I’ve spent this weekend attending a first-ever JOFAthon. What’s that, you ask? It is just a Shabbaton created by the JOFA. I have been interested in this organization that tries to merge orthodoxy and feminism, sometimes to my utmost liking, and sometimes taking the views much to the left of mine. However, the scholarship, the ability to learn, and the opportunity to hear other women’s voices are the values that I cherish, and being in the very orthodox community don’t get to encounter too often. So – I went.
Part of my reason was to get to spend some time at the beautiful Isabella Friedman Jewish Retreat Center. I have been there before planning Limmud FSU, and loved this place! I was hoping for some nice time outdoors. Little did I know that the Nor’easter would hit just a couple of days before our arrival, and I would find myself in the winter wonderland.
I always say that being born in the place, where winters routinely went below 30C (-86F), I am fed up with winter. Generally, that’s true. But the beauty, the stillness, and the magic of that place in winter, wants you to breathe it in the fullest.
I was also not disappointed by the intellectual stimulation over the weekend. Interestingly, the organizers chose to invite four pairs of scholars – families, where both the husband and the wife are accomplished people each in their own right. They, quite often, have different perspectives on the same subject, like Dr. Sharon Flatto and Rabbi Ysoscher Katz talking about Hasidut, but it makes the conversation so much more interesting.
I was simply in awe of Dr. Devora Steinmetz, the wife of Rabbi David Silber, both founders of Drisha Institute for Jewish Education, where I took one of my first classes about two years after arriving in New York. Not only she is a scholar, an author, a teacher, but they have eight children! Talk about a woman who can do everything – a true eshet chayil. Yehuda Mirsky, the author of the book on Rav Kook that I loved, was there too.
I don’t think I’ve prayed so much continuously as I did on this weekend. I didn’t miss a single davening time, even on Sunday morning. This is not usual for me, as I normally say just a few verses, and some tehillim. I pray on Sabbath, for sure, but not at all three prescribed times. There were two options – traditional and “partnership minyan“. Of course, I opted for a traditional one being held in the shul of the Center. I loved to see how many young men were able to easily lead the services and read Torah – not a given in my shul of baalei-teshuvah.
In short – I loved this weekend, even if sometimes my views were much more conservative than those expressed. I do believe firmly that a conversation with disagreement is better than no conversation, and I intend to extend mine at least.
It would have been enough if I went just for that. But G-d in (H)is infinite mercy gave me another gift. Unexpected and cherished.
I got a ride to the Center with a couple, where the man comes from a dynasty that originated in the shtetl, where my family is coming from. Talne, or Talnoe, as we used to call it. His family belonged to a dynasty of Rebbes, mine – to their faithful Hasidim. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that every little detail that I can gain about my family’s past, especially now that my Dad is no longer here, I cherish like one of those sparks of Holiness that we are supposed to gather in order to improve the world according to Hasidic thought. And, lucky for me, the man coming from that dynasty has a similar interest. May our conversations continue.