Translated from Hebrew article by Shira Ravid
Kipa Website – Published 24/06/2016 17:23
Emissaries in their Own Right
The wives of the rabbis and educators who go on shlichut as emissaries are no longer simply an appendage to their husbands. In a recent conference which took place in Warsaw, emphasis was placed on their central role in their adoptive communities.
Each year, male educators and rabbis embark on emissary work in Jewish communities scattered across the world’s various continents. In the past, the wives of these rabbis and teachers were considered adjunct accessories to their husband’s emissarial role, working behind the scenes as a support system. As the years have progressed, the wives’ central roles have become clearer; she is now considered in many locations not only the “shaliach‘s wife,” but rather as a second shaliach. The Ohr Torah Stone network has taken this a step further, and in parallel to their Straus-Amiel institute which trains rabbis for emissary service in the Diaspora, they established the Claudia Cohen Women Educator Institute, a separate institute for Torah and professional training for the wives, preparing them to work in Jewish communities throughout the world as emissaries in their own right. Last week, the Institute marked an additional important achievement with the first ever conference of its kind in Warsaw, for 30 graduates of the program who today serve as emissaries in various communities throughout Europe, and who, together with their husbands, are spreading a message of unity, continuity and justice, who exude warmth and acceptance and embody a Judaism which is relevant to modern life.
The conference’s primary focus was on how the female emissaries contend with the challenges of serving modern Diaspora communities and their roles in safeguarding the future of European Jewry. Within this framework, emphasis was placed on the women’s roles in leading the communities, with discussions on a host of subjects ranging from Jewish legal issues to the place of the other in the community, from ways in which to bring people closer to maintaining normative family life. The conference also offered participants an opportunity to share with one another any feelings of frustration, loneliness or struggles they may have in their roles, and to provide one another with professional and personal support.
“This is the first year that we have held a conference for the Institute’s graduate emissaries, out of an understanding of the importance of the potential empowerment the women receive from one another,” says Claudia Cohen director Renana Birnbaum. “The atmosphere was inspiring and heartwarming, with each participant listening to and truly understanding her peers. I was delighted to see the mutual consideration of the participants, all of whom are doing incredible work in the field out of a strong conviction and belief in the importance of Jewish unity and continuity. There is no doubt that this conference will become a tradition that we will uphold annually.”
Birnbaum continues: “the Institute’s mission is to train the wives of emissaries to fill a very important role in the personal, professional and spiritual realms. The communities they serve are in need of female leadership and female role models no less than than male. The Claudia Cohen Institute provides them with the tools and the knowledge which assist them to carry out these important tasks and to radiate rich Jewish spirituality to the community.”
“The conference was extremely significant to me,” relates Rivka Magzimoff, a graduate of the Institute who today serves alongside her husband, Rabbi Eli, as the chaplains of Leeds University in England. “Meeting with the women who are involved in the same types of situations as me was so beneficial, being able to discuss, share and debate issues with them in a free manner without having to be ‘politically correct’ opened up an entirely new and fascinating world to me,” she says.