Chanuka 5781/2020

Living in A Hellenist Culture

By Rebbetzin Chaya Chava Pavlov

Pre-Corona, I traveled abroad several times a year to see alumnae and friends of She’arim. In the last twenty years or so, on each trip, I’ve notice substantive changes in the beliefs and standards of the countries I visited. Social mores and fundamental values and principles were undergoing massive changes – and at breakneck speed. Without fail, these changes were taking the social order further and further away from Judaism’s core ethical standards and its understanding of how the world is meant to function.

These changes are taking place in the world at large and in the assimilated Jewish communities that naturally absorb the values of the societies in which they live. And we cannot kid ourselves: these values are leaking into the frum world as well.

With Chanukah approaching, it’s clear that the challenges we face are no different than the battle the Maccabees fought “in those days, at this time.”

The Torah is our core value system: it encompasses our ethics and morals, our aspirations and hopes. It should and must be our moral center and our guide star for all aspects of our life, from the most mundane to the most crucial. We stretch ourselves to live up to its standards and perspectives. And yet these standards are being challenged constantly in this new world.

This isn’t a repeat of the story of the Greeks, Hellenism and the Maccabees: it’s a continuation of it!

Greek civilization tempted Jews like no other culture before it. Its emphasis on the arts, architecture, mathematics and philosophy appealed to us. The Greeks exalted the human body and its form. Physicality – aesthetics, sophisticated culinary pleasures, sports—became almost a form of worship. The Greeks were the most sophisticated culture of their time. Their veneration of the Human Intellect was its own idolatry. We may think that there was a small coterie of Jews who threw themselves into it, but, sadly, historians tell us, 30-40% of Jews adopted Hellenism.  And the Greeks welcomed Jews into their ranks.

This presented a danger far greater than any we had ever faced before. Core Greek values didn’t just conflict with ours, but were the opposite of Judaism’s. The basic fabric of daily Jewish life--observance of the commandments and the study of Torah--were under fire, but so were the values that form Jewish society and our approach to the world. And, to be clear, the Hellenist Jews didn’t “convert” to Greek society and consciously leave Judaism behind. Rather, they combined elements of both. They embraced a way of life that was antithetical to Judaism, glorifying Greek culture.

The spiritual threat was far more overwhelming than the political or military one. We think of exile as physical, being expelled to Babylonia or sent into Roman slavery. But the Greek domination was also an exile: an exile of the mind. We lived in our own land, yet our minds were far from our Torah.

Jews would have to choose between the Greek culture and the Torah’s eternal values. It was not an easy choice (and still isn’t). Jews venerate knowledge. We seek enlightenment. The world of the intellect tempts us. The popular ideas of the moment send us a siren’s call—think Communism in the early 20th century or post-Modernism toward that century’s end, today’s PC culture.  

But Torah is more than “thought”. More than mere wisdom or compelling ideas. Torah is the final moral authority; it is the mechanism through which we can transform ourselves into people who walk with the Creator.

The Greeks respected Torah, but not as a moral authority. They saw it as just another form of wisdom – like mathematics and architecture. That is why they did not object to Torah study and could tolerate most aspects of Jewish observance. They were certain that Judaism would adapt itself to Greek culture.

There were, however, three mitzvas that they could not tolerate: Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh (declaration of the new month) and circumcision--each of which, the Greek Governors believed, posed a direct challenge to Greek culture. And so, they banned them.

Why?

The reasons for banning Shabbos are clear: Shabbos reminds us that there is a Creator, a higher moral authority to Whom we must bend our will. Shabbos stands at the center of everyday life, of our families and of Jewish peoplehood. Shabbos is central to the message of the Torah and to the societies it creates. Eliminating Shabbos would empty Torah of its meaning and essence, rendering it an empty core of ritual with no content.

The centrality of bris milah (circumcision) similarly is self-evident: circumcision affirms that, though body and soul are joined, the Torah demands that the body’s needs be subjugated to the needs of the soul. This idea directly challenged the Greeks’ veneration of the physical—beauty, athleticism, sensory pleasure. To them, circumcision was debased and deformed the  “holy” physical body.

