An Evening in Memory of Belda and Marcel Lindenbaum, z”l
“Belda and Marcel Lindenbaum, of blessed memory, sought the beauty in the world… they expected us to appreciate it, protect it and cultivate all of its inherent potential. Thus, it was only natural that together they dreamt of and established the Midrashet Lindenbaum in memory of Marcel’s father, Nathan, as they perceived the grace and beauty of women’s Torah study.”
These accurate, loving words were spoken by Ariel Hurwich Braun, Belda and Marcel’s niece, at an evening of learning in Midreshet Lindenbaum’s Linda and Murray Laulicht Beit Midrash marking four years since the untimely death of Belda, and one year since that of Marcel.
Braun, who is coordinator of the college’s Hadas Chu’l program, special projects, and alumnae of Israeli programs concluded her remarks by turning to the attendees, alumnae and students who came to show respect for the Lindenbaums. “My wish for you is that the message bequeathed to me by my precious aunt and uncle will accompany you as well: Surround yourselves with beauty; and when the beauty is less obvious, search for it between the cracks, between the pages, within the person facing you and within yourselves. Project that goodness outwards, and give of yourselves to the world.”
Recognition and Mutual Respect
Ohr Torah Stone President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, delivered a shiur in memory of Belda and Marcel. He highlighted important values personified by the Lindenbaums, through examination of a 937-year-old marriage contract (ketuba) from the Cairo Geniza, which he found in Cambridge, England.
The aged and fragmented ketuba from 1082 was between the rabbinical bridegroom David HaNasi, son of Daniel HaNasi and the recognized distinguished leader of the Egyptian, Syrian and a section of the Israeli Jewish community, and his bride Nasia. Pointing out segments of the ketuba text, Rabbi Brander noted that Nasia – a Karaite woman – would not have to sit with her husband by the light of the Shabbat candles (as the Karaites, who took the Torah literally, did not allow fire to burn in their homes on Shabbat); would not be obligated to eat a particular local delicacy (a nod to the difference in the communities’ laws of Kashrut), and would need to observe the traditional Jewish community festivals but would also be free to mark and celebrate the festivals in the way they fell out on the Karaite calendar.
“This ketuba, which was signed by great rabbis and judges of the time, is an incredible testament to the values of dialogue, recognition and mutual respect,” said Rabbi Brander. “There was a time in Jewish history when mutual respect was so important that even the leader of the community considered the traditional sensitivities of his Karaite wife and the Karaites sensitivity to the traditional community. “Unfortunately,” he lamented, “as time marched on, we can see through both historical and halakhic writings that this ideal was stifled.
“Belda and Marcel understood the message we learn from the marriage of Rabbi David HaNassi and Nasia; they represented perfectly these values of equality, recognition, mutual respect while wishing for it to happen within the Orthodox community. We learn from them the need to improve how we talk to and about others, how to disagree with agreeability, and that our much-desired unity does not require uniformity,” Rabbi Brander said. “It is now our mission.”
The “Outside” World
Following Rabbi Brander’s shiur, three senior Midreshet Lindenbaum faculty members engaged in a panel discussion relating to various challenges faced by graduates of their programs, as they exchange the nurturing beit midrash for the “real” world. Moderated by Rabbi Ohad Teharlev, Rosh Midrasha for all of the college’s Israeli programs, the questions were answered by Rabbanit Nomi Berman, Rosh Beit Midrash for the Maria and Joel Finkle Overseas Program; Rabbanit Devorah Evron, director of the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership (WIHL); and Rabbanit Bili Rabenstein, Rosh Beit Midrash for Israeli students.
Rabbanit Berman addressed practical and spiritual challenges faced by young women who return to college in their country of origin: “There are myriad practical issues which arise in environments not run by halakha.“
“Learning intensively in the beit midrash enables the development of a peculiar language,” added Rabbanit Rabenstein. “Discussions over lunch are more likely to be about a new gemara than about what we’re eating. When we get to the ‘outside’ world – whether it be university, National Service or the IDF – that language is not understood; a dissonance sets in.”
Although graduates of WIHL’s halakha program for spiritual leaders face very different challenges, Rabbanit Evron also touched upon the longing graduates feel for the familiarity and camaraderie of the beit midrash. “Our alumnae are going out to work in a field which is still in its infancy and which many people regard with suspicion. They are concluding five intensive years in the beit midrash, surrounded by people like themselves and the buzz of constant learning, and suddenly – in addition to juggling family and responsibilities – they must deal with leadership positions for which the path hasn’t been completely cleared.”
‘A world in which women’s beit midrash study is normal’
“Belda and Marcel were trailblazers,” noted Rabbi Teharlev. “They were constantly pushing forward and dreaming up new directions, such as the Hadas Program enabling women to combine Torah learning with full IDF service.” In that spirit, Rabbi Teharlev asked the rabbaniyot about their dreams for the future.
“I am honestly so honored to be part of Midreshet Lindenbaum,” said Rabbanit Berman, who is also an alumna of the program she now helps lead. “Sometimes I listen as the heads of other programs introduce themselves: the first enabling religious women to serve in the military, the first to train women in the same body of halakha as male rabbinical students, the first enabling young women with special needs to enjoy the one-year Israel experience… and the list goes on. In our program? We learn Torah. When I was here 30-odd years ago it was groundbreaking. There was no other beit midrash like this in the entire world. And now, look how many learning opportunities there are for women! So I guess we’ve created a world where women’s beit midrash study is normal, and my hope for the future is that women will continue to learn and be empowered.”
Rabbanit Rabenstein spoke about her desire to strengthen women’s participation in prayer. “One answer to the challenges of loneliness, is prayer,” she said. She shared a story of a young woman who went to synagogue for mincha in the middle of the week: “The men were certain she wanted to say kaddish, and they were very nice. But when she didn’t say kaddish, they ‘naturally’ assumed there was something wrong with her. They even offered her bus money to help her get home,” Rabenstein related. “My vision for the future is that women in shul for mincha in the middle of the week will no longer be viewed as imbalanced or abnormal. My hope is that you – our students – will make synagogue a home where the entire community feels welcome, and that your daughters will grow up feeling comfortable and welcome in shul. You can make that happen,” she said.
Reality Exceeds the Dream
“If you had asked me ten years ago where I would be today, I wouldn’t have even entertained the thought that I would be directing a program such as WIHL,” stated Rabbanit Evron. “I don’t want to share a dream for the future because that will limit the possibilities. So often – and especially in the realm of women’s learning – the reality exceeds the dream,” she said.
Rabbanit Evron added, “Our job is not necessarily to aim for lofty heights; sometimes we must correct everyday injustices. That said, I hope we will always continue to look for the uncharted paths. There’s extreme gratification in beating a trail, trodding along, being joined by more and more women until suddenly a path appears. I don’t only hope that this will happen for you,” she said. “I wish it upon you.”
Rabbi Teharlev concluded the evening with his own personal vision for the future, where women’s seminaries, schools and even men’s yeshivot will choose their spiritual leaders based upon merit and not gender. “But no matter what happens in the future, the place where we are today could never exist without Belda and Marcel Lindenbaum,” he declared. “Sometimes, people who are no longer with us are very much present. Because of Midreshet Lindenbaum and all the other vibrant batei midrash they established, It is as if Belda and Marcel are still alive. We will continue to learn Torah and spread it; we will continue to dream, to create, and to honor their memory.”