claudia cohen

No Longer ‘The Rabbi’s Wife’

Group of Claudia Cohen graduates in Venice

No Longer ‘The Rabbi’s Wife’ 

“I looked at the women around me with wonder and admiration, and found myself pondering the role of the rabbanit in this day and age and how different it all was when I was a shlicha and the wife of a serving rabbi.”

Sara Beck | Maariv Newspaper | Friday, December 21, 2018

Group of Claudia Cohen graduates in VeniceLast week, Ohr Torah Stone’s Claudia Cohen Women Educator Institute held a conference in Venice for 26 graduates who today serve as emissaries in various communities throughout Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Discussions focused on the general, as well as delicate issues impacting Jewish communities throughout Europe, the United Kingdom and Israel. Topics included raising a Jewish family as anti-Semitism is on the rise, a lack of Jewish infrastructure in many communities throughout Europe, family purity and mikva, Jewish education, parenting – couplehood and family in rabbinical and emissary work, the role of and status of women in the Jewish community and prayer in the postmodern world.

Media personality Sara Beck, who attended the conference as a lecturer, wrote about it in the Israeli Maariv daily:

Tuesday of last week, Asara b’Tevet, the 10th of Tevet, Venice, Italy.  In the heart of the Jewish community two buildings stand side by side, in what I view as an extraordinary juxtaposition.  In a small bet midrash, situated right next to the Jewish ghetto’s Great Synagogue, ten or so Jews gather together in prayer.  They are elderly and are wrapped in prayer shawls and tefillin.  Some made their way by boats through the nearby canals, others live close by in the ghetto.  I seat myself in the corridor, close to the entrance, because there is no designated women’s section, and it feels like I’ve been taken back in time by half a century at least.  It is dark and cold.  The synagogue, which was once one of the most splendid structures in the ghetto, does not even have heating.  The wooden beams which hold up the ceiling, as well as the loam-colored velvet curtains, are in desperate need of some cleaning.  But the community is on the demise and there is no budget for preservation.  Venice is emptying out of its youth in general, and in the Jewish community this is all the more apparent. 

That said, in the building next door there is great commotion.  20-odd young women, all of whom are inspiring leaders, are engaging in lively and creative discourse.  All the women present are the wives of rabbis who went out on shlichut to different parts of Europe as part of Ohr Torah Stone’s Straus-Amiel program.  Under the auspices of Ohr Torah Stone and the WZO they came together from Sweden, England, Switzerland, Poland, Germany and Bulgaria in order to exchange ideas and discover that they all, in fact, face a similar challenge:  How does one help Jewish communities reinvent themselves in order to stay relevant?

Take Ilana Epstein from London.  She started a blog on Jewish cuisine which went viral on the web.  She is a culinary expert and the star of a charming cooking show she created, reminiscent of (famous Israeli pastry chef) Karin Goren.  Every cooking episode begins with a history of the particular dish, followed by recipes.  It has become obvious to all another way to discovering Jewish identity is through the stomach. 

Danielle Basok, an energetic and indefatigable rebbetzin working in the Jewish community of Wroclaw (Poland) helped renovate the local mikve (ritual bath) built in 1905 inside the premises of the city’s ancient synagogue, and turn it into a museum and culture center as well.  She, too, discovered that food is the way to go, and in wake of her success in the local community, the University of Wroclaw invited her to give a series of monthly lectures in the coming year.  Miriam Singer of Lodz founded a TV channel for the Jewish communities of Poland and Rotem Noy from Berlin started a commune of sorts for Jewish students who wish to live together in a Jewish environment.

I looked at the women around me with wonder and admiration, and found myself pondering the role of the rabbanit in this day and age and how different it all was when I was a shlicha and the wife of a serving rabbi.  If in the past the role of the rabbanit (or rebbetzin, if you will) was taking out the cookies from the oven in time to serve those coming to consult with the rabbi (don’t worry, I was never such a rebbetzin), today the young wives of serving rabbis are leaders in their own right and agents of change in the communities they serve. 

They are also a great source of knowledge, support and creativity, and they engage in all these task often paying a heavy personal price: leaving behind their extended family in Israel, raising children in an unfamiliar environment and sometimes having to deal with internal community challenges – when the community to which they belong is also their formal employer.  In short, one might call these women the “Chabad” movement of religious Zionism. 

Sarah Beck addresses the women at the conference “Our Rebbetzins and women educators play a vital and multi-faceted role in communities around the Jewish world. As such, before they embark upon their roles as community educators and emissaries of Modern Orthodoxy, receive professional training which helps them effectively lead their communities and provide the spiritual resources their communities need,” said OTS President and Rosh HaYeshiva Rabbi Kenneth Brander. “The goal of the conference was to provide the forum for ongoing education on important contemporary issues, to talk freely amongst themselves about the challenges and opportunities arising in the course of their holy work and, most importantly, to strengthen their peer network and sense of camaraderie.”

“It was impressive to see young women who are spiritual leaders in European communities come together to discuss pressing issues facing their communities,” said Rabbanit Renana Birnbaum, Director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Claudia Cohen Women Educators Institute. “It’s no longer, ‘The Rabbi’s wife,’ but rather a true spiritual leader, with each of these women playing a central role in the heart of the growth of their communities.”

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Emissaries in their Own Right

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.

20160516_164323Each 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.20160516_155352

“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.”

2“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.

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