Rosh Chodesh is the linchpin of the Jewish calendar: It affirms the authority of Chazal to declare time. Jewish law is not just a code of ritual, but a code of living. Torah law applies equally to all facets of human existence, from daily ritual behavior to moral codes to the laws of damages. It shapes the way one looks at the world.  Talmidei chachamim (great Torah scholars) are not mere legal authorities. They have moral authority as well: they teach—and, more importantly, demonstrate--how Jewish lives are to be lived. The Greeks did not believe in the Torah’s moral authority and they scoffed at the notion that it bestows greatness on those who study it. Chazal’s authority to declare Rosh Chodesh, to manage time, challenged Greek authority at its core. So, they banned that too.

Today, our value system is under assault yet again. The choice for us, like that facing our ancestors who lived in the Greek exile, is whether we embrace society’s rapidly changing standards, values, and “ethics”, or whether we will attach ourselves to the Truth and moral authority of Torah.

With thanks to Ravi Berel Wein and Rav Chaim Goldvicht z”tl for some of the ideas expressed in this article.

She’arim: Different Yet the Same

By Rebbetzin Chaya Chava Pavlov

The era of corona presents challenges to all of us of how to live a normal life, yet stay safe and healthy. It presents challenges for the young and for the old, and for those in between. Businesses, schools and work places each face challenges, each one different from the next

We, at She’arim, did not see our ability to teach our students as our main challenge.  Since May, we have been able to present live classes, with teachers sitting behind plexiglass walls and students wearing masks.  Our curriculum and education has not been majorly affected.

But our major concern was how to create the guidance, love and caring that are hallmarks of She’arim. How do we guide each student in her personal journey, given the reality of social distancing and mask-wearing?  

One thing I have experienced regarding corona is that screens, walls, masks and distancing are not only physical barriers. They create emotional distance as well. I was concerned that this distance would create a real barrier in our relationships with our students.

We created offices with plexiglass so teachers could meet students privately and safely. Some met outside, others inside, each deciding what felt safest to her. More social activities were offered – a  BBQ every few weeks for lunch, a once a month Shabbos meal at my home (outside  on our large porch). We offered after-school activities, including Jewish movie night, cooking classes and art projects.  All this created bonding, friendship and fun. And recently, we are able to have tiyulim again. The students love that!

As you know, we are blessed with an incredible staff. Each one is a gem, and they all give the school and students their all. It is a gift of love and genuine hope for each student     .  Our teachers have always approached their teaching with enthusiasm. Corona has added a renewed appreciation for the gift we were given to be able to teach Torah. It has always been a joy, but now the joy is even greater. This joy is felt by our students.

Until August, students were not allowed entry into Israel, and since I could not travel, we didn’t know if we would have students or funding to continue She’arim. It was clearly in Hashem’s hands, and we sat back waiting to know what He wanted of us.

We thank Hashem that, with your donations, and with students granted legal entry, we are not only continuing but thriving. This initial feeling of uncertainty about our future filled  the staff and teachers with increased gratitude for the task Hashem has blessed us with: teaching Torah and guiding students in their growth.

New students are coming every couple of weeks. We set aside a dorm for the mandated two week quarantine. We zoom in classes for them, and send them lunch daily as well as Shabbos meals. After the two weeks, they join our regular classes, and are welcomed with excitement by students and staff.

It’s been a learning experience for all of us. But isn’t that what life is about?  

Corona through the lens of a She’arim Student 

  by Hadassah Berry

 As one who has been here at She’arim pre-corona and amidst corona, I think that I am qualified to offer my perspective on Corona and She’arim. There was a concern of how we were to maintain healthy relationships and build achdut (unity) throughout the student body. As I reflect on the last several months, I see that we have not only risen to the call of duty but far exceeded it. We were (with true Siyata D’Shamyah) able to maintain connection at a time of social distancing. 

 Throughout the initial lockdown, we actively chose to make the best out of an undesirable situation. With that goal in mind, we made meals for each other and sat together as a family, had dance parties, created lots of inside jokes, laughed well into the  wee hours of the morning, and gathered the roommates for dorm workout sessions‘ We were bound and determined to make our lockdown an  experience that was enjoyable, positive, and supportive of each other.

 I found it all to be a massive learning experience as well.

We learned that we are the masters of how we react to our situation. We learned how to love  through our limitations. We learned the power of accepting the limitations of others and that too is part of the process of life. We all are from different parts of the world, different walks of life, and we all handle stress differently. Understanding our differences and accepting them was the key to harmonious co-existence  . Through that understanding we were able to work with each other through those difficult moments. This experience is invaluable in life since this acceptance is vital in any relationship (friendships, relatives, and marriages).

