By Zvi Volk
Dozens of young wives wearing sheitels, middle-aged women sporting headscarves as well as women with no head coverings come together every Sunday morning. These diverse women, hailing from Ma’ale Adumim to Kiryat Sefer, are all part of the 150 or so regulars who attend the OU Israel Center’s phenomenally successful program for Anglo women: L’Ayla.
Some seventy to eighty shiurim take place each week at the dynamic Seymour J. Abrams OU Israel Center on Keren Hayesod Street in central Yerushalayim. Many of the Torah classes are for both men and women. But Sunday mornings are different. That’s when L’Ayla, a Torah study program designed especially for English-speaking women, takes place.
“Women from across the spectrum of religious observance come to L’Ayla programs,” says Rivka Segal, director of adult education programs at the OU Israel Center. Participants range in age and come from different areas in and around Jerusalem. “It brings together women from the whole community. It doesn’t really matter if their husbands are learning in kollel or if the family is just starting to become Orthodox,” says Segal, who was director of the Women’s Institute of Torah (WIT) in Baltimore before making aliyah in 2005.
L’Ayla, which means “to go higher” in Aramaic, has hosted prominent Torah lecturers and educators including Rav Yitzchak Dovid Grossman, Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz, Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi, Shira Smiles and Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller.
Segal explains that offering shiurim and lectures in English is not just a matter of comfort for new olim. “It’s more than a question of language; it’s also a matter of culture,” she says.
L’Ayla aims at providing Anglo women with a comfort zone and an opportunity to network with other Anglos. “What we want to do is provide a forum for women to discuss issues they feel are important—topics they will benefit from,” Segal says. “We don’t have a specific agenda. In addition to Torah, our participants learn about social issues, discuss aliyah integration and go on trips around the country to reinforce what we’re learning. The idea is to create a sisterhood,” she says.
To Segal, achdut is one of the most satisfying aspects of the L’Ayla program. “The women may come from different backgrounds and have diverse lifestyles, but we are all one community. That’s what the OU Israel Center is all about,” she says. “We offer an American cultural oasis in Israel.”
In addition to offering L’Ayla and dozens of other shiurim each week for men and women, the OU Israel Center sponsors Torah Tidbits, the most popular English-language Torah publication in Israel, with a weekly readership of about 30,000; Yachad Israel, which addresses the needs of Jews with disabilities in Israel and Camp Dror, a sleepaway camp that is host to more than 150 boys and girls from English-speaking families in Israel and from abroad.
For more information about OU Israel, visit www.ouisrael.org.
Zvi Volk is a staff writer in the OU Communications and Marketing Department. He has lived in Jerusalem since the mid-1970s.