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Keeping the Spirit Alive: New Ways for Young Women to Remain Inspired After Seminary

Barbara Bensoussan

Many young women — newly graduated from solid limudei kodesh educations in high schools and seminaries, with the inspirational teachings of our gedolim lingering on the tips of their tongues after the last set of final exams — are navigating the no-man’s-land, between finishing school and starting careers, and establishing homes and families of their own. How can they ensure that the spirit of those halcyon days in seminary or the last years of high school continues to warm them from inside?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Elisheva and her roommate Daphne Hanson were both baalos teshuvah who had been drawn to Torah learning, and and who worked with NCSY. Both were looking for a way to maintain their connection to Torah now that they had “graduated” into living as frum singles on their own.

“We used to make these big Shabbosim and invite people over,” Elisheva says. “But we didn’t have anywhere to refer people to. One Tisha B’Av, we couldn’t find anything geared for women, so Daphne decided we should take things into our own hands and have a shiur in our apartment.”

Daphne had met Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein while teaching at Yeshivas Rambam in Flatbush, where he used to give a weekly shiur. She invited him to come speak to some young women at her apartment.

“We expected maybe ten, twenty girls. But the door didn’t stop opening! We had girls crammed into every corner of the room. In fact,” she jokes, “it’s a good thing it was Tisha B’Av — everybody sat on the floor. There’s no way we would’ve have enough chairs for everybody!”

The success of that evening underscored the need for more programs for single women. Elisheva and Daphne conceived the idea of initiating a summer learning program, and Rabbi Wallerstein agreed to give a regular Wednesday night “chaburah”; Elisheva and Daphne recruited other speakers to fill in the other nights.

Each success simply highlighted the need to expand. Nowadays, a young frum woman who comes home after a full work day is most likely not going to spend an evening watching television, going to movies, or running around town — yet there’s a limit to how many Jewish books she can read. Many of her friends may already be married and busy with their families. How can she constructively occupy her time?

“The frum single girl of today hears a lot of ‘don’ts,’ ” Elisheva says. “Don’t do this, don’t go there. So what can she do? We realized that frum girls need outlets.”

It was from these stirrings that Ohr Naava was born. Named for Naava Katlowitz, an “articulate, artistic woman who embodied what a Jewish wife and mother should be,” but who was niftar too young, the center opened in Flatbush in 2004.


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