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Dreamscapes: Spark Teens’ Connection with Yiddishkeit

Elisheva Appel

I wanted to give the newfound clarity I’d received to others in similar situations: the regular, not-at-risk girls who just didn’t know the richness they were missing

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

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Dream: Spark teens’ connection with Yiddishkeit

Chaya Rivka Davis

Location: Beitar

By the time I was 15, I’d lived in three countries on as many continents, with many smaller moves thrown in for good measure. I grew up mostly in Israel, but my parents, themselves American olim, brought the family to do kiruv in Chile and stopped over in Lakewood for a few years before returning to Eretz Yisrael. I’m outgoing and sociable, so all the moves were never a problem for me. I made friends wherever we went, and still keep in touch with friends from each place.

I’d been frum my whole life, getting into typical teenage trouble and pushing the envelope a bit, but never crossing any major lines. Like a stereotypical teen, I watched things my parents didn’t love and listened to music they just didn’t get and needed to be constantly on the go. I felt empty if every second wasn’t filled with action.When I was 17, I’d had enough and decided to take control of my life. I learned to reclaim Yiddishkeit for my own through the shiurim of Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein at Ohr Naava, which helped me wholeheartedly and consciously accept what I’d been learning all the years.

That’s when my dream took root — I wanted to give the newfound clarity I’d received to others in similar situations: the regular, not-at-risk girls who just didn’t know the richness they were missing. I’d watch my younger sisters’ friends and notice the signs of growing disenchantment — slight downgrades in their level of tzniyus, casual comments they let slip that showed they just weren’t feeling connected — and I’d wonder, why is no one working with these girls?

The schools do great work, but some people need more. Either they have questions that they can’t ask in the Bais Yaakov setting, or they weren’t mature enough to hear certain messages when their teachers gave them over, so things are just going over their heads. Also, by their very nature, schools need to be rule based. That doesn’t work for everyone. I wanted to offer these girls classes that would address their unspoken needs, where they could ask questions without being judged and connect with people who could advise them.

When I discussed my idea with a former teacher, she gave me the name of Rav Moshe Zeldman of Aish HaTorah, but I simply couldn’t reach him no matter how hard I tried. Attempts to reach other mechanchim whom I thought would be a good fit also hit dead ends. At that point, my laid-back personality almost caused me to shrug, say, “Nu, nu, you tried, I guess it’s just not bashert,” and give up.

I was ready to throw in the towel, but I figured I’d try Rav Zeldman one last time. To my surprise, I reached him!

What he told me really blew me away. Two weeks ago, he said, he would have said no to a project of the sort I was proposing. But he’d recently been in the US, where a middle-aged woman had begged him to come speak to a group of her frum-from-birth friends, and he’d found himself in a living room in a yeshivish enclave answering basic questions about emunah for nearly four hours.

 

“So last night,” concluded Rabbi Zeldman, “I sat down and wrote a five-part seminar for religious girls and women on the fundamentals of emunah and bitachon. How about I try it out on your program?”

That’s how Bnot Aliyah was born, and it took off from there.

Two weeks later, while at my in-laws for Shabbos, the topic of my program came up. A few guests gave donations, which was encouraging, but one of them also turned out to be an editor for Arutz Sheva. He wrote an article about what I was doing. One thing led to another, and someone who read the article put me in touch with Rabbi Benayahu Dvir, who gave me free space to run my program in a high school that’s under his auspices.

By now, one year later, we have a pretty committed group, ranging from teens through young twenties. We get together weekly for an English-language shiur, camaraderie, and refreshments. Most people who come are regulars, but we have a very chilled atmosphere, so there’s no pressure if you miss. The girls pay 30 shekels apiece, and that’s what we use to pay the speakers. I cover the refreshments out of my own maaser money. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 606)

 

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