It took two years of intense work to bring WINGS to life
Name: Esther Rubinfeld
Location: Lakewood, NJ
Dream: Create opportunities for women to tap into their inner greatness
I grew up in Boro Park in the house of what the newspapers like to call “a noted askan” but without any of the hype.
My father, Mr. Chesky Kauftheil, has founded or been involved in over 30 community organizations to date, because when he sees a need, he fills it. My parents raised us with the bedrock understanding that any talents or gifts we have are nothing more than a pipeline for Hashem’s shefa, to be used on behalf of others.
While both single and as a young married, I taught, directed plays, and gave workshops, with a goal of building girls’ self-esteem and showing them their limitless potential. You could say that giving women tools to live their best lives is a passion of mine.
When I moved to Lakewood as a newlywed, I found myself surprisingly bored. Though I kept busy with work, I had no siblings or friends in the area, and no way to meet new people. Socially, I was at loose ends.
Together with an aunt and a friend, I started a group called PENIMA, where we hosted a weekly shiur in a local retirement home. It was beautiful, but it petered out. We were all feeling pulled in too many different directions by our work and family commitments.
I’d just decided to stop directing school plays and reduce my teaching load when a fellow teacher asked if she could introduce me to Rabbi Shmuel Chaim Weisberg, a man who had an Idea. At first I said no way, I’m trying to scale back, not take on new projects. But she got me to agree to “just a meeting,” and I found that Rabbi Weisberg and I shared an identical dream.
The vision that Rabbi Weisberg had, and that he hired me to bring to life, was an oasis for women — a place for them to come hear shiurim, but so much more than that. WINGS, as it came to be called, is also a place to socialize, learn new skills, and build community — a community based upon a shared desire to learn and grow.
We didn’t rush to open a good-enough product; our philosophy was that if we wanted women to feel the gift we were giving them, it had to be done right.
We developed custom software, so that each new member receives a membership card, which is also a key-card to the building, and a library card for our expansive library. Each member isn’t just coming to shiurim, she’s becoming a card-carrying member of a community. She’s buying into a concept: that every woman, no matter how busy with good things, can elevate her life through high-level Torah wisdom.
I chose colors to reflect our vision and was involved in the decor, aiming to project just the right welcoming air. Our lobby has comfortable couches, armchairs, computer kiosks and refreshments, where women can linger and make friends. One woman even wanted to know if she could stay to knit (she could).
In my ninth month of pregnancy, just before opening day, there I was, frantically supervising the paint crew to make sure they got it right. “Are you the foreman?” asked one Hispanic worker.
It took two years of intense work to bring WINGS to life. Along the way, I got my fair share of discouragement. Well-meaning acquaintances had no shortage of predictions about why WINGS wouldn’t take off: “People are too busy.” “Lakewood doesn’t need this.” “Are you sure it’s wise to give up your teaching job?” But I never stopped believing in the vision. I knew it would be successful. It had to be.
(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 678)
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