The weeks of Sefira are well-known for their focus on personal growth and Torah learning. With a wide network of female scholars, the OU Women’s Initiative set out to organize a network of Shabbat scholar-in-residence visits throughout the United States, bringing 22 female scholars to 25 cities. This program, Counting Toward Sinai, was designed to accomplish two main goals: guide synagogues in finding highly talented female scholars and give female scholars opportunities to speak in communities throughout the United States. As the Orthodox Union’s women’s education arm, the Women’s Initiative is dedicated to finding emerging female scholars in the Orthodox community and supporting scholars of all experience levels in securing meaningful speaking and teaching engagements.
For communities, inviting a scholar-in-residence is a popular way of bringing a fresh face and perspective to their synagogue. In addition to that, Counting Toward Sinai provided community members of all ages and stages to be engaged in meaningful Torah learning presented by women. Each participating synagogue took the reigns in organizing a Shabbat program that met the needs of their community. As Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Schwartz, Rabbi of Congregation Adath Israel in Hillside, New Jersey remarked, “Our speaker, Mrs. Michal Howoritz, spoke to different groups — Friday night to the teens and collegiates, Shabbos afternoon to the community and a chumash shiur just for women. I felt this was the best use of the speaker and was absolutely perfect.” Between the 25 synagogues, there were shiurim both Friday night and Shabbat day for men and women, women’s only classes, a Friday night teen tisch, and a Q&A about Jewish Life on college campuses.
For the scholars, this was also a unique opportunity. For many, this was an opportunity to speak in a community outside of their zip code and time zone. For those based in large Jewish communities, this was a chance to see just how appreciated and needed these kinds of programs are to smaller communities. Equally as meaningful was being a part of a group of women who are passionate about teaching. “There are women in our communities who are highly dedicated and highly talented,” said Dr. Rebbetzin Adina Shmidman, Director of the OU Women’s Initiative, “and Counting Toward Sinai was created to share all they have to offer and model the many ways a female scholar can meaningfully and successfully engage the entire community. This kind of growth – both for scholars and communities – is something we’re excited to nurture leading up to Shavuot and beyond.