When one walks into the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life’s beit midrash on its second floor, one might expect tobe greeted by the low rumble of students reading and discussing Jewish texts, the sight of students hunched over books, learning individually and in chavrutot (pairs). When one walks into the beit midrash on a Monday night, however, one can expect to be greeted by a loud and energetic din of discussion, vibrant and upbeat dialogue, and a room full of women. That is because female students are beyond excited to create their own beit midrash for women—a time to learn with female peers from similar and different Jewish backgrounds and an opportunity to share intellectual ideas. Freshman Katie Kroik confirms that this event is part of her weekly schedule. “I love WBM because it automatically schedules learning into my week. Whether with a chavrusa or by myself, I’ll be immersed in Torah for at least an hour. And it’s so nice to learn while seeing my friends!”
Rachel Waldman is the JLIC educator who staffs the program. Rachel, a vehement proponent of building community and forming meaningful relationships, facilitates the introductions at each WBM and encourages students to reach out to fellow students and get to know one another. Rachel believes WBM is a unique place to form friendships because “it brings diverse students together, allowing then to teach and learn from each other, and helping them to form relationships in the most special way.”
At Women’s Beit Midrash some students excitedly recreate the beit midrash-experience they had while studying in Israel for the year after high school, and others have never before studied Jewish texts. The experience is one that unites women with an interest in learning in an environment that fosters stimulating conversation and serious study. Kendra Meisler, a sophomore at NYU and one of the founders of the program, has been incredibly pleased with students’ enthusiastic response to the program. She particularly values the atmosphere that is created by the participating students; she shares, “I’m really excited to have a set time when girls can come learn in a warm, supportive environment where love of Torah and learning is nurtured.”
Students generally learn in chavrutot, some prearranged and others arranged by shared interest in a topic. Before everyone begins learning, there is a quick round of introductions so that everyone learns the names of their fellow students, and the program concludes each week with one of the chavrutot sharing something they learned together that evening. This contributes to the feel of communal learning. Occasionally, the independent learning atmosphere is replaced by a speaker who addresses the entire group. This week, Rabbanit Gilla Rosen, a teacher at Nishmat and a Yoetzet Halacha, gave a shiur to more than 20 students in attendance. This forum was a special opportunity to hear from women who are religious, academic, and communal role models.
Rachel Waldman also provides a variety of current articles and topics to study for students who are looking for resources beyond the books in the Bronfman Center’s extensive beit midrash collection. She is known to be accessible for guidance or a stimulating conversation, and she is always ready to share a relevant and thought-provoking dvar torah with the group.
While some women participate in the Bronfman Center Kollel led by Rabbi Gideon Black, JLIC Rabbi at NYU, and many others learn in the beit midrash and at the myriad of other educational initiatives run through JLIC at the Bronfman Center, Women’s Beit Midrash creates a warm and bustling environment for female students to learn together and from one another in the comfort of the Bronfman Center’s beit midrash. We look forward to continued vibrancy and growth in the program.