 Once we settled into a more “normal” routine and began to gain new students, we had no problem bringing them into the fold. We had each other and created stronger bonds than anyone could have thought possible in this period of Corona. Yes, there are the barriers of plexiglass, there are the masks, and the elbow bumps. But there are also friendships that turned into family. There was laughing so hard until we cried. There was holding a roommate who misses her family. There was watching a “sister” get married and you were the family to witness it because her parents couldn’t enter the country. There was growth and being stretched into a kinder more accepting person that only being put into a challenging situation can truly accomplish.  

 Did Corona affect my relationships? Yes. It did. It made me a better friend, a better communicator, and it strengthened my appreciation of a simple smile.  Corona, in my opinion, was the most impactful part of my learning here at She’arim as it has taught me the power of choice; choosing to see the good and make the best out of what I was given today

Bringing Light into Darkness

by Ms. Miriam Broderson

On Chanukah, when we light the wicks of the Menorah, we invite the Divine Presence into our homes.

The Talmud says (Tractate Shabbat 21a) that ideally, one’s Chanukah menorah should be ignited  in a place that is lower than ten tefachim, (about 35 inches).  Yet, the Talmud states (Tractate Sukkah 5a) that the Divine Presence does not descend below ten tefachim .   Why would we light the Menorah in a place where the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, does not descend?  

On Chanukah, many Jews, especially those of the upper echelons of society, assimilated into Greek culture and abandoned Judaism. The lure of Greek philosophy and practice was a strong one. The Greeks represented culture and progress. They excelled in the arts and in  democracy. And they strove to entice Jews to throw off the yoke of heaven and Hellenize.  There were a handful of Maccabee warriors who recognized the danger to the Jewish nation and courageously  fought  against the Greeks and their anti Torah decrees. 

Due to their dedication and meirat nefesh and willingness to fight to preserve authentic Judaism, Hashem performed miracles for them. The small Jewish army prevailed against  the strong and powerful Greek army. The Jews then turned their attention to the Temple. It was in a state of disrepair and the Jews  rededicated it. They sought pure oil to light the menorah, and  found a flask of oil that should have only lasted for one day. But it didn’t. It burned for eight days. The Jews fought to maintain the light of Torah and merited to see a miracle of miraculously burning light. 

Chanukah is a time when Hashem performed miracles for the Jewish people, even though, as a whole they may not have been worthy of His salvation. 

We light the Chanukah menorah at a height that  typically the Divine presence does not descend. This reminds us that on Chanukah, Hashem descends to be with us, wherever we might be, at whatever level we might be. Throughout the year, we are required to elevate ourselves to connect to Hashem; on Chanukah, Hashem comes to us. 

Just as our ancestors merited a miraculous salvation on Chanukah, although as a whole they might not have been worthy,  so too every year during the eight days of Chanukah, Hashem descends to even the lowest of places and elevates His children from there.

May we take advantage of these precious days of Chanukah to reconnect and deepen our relationship with our Father in Heaven

This article is based on a shiur “Pieces of Peace” by Reb. Shira Smiles and from “Inside Chanuka” By Rabbi Aryeh Pinchas Strickoff

Smashing the Idols

by Rebbetzin Kaganoff

Quite a few of our new students said that they started keeping Shabbos and becoming more observant during Covid. Here is the story of one of them:

 I had the pleasure of interviewing Miriam (Lisa) Kehr and hearing her inspiring story. Miriam credits COVID with providing the impetus for her to forge a new connection with Judaism.  

Originally from Potomac Maryland, Miriam was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, training to become a nurse practitioner. [I found her career choice fascinating, but that is a story for a different time.]

As a child, Judaism was not a major factor in her life. Her upbringing was totally secular, involving some Jewish holidays commemorated as cultural events. Miriam began to slowly increase her Jewish awareness after graduating college - a Birthright trip that included an inspirational Kotel experience, attending Jewish classes, spending time with observant families a few times a year. But Miriam felt internally conflicted about her Jewish identity - “I felt as if I was pulled between two worlds - I was not fully secular, but not fully religious.”

And then COVID hit. In mid-March, her university closed its doors to all on-site learning. Three days later, her clinical internship fully shut down. That Friday night, as the world turned off its lights around her, she was able to see Shabbos clearly and welcome it with open arms. As Miriam describes it, "COVID was able to smash all my false idols to rubble. The secular world dissolved before my eyes, and the dormant seeds of Torah that had been planted within me took root and began to blossom. I was able to step over the remains of my past and walked toward Shabbos and Judaism."

