Almost 200 hundred friends, family, and rabbinic leaders took part in the graduation of the second class of Nishmat’s Miriam Glaubach Center’s U.S. Yoatzot Halacha Fellows Program at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun (KJ) this October. The seven graduates, Julia Baruch, Rookie Billet, Shira Donath, Shiffy Friedman, Talia Furleiter, Ilana Gadish and Dalia Shulman, studied diligently for two years under the leadership of Program Dean Rabbi Kenneth Auman, Program Director Yoetzet Halacha Atara Eis, and Nishmat’s faculty. These scholars bring the global total of Yoatzot Halacha to over 100 women.
American Friends of Nishmat (AFN) Chair of Yoatzot Halacha, Dr. Giti Bendheim, the afternoon’s MC, pronounced the graduating scholars, “women with consummate learning and leadership skills who are poised to further our communities and continue to change the landscape for orthodox families in the United States.” She further stressed that Nishmat’s founders, “Rabbanit Chana and Rabbi Yehuda Henkin represent all that is thoughtful and vibrant about scholarly Jewish activism in our day. Their great erudition combines with deep Ahavat Yisrael to bring forth courageous ideas that translate into powerful actions.”
Collectively, the U.S. Yoatzot and graduates completed Tractate Sukkah in memory of Rabbi Eitam and Na’ama Henkin Hy”d, who were murdered last month by Palestinian terrorists. Yoetzet graduate Rookie Billet led a siyum at the graduation emotionally proclaiming “in honoring the memory of Rav Eitam and Naama Henkin, hy”d, we recognize and honor their Torah, their yishuv Eretz Yisrael, their brilliance, and their lives of Kiddush Hashem both professionally and personally.”
Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, KJ’s senior Rabbi and longtime board member of AFN, discussed that in the Parsha, “Avraham Avinu had every right to relax and recuperate from his brit milah. Instead, he was sitting on the threshold in the heat of the day looking for more mitzvot and chesed.” He continued, “that is the image we have in our minds today as we think of how Rabbanit Henkin positioned herself 18 years ago in Nishmat’s tent [when establishing this trailblazing program for women scholars] …What a glorious tribute today’s graduation is to the Rabbanit herself, who like Avraham Avinu, is always sitting on the threshold, looking for additional ways in which to serve Gd and the Jewish people.”
Yoetzet Halacha Dr. Deena Zimmerman, spoke as Nishmat’s representative in the absence of Dean Rabbanit Chana Henkin. Deena relayed that, “16 years ago, at the very first graduation of Yoatzot Halacha in Israel, we looked forward to the day when young women could not imagine a reality which did not include the option to ask a Yoetzet Halacha. That day has arrived and Yoatzot are now an integral part of the Jewish landscape.”
Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, University Professor of Jewish History and Jewish Thought and Senior Scholar at the Center for the Jewish Future at Yeshiva University, delivered the keynote address. He began his remarks by reciting the Shechiyanu bracha (without שם ומלכות) and declaring that that “Today is a Yuntif!”