Michal Katz Is Loving Life at Midreshet Lindenbaum
By JLNJ Staff | December 26, 2019
Michal Katz, daughter of Avi and Rebecca Katz, grew up in Teaneck and after graduating from Yeshivat Frisch last year, is now learning at Ohr Torah Stone’s Midreshet Lindenbaum. Katz was chosen to be a member of Midreshet Lindenbaum’s first cohort of the Matmidot Scholars program. In addition to a special program in which she will personally meet and learn from some of Israel’s greatest Torah scholars, she is spending part of her year dedicated to learning about, researching and producing a Torah journal article under the direct mentorship of one of Midreshet Lindenbaum’s faculty members.
Why did you choose Midreshet Lindenbaum?
I chose Midreshet Lindenbaum because I felt that its values really aligned with my idea about what it means to be a young Jewish woman. I relate to its ideas on religious and spiritual growth through an open, non-judgmental environment helping each person discover her own path for growth. It has been inspiring for me to see people from all different backgrounds growing in their own ways. I think this is unique to Midreshet Lindenbaum.
I also chose Midreshet Lindenbaum because of the new Matmidot Scholars program that is very exciting to be a part of. It really encourages me to make my learning my own. I most value the fact that the Matmidot program is mentoring me through writing a high-level Torah article. It also helps me feel part of the greater Ohr Torah Stone mission of furthering women’s learning and specifically doing it through encouraging women’s writing and publishing. It is cool to see a window into our potential and to meet Gedolei HaDor (both males and females) who show us different models of Jewish leadership. I am writing my paper on the difference between Torah and Chesed through the lens of Aggadot.
The Darkaynu program is also something unique that attracted me to Midreshet Lindenbaum. I’ve done a lot of work with individuals with special needs throughout my life – to be able to take that one step further and learn alongside with the Darkaynu program has been incredibly meaningful. It allowed for the combination of two of my passions- learning Torah and inclusion.
What goals did you have for your year?
I was looking to make my learning my own in order to deepen my roots and understand better the things I have grown up with. I want to learn how to use the sources to enrich my growth and devotion to Torah and mitzvot. I also wanted to gain some personal independence. I am looking to bridge my learning and my practice. For example, when I learn to better understand tefillah in my tefillah class with Rabbi Tuvia Kaplan, my davening takes on a whole new meaning.
What has been the biggest highlight of your year so far?
There is an overall positive atmosphere in the building. I remember looking around at the beit midrash one of the first days I was here and just being so overwhelmed by how incredible it was. I was surrounded by hundreds of young women learning Torah in different languages, all excited and motivated, it made me want to cry from joy and at that moment I knew I made the right choice.
The Poland trip was a highlight for me because it gave me a sense of pride and responsibility to take with me throughout the year. I realized that the hardships that so many people before me went through was part of the reason I am able to do what I do today. We read a poem written by a survivor before we left the Tykocin (Łopuchowo) forest about how he has bad days and good days. It seems to be a letter written to a grandchild about how he is always with him. He told his grandchild to remember “the glass is always half full,” and that the sun comes up each morning. A survivor who went through hell had the courage to say that to us today. They remind us to be positive and live with courage. The stories of the past are hard to hear because we cannot take any action to change them. Instead we should task ourselves to hear the stories and the horror and take their heroism and turn it into courage and constant Jewish pride. There are few things more powerful than walking out of forests with mass graves, concentration camps, and death camps arm in arm, singing and wearing an Israeli flag.
Kever Rachel was another high point for me. A highlight of learning in Israel is that fact that the stories that we learn about in class took place where we are. After Poland, the figure of Rachel Imenu really stuck with me as a sense of hope for the future. In addition to that, I was learning the Nevuah in my Yirmiyahu class. To be able to go to the kever, which is just seven minutes away from Midreshet Lindenbaum, and see what we learned with our own eyes was extremely powerful.
What kind of challenges have you faced coming to Israel?
For me one of the biggest challenges was learning how to navigate a new and extremely full schedule. It forced me to realign myself, figure out how to use my free time and how to learn how to be independent.
How has being in Israel been different from your expectations? Did you feel prepared for your experience?
In terms of the learning I felt that Frisch prepared me very well. For me the culture shock came when I realized how different everyone’s backgrounds are. This culture shock has been an inspiration – seeing people who grew up different then me (and some with much less Jewish and Torah background) be so motivated, motivates me to want to learn more. Being with Israelis who are my age is very cool, but it is also a different experience to not always understand everything that is going on around me. Living and sharing the beit midrash with Israelis has also made the current situation much more real to me. During the recent flare up in the South we had this incredible moment when the Israeli teachers were telling their students that they should look out for us – the frightened overseas students and we were being told to have extra sensitivity to the Israelis because these are real people with real families who are living and being directly affected by what is going on in the South.
What is one of your favorite classes at Midreshet Lindenbaum?
Yirmiyahu with Rav Shlomo Brown. I like that it is taught by an Israeli and is in Hebrew. I learned Yirmiyahu in high school and now I love it even more. It has enhanced my connection to the land of Israel – to be learning in the land brings it to a whole new level.
What are some of your favorite activities to do during your free time at seminary?
I like to volunteer with Friendship Circle and Yachad as well as spend time learning with my Darkaynu chevruta. I like to run – both outside in our beautiful neighborhood and downstairs in our gym.I like to spend time with friends – learning to make food, eating food, going out for food and talking about how our learning and being in Israel has affected us. I have also been taking advantage of having the opportunity to read. Additionally, some of my favorite time to learn in the beit midrash is in the quiet after-hours – there is a great vibe in the beit midrash at that time.
Where is your favorite place to go for weekends/Shabbat so far?
I really like the midrasha shabbatons that we have in random communities. It is a great time to bond with people outside of the classroom and it gives us a chance to explore different communities and the culture of Israel that we would probably not get to see otherwise.
It is also great for me to get to spend time with family members that live around the country, including my grandparents.
For me who I spend my Shabbatot with is as important as where I go. It’s a time to see people from my midrasha and other midrashot in a different context. It’s also a chance to catch up with people and reflect on what’s happened and how I’ve grown since the last time I was in that place or with those people.
What are you most looking forward to from the rest of your year?
Continuing to find my place, using my time right, continuing to learn Torah – make connections with teachers and students alike. The staff is warm and honest and that pushes me to explore myself honestly as well. I am also very excited to continue bonding with such a special group of girls. On one of our early Shabbatot we had an Ayin Tova circle in which we all reflected on a positive thing about someone else in the group. It was inspiring to see and really helped us form as a community. I look forward to figuring out how and what I want to learn moving forward when it is not as easy as walking downstairs and sitting in the most beautiful beit midrash in the world.