A month later, she celebrated Pesach - alone due to COVID realities- and she felt as if she was experiencing a meaningful redemption from her own personal Egypt. Chabad proved tremendously helpful, and she benefited from “Shabbos in a Box” and Pesach kits.

Despite the physical isolation created by the pandemic, Miriam did not feel alone. “I felt that all of my Jewish mentors, teachers, and families that had inspired me over the years were in the room with me. It was as if they were by my side during Shabbat and the holidays, cheering me on in spirit.” Miriam feels that her Torah learning was like an “oxygen mask” for her, and she recently arrived at She'arim to continue her spiritual awakening and enhance her knowledge of her heritage.

We welcome her and admire her dedication to her new path.  

She’arim, The Chuppah and Beyond…

by Leah Kanowitz

Let me introduce myself- my name is Leah and I am a second year student at She’arim. I began She’arim last July, I am very grateful that I was able to rejoin She’arim as a married student this year. She’arim occupies a prominent part of my process of spiritual growth .When you see me now with the scarf on my head, you might not associate me with the young girl who grew up grew up in rural Canada on a hobby farm.  

  I started my Teshuva journey in the spring of 2017 while attending university in Hamilton. When I graduated two years later, I was hoping to further my spiritual growth in Israel. My Rabbi, and many others, strongly suggested that I attend She’arim. I had been dating my now husband, Eitan Kanowitz, and in the end, he was able to convince me that it was the right decision to go to seminary full time for our future family. Eitan still had army obligations to finish that summer and a year left of school. With this in mind, we felt the best option was my attending seminary while he finished his degree and we would get married the following May 2020.

It was mid-July when I started the Bein Hazmanim program at She’arim. I felt immediately like I had made the right choice. The classes, teachers, and students were beyond excellent. It was certainly the place I needed to be to grow into the observant woman I wanted to become. HaShem in His infinite goodness made Eitan’s fall break from school coincide during Succos and he was able to fly in for the holiday to officially propose. Once the word was out, the obvious question came in: how can you possibly have such a long engagement? It was a fair question, and it was not so easy, but after many conversations, we still felt it was the right decision. And our Rabbeim agreed. University had not been the easiest place for me to grow spiritually and She’arim opened opportunities for me that I could not get anywhere else. My plane ticket was scheduled for March 13th and my wedding had been booked for May 13th. 

In the weeks leading up to the flight, my mother started to warn me that Corona was becoming a major thing and to be prepared that the wedding plans might have to change. I do not pay attention to the news and anyway I could not wrap my head around the idea so I did not take it too seriously. We had been planning the wedding through Hachnosas Kallah* in Toronto, an excellent organization, and it was a 200 person minimum at the hall. We thought it was going to be a big event and my husband had everything booked, the photographer, the caterer, and the band. I flew back to Canada the day after Purim, two months exactly before the planned wedding date, and the Corona precautions followed very shortly thereafter. The reality of our wedding could not be avoided and I was overwhelmed (a lesson to listen to your mother). The weeks leading up to the wedding are a bit of a blur with every day new information and a different plan until only a couple of weeks before.  We had many conversations about whether to postpone, keep the same, or even move the date up. In the end, we felt that Corona was going to be around for a while and we couldn’t wait any longer. We decided to move the date up to April 21st because we didn’t think anything would change by our original date (this turned out to be true).

With the help of HaShem and Rabbi Jaffit, our wedding was going to be held somehow. After much deliberation   uppah  took place on the front lawn of the gracious Vogel family, and our parent's households were able to stand on the neighbor's lawns beside and across the road (meeting the 5 person gathering per house requirement.) So in the end we had a beautiful ceremony with our parents, siblings, my grandparents sitting in their car, and a few very close friends, plus, all the neighbors who came out to join the Simcha. On top of this, in typical Canadian fashion, it snowed, hailed, and there were high winds, but the show went on and everyone was in good spirits. We had a chuppah, went to the Rabbi’s storage shed for the yichud room, and then we were danced into our car and drove away to our new apartment (only a few blocks down the street). I think it had to be the shortest wedding that anyone there ever attended but it was so special and felt like such a gift from HaShem. In our initial plan, we hoped to return to Israel during Sheva Brachas. Instead, we spent Sheva Brachas alone in our apartment but Baruch HaShem lovely families brought us special meals every day! Then we started to try to get into Israel as soon as we could. It took the whole summer but with the help of HaShem, members of Shearim and Ohr Samaech’s staff, we arrived at the beginning of August. It is a bracha to be here, married, and continue to learn at She’arim, while my husband learns at Ohr Samaech! 

