by Debbie Zimmerman, Nishmat Faculty (Nach)
It’s been a month since I returned from Paris. I went for an alumnae Shabbat and to teach a few classes. An extended weekend, Thursday through Tuesday, was supposed to be just enough time to meet the students and get to know them face to face before jetting back to Israel. And even though it’s good to be back home in Israel and back teaching in Nishmat, every once in a while I feel a twinge of longing for those intense five days.
Nishmat has a growing community of alumnae in Paris. A little over a year ago one of the women, Sharmaine Amsallem, approached Nishmat to organize a satellite Nishmat Beit Midrash in Paris. A few alumnae had been talking and they discovered a common problem- they missed the in-depth, source based learning experience they had in Nishmat and could not find the right fit in their community. So they reached out to Nishmat. And Nishmat reached back.
We started small, once every other week, studying Megillat Esther. I would send source sheets in advance for chevruta study and then we would meet online in a virtual classroom for an hour shiur. Once that series finished we continued with Ruth and Eicha, and started meeting weekly. This year we our weekly shiur continues studying topics in Jewish philosophy.
My trip to Paris was a testament to the success of this beit midrash and the mesirut nefesh of these women who drop everything once a week to join our virtual beit midrash. Every few weeks a new student joins, some Nishmat alumnae, some not, and our small community grows. And so it was time for me to get on a plane and fly to Paris, to meet my students face to face, instead of screen to screen. I taught shiur every night, and after every meal on Shabbat. An hour shiur lasted three, and we stayed late into the night discussing ideas and questions on topics that ranged from tefillah and brachot to geulah and reward and punishment.
When I left Paris I was exhausted but exhilarated, inspired by these women and their dedication to their continued learning. But don’t think that all I did in Paris was teach, I got for more than I gave. The warm welcome I received from my hostesses, the alumnae in France in general and more specifically Martine Bellity and her husband Refael who gave me a place to stay and Hava Sebbah who hosted Shabbat, taught me what true hachnasat orchim is. There is no hakarat hatov that I could do to express the gratitude I feel for them, as well as for the restaurants and families that gave us space to learn and the Beit Knesset that hosted part of our Shabbat. But the true lesson I learned was how Torah can bring people together and forge a community, and how mitzvah goreret mitzvah and a kindness from over a decade ago can turn into a flourishing beit midrash program that spans countries.