Tuesday, February 25, 2020

As the Jewish world, and the broader society around us, grapple with serious questions about the activities, opportunities and leadership roles open to women, the Orthodox Forum, a Highland Park volunteer-run organization seeking to provide educational yet stimulating coverage of issues facing the Jewish community at large, decided to focus its first program in the 2018/2019 series on this topic. Rebbetzin Dr. Adina Shmidman was enlisted to address the group. Her talk, entitled “Jewish Heroines in History and Today: How Do We Create Jewish Heroines?” will be held on Motzei Shabbat, November 17, starting at 8:30 p.m., at Congregation Ohr Torah at 48 Edgemount Road in Edison.

Rebbetzin Dr. Shmidman is founding director of the Orthodox Union’s Department of Women’s Initiatives. She and her husband, Rabbi Avraham Shmidman, are rabbi and rebbetzin of the Lower Merion Synagogue in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. Prior to her role at the OU, she taught AP psychology and Judaic studies classes at the Kosloff Torah Academy Girls High School in Bala Cynwyd. She has a doctorate in educational psychology from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

In preparation for this event, Rebbetzin Dr. Shmidman agreed to share with Jewish Link readers some of her perspective on the topic of her talk.

Asked who is one of her personal heroines, she responded: “My grandmother was a community rebbetzin for over 50 years and a role model and mentor to me. She had the ability to make every person feel that they were the center of her world. She truly believed in the value of every person and through her compliments, interest and time, communicated that message passionately. She was also a lifetime learner with an unquenchable thirst for learning—which was evident in her love for shiurim and lectures and her library. She always shared what she heard. No matter what happened good or bad, her response was ‘What do we learn from this?’”

Rebbetzin Dr. Shmidman added: “In an effort to carry on her legacy, I founded the Rebbetzin Elaine Wolf, a”h, Rebbetzin-to-Rebbetzin Mentoring program. The program is now a joint OU-YU program. This program creates opportunities for experienced rebbetzin mentors to nurture less experienced rebbetzins. It enables rebbetzins to believe in themselves, to learn about themselves and to find their voice through guidance and validation. In a healthy way, mentors have the opportunity to also explore how they fulfill their own roles as rebbetzins. I take great personal pride knowing that my grandmother’s life work of over half a century lives on through this initiative.”

Asked to identify a heroine in Jewish history who is not well known, and why she is significant, she pointed to Avigail in Nevi’im. “The Talmud tells us that she is one of seven recorded prophetesses in Tanach. Avigail’s evil husband, Naval (his name translates as abomination), insults David in an irreparable way. David sets out to attack Naval, risking his reputation and his future relationship with the nation. Avigail quickly sizes up the situation and hurries to confront David and dissuade him from taking action against Naval. She is clever in her language and her soliloquy lasts eight long verses—in a masterful way, she cajoles, explains, pushes, advocates and encourages David to exercise restraint and not act on his impulses. She is a doer, energetic and engaged. Later, when Naval dies, David marries Avigail in recognition of her brilliance and beauty.”

“While her appearance is brief, her impact is everlasting,” she continued. “This underscores how we often have once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to change the course of history. It is up to each one of us to capitalize on our opportunities.”

The upcoming event will allow Rebbetzin Dr. Shmidman to highlight programs and services of the OU’s Women’s Initiatives department for women in our area. She identified two of particular interest. The Virtual Rosh Chodesh Lunch ’n Learn series enlists well-regarded women educators and leaders to present shiurim online each Rosh Chodesh. To date, over 1,000 people have participated in these half-hour learning opportunities, which started in August. Past lectures are archived on the Women’s Initiatives website (ou.org/women/rc). Second, the Women’s Initiative Challenge Grant program funded 16 synagogues (from 93 applicants) to conduct innovative programs to address specific needs of women in their communities and to serve as advisor synagogues to others seeking to create similar activities. To learn about the grant recipients and more about the Challenge Grant program, visit ou.org/women/grant.

“We are very excited to host Rebbetzin Dr. Shmidman, to hear her views on Jewish heroines, and to have her discuss her unique role at the OU’s Department of Women’s Initiatives,” said Mark Abraham of Highland Park, chair of the Orthodox Forum’s planning committee. “These topics are of great interest in our community and it’s a privilege to hear directly from someone whose work focuses on this area.”

By Harry Glazer