Ongoing Alum and Friends of She’arim Classes

Rebbetzin Friedman teaches a wonderful shiur on The Ten Commandments at 5PM Israel time on Wednesdays. If you yearn to see the profundity of the text, this is a fabulous opportunity.

Rebbetzin Kaganoff teaches the Navi Melachim on Wed mornings at 11:30 AM Israel time.

Rebbetzin Pavlov teaches The Gates of Trust from the Chovos HaLevavos at 6 PM Israel time on Sundays

Rebbetzin Pavlov teaches Strive for Truth on Wednesdays at 6PM Israel time

Rabbi Priel teaches Halacha for Sefardiot on Wednesdays at 8 PM Israel time.

NEW!  Rabbi Gottesman (who lives in Baltimore) teaches Parsha on Sundays at 9 PM EST and Thursdays 1:00pm EST To register in this class, send a WhatsApp to +1410 340 3409.

Monday morning Israel time, we have a line up of three teachers on zoom:

9:45 Rebbetzin Pavlov Sichot Musar

10:45 Rebbetzin Appell Tehillim

11:45 Rebbetzin Friedman  Shabbat Tefila

To register for any of these classes, send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Rebbetzin Pavlov’s zoom classes are posted weekly  online at:  https://www.shearim.com/torah-online/167-zoom-shiurim/rbzn-chaya-chava-pavlov

 

Advice from a Former Talmida of She’arim

Just as we were about to send out the newsletter, the following unsolicited article arrived in my email box. What was touching to me was that not only did this person (who prefers to be anonymous) started giving a monthly donation, she wrote this article without being requested to do so.

Hora’at KevaI had heard of the concept of an automatic monthly payments, but dismissed the option-  ?

Not for us. We work with cash/one- time payments - and we don’t buy on credit. This way we can keep track of our finances on our tight budget.

appropriately with this system, and amply. Once or twice a year we'd give Shearim a larger amount, when we had cash in hand. It worked well for a period of time.ma’aserThis was always our line, and we thought we gave

was still given in a haphazard manner.ma’aser Despite our preference otherwise, it became standard to pay many bills by direct monthly withdrawals from our account. But our  Life went on, the family grew, the variety of income sources expanded - a bit from here, a bit from there.

As it happens with life, complications also grew in the same proportion. We started to put pen to paper to work things through, guided by a theme we had recently read in an important financial article: In today's world, running a house is like running a business.

Gone are the days when we receive cash payment for our work per day, separate ma’aser and pay in cash daily for our basic needs. Today it is not just food, but insurance, rent/mortgage/phone/electricity bills etc., all combined with clothes, chagim and other needs. And the income also slips into the bank quietly, not cash in hand. And we 'meet the month', not the 'day'.

.(automatic monthly deduction)hora’at keva via ma’aserSo, as we started to restructure our home as a business, with spreadsheets et al, it was only appropriate to automate

Nice and organized, effortless - and precise.

Good for us and even better for the organizations on the receiving end. Win-win!!

[Israeli Social Security] etc). leumi on incomes that we almost forgot about (bonuses, bituachma’aserWhat was enlightening and perhaps shocking, was that in the process it became apparent how easily it is to overlook giving

We are super happy to be more organized and business-like with our ma’aser; and IY”H it should be a zechus to increase our income - and thereby to further increase what we can give. In today's world when running a house is like running a business - giving ma’aser is also like running a business. Monthly donations are the way to go :)

>Support She’arim: Help Others Learn Torah donate online: www.shearim.com/support

  Simply shop at smile.amazon.com/ch/52-6696432 and AmazonSmile donates to The Shearim USA Charitable Trust
 

She’arim College of Jewish Studies for Women

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Phone: +972-2-651-4240

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Phone: +972-2-651-4240

U.S.# in Israel 646-506-9306

Fax: +972-2-651-8370

Email:shearim@shearim.com

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Financial Office  (only):

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     Canadian Mailing Address:

     Financial Office (only):

     Rebecca Morin

     Canadian Friends of She'arim

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