (they’re already on their second daf cycle!), and it’s definitely been an interesting experience being part of a community that is piloting the home garbage separation initiative, where different types of trash need to be kept separate and disposed of in different color coded dumpsters. The derishot v’chakirot on the yishuv’s email list as to what goes where has rivaled some of the meatiest pieces of Gemara I’ve seen so far!

MMY:  Any advice for others contemplating Aliya?

MH:  A lot of time honored clichés…Be committed to the goal, because the process isn’t easy, but take things day by day. When people ask me how our klita has been so far, I honestly answer that it’s going well, which seems to surprise people. Going well doesn’t mean it’s easy, it means that we’re doing the best we can to take things one day at a time and not get overwhelmed by what could otherwise easily become a frustrating process. We came with our three boys who range in age from 2 ½ to 10, and each has the things that are going well for him and the things that are harder, so it’s really important to take note of and celebrate the little successes. For me personally, it was a big happy moment when Tani – my almost-3 year old – had a temper tantrum when we we’d been here for about 3 months. Why was that a big deal? It was all in Hebrew!

Miriam Borenstein - MMY 5766-5767

Miriam Borenstein
Miriam Borenstein lives in West Hempstead, NY and is a teacher at the Samuel H Wang Yeshiva University High School for Girls, colloquially known as "Central".

As Herb Brooks said, “great moments are born from great opportunities”, but great opportunities are born from patience and hard work. Following your dreams and being successful is no simple task, but if you work hard enough and push yourself, you can live your dreams.Baruch Hashem I’ve been able to work towards one of my dreams, teaching! I’ve always loved the classroom (I may have expressed that love through class clowning in my early years - but it was there in the classroom that I felt I can truly be myself, though my teachers might perhaps have said I was a bit too much of myself!).

Being a curious kid, I loved questioning and learning about anything and everything. I loved being engaged in a discussion, where I was challenged to think and learn something new. Being in class was exciting, and I loved the classroom dynamic. With that said, I must admit that I was not a good student.  Applying myself and working hard were not part of my work-ethic. My skills were weak and I struggled in school, despite my love for learning. Things did not come as easy to me as they did for my friends or classmates.  However, my love of learning still grew despite my struggles.

It was at a young age that I began to dream of becoming a Morah.  At first it was mainly that I looked up to my teachers and wanted to be like them.  And then as I got older, I also recognized my passion for learning and I wanted to share it and cultivate it. Choosing a seminary therefore was not easy for me.  I had a whole smorgasbord of places I could choose from to continue feeding my love of learning and growth. Having to pick one was not going to be simple.  But when I heard about MMY, I realized that actually sitting in the Bet Midrash and trying to figure out a piece of Torah on my own were skills I knew I lacked. I knew I needed to work on this if I wanted to pursue my dream of teaching. Choosing MMY was one of the best decisions I could have made, although it was not as easy I had expected.

Sitting in the Bet Midrash with my weak skills really required me to push myself and work harder than the girls sitting next to me. The time in the Bet Midrash taught me the importance of patience and toiling. עמלות בתורה was something I strived for, I davened words “ותן חלקינו בתורתך” with כוונה, with hope that I would understand what I was learning.  I would literally get nauseous flipping through my dictionary just to understand the words of a פירוש. The teachers and Rebbeim in MMY were patient with me and were my role-models. They embodied hard work and dedication to the Torah they taught. My friends in MMY were inspiring as they sat with me as חברותות and although often stronger than I was, taught me, and allowed me to achieve what I set out to accomplish. I felt that in the MMY family I not only learned and gained a tremendous amount, but I was being supported and challenged throughout the whole process as well.  

I returned for another half of year of learning in MMY (Shana Bet) and dedicated myself to sharpening my skills and working hard to better my learning. I gained not only skills but also wisdom during my second year, as well as strengthening my relationship with teachers and friends.

After MMY I went on to Stern College for Women were I continued studying Judaic studies and working on my learning throughout those years. I even returned to MMY one summer for their Summer Program, to further my knowledge and skill level. My love of learning and Israel grew that summer, as we dedicated ourselves to touring the land and learning. Throughout the years I have had the privilege of visiting Israel often and have often come back to sit in the Bet Midrash and classes of my beloved teachers and Rebbeim.

4 years ago I fulfilled my dream of becoming a Judaic studies teacher in no other place then my alma mater. I am currently teaching and running programs for Central High School (YUHSG) and finishing a Masters in Jewish Education in Azrieli. I am blessed to love my job and even more blessed to have actualized my dream of teaching. Although the struggle of improving never ceases, my work and learning in MMY have become the foundation of my learning and teaching. I am forever grateful.

My תלמידות are most beloved to me and I have tremendous נחת when I hear that some of them choose to learn in MMY for their year in Israel. I feel we are able to share something very special - our מקום תורה. I hope and pray that I will continue to maintain my kesher with MMY for many years to come, learning and working harder and harder to become even stronger in my learning.

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