I recently had the honor of co-organizing a conference for South Florida Rebbetzins with Meira Davis, rebbetzin of OU member synagogue Young Israel of Hollywood-Ft. Lauderdale and coordinator, Personal and Professional Enhancement programs for rebbetzins at Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future. The program was held at OU member synagogue Young Israel of Hollywood–Ft. Lauderdale. The theme was Learning, Sharing and Chizuk and the event drew 35 local rebbetzins with diverse demographics. They ranged from young marrieds who have just recently entered the rabbinic world to very experienced women with over 30 years in the rabbinate. They represented synagogues that were Modern Orthodox, Chareidi, Ashkenazic, Sephardic, and Chabad. Many of the attendees hold professional positions while others devote their time to their families and communities. What drew them together was the need to provide and receive chizuk – strength – from each other.
As a synagogue rabbi’s wife for over 30 years, I understand that marrying a rabbi means marrying his shul and that assistance from others in the same situation is very important. Thirty years ago when my husband, Sholom, and I first married, there was no support system for rebbetzins, and having this role was often very challenging without colleagues to offer a listening ear. In recent years many changes have taken place as national organizations such as the Orthodox Union, Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future, the Rabbinical Council of America and National Council of Young Israel have seen the need to provide training and resources for these valuable roles.
Partnering with Rebbetzin Davis was a very enjoyable and rewarding experience. Prior to the program I had the zechut to spend Shabbat with Rabbi and Rebbetzin Davis, who think nothing of having 10-12 guests for a Shabbat meal. They provide loving care for her father, together with his aides, who have become part of the family. Members of the shul see first-hand amazing examples of hachnassat orchim (hosting guests) and kibud av (honoring parents) that comes so naturally to this couple. Rebbetzin Davis is a wonderful role model for young rebbetzins who enjoy speaking with her. (During the program I was approached for resources on training Bat Mitzvah girls — I immediately made a referral to Rebbetzin Davis, who has been giving a regular class for this age for many years)
After our introductory comments, Mrs. Ora Lee Kanner of Weinbaum Yeshiva High School gave a Dvar Torah about the valuable impact of leaders. As the daughter of Rabbi Alexander S. Gross z”l, and as a mechanechet (educator) she is personally aware of this powerful effect and gave many examples of situations that she recalled of non-observant individuals who were treated warmly by her parents and who later became Torah-observant.
Guest speaker Mrs. Aliza Schulman, LCSW, a psychotherapist in private practice, discussed “Personality Counts! Understanding Yourself to Maximize Your Potential.” She discussed aspects of different types of personalities and provided examples so that the participants could understand their own strengths and limitations. She also offered strategies for dealing with other personalities – an important skill in a shul setting.
The program also provided an interactive workshop, which gave the women the opportunity to discuss topics such as family issues that were of concern to them. It was fascinating to watch the women’s faces as they listened to each other’s challenges. They were comfortable bonding with others as they shared problems and joys that are part of their rabbinic lives. They appreciated the opportunity to meet, and the women agreed to share contact information with each other. During the buffet, many were heard speaking about issues of shidduchim (arranging potential marriage matches) and were interested in facilitating matches between singles in their communities. By the end of the program I could see that many new relationships were being formed. The women were profuse with their gratitude. An email from one rebbetzin summarized the comments of many: “It was informative, interesting and thought provoking and a great way to meet other rebbetzins in South Florida. It was also a very welcome escape from the house on a Sunday morning! Looking forward to many similar programs in the future!”
Rebbetizn Judi Steinig is Associate Director of Community Services at OU’s Department of Community Engagement