New girls' program draws rave reviews

'There was a point in my life when I had no one to talk to. I had no friends. I don't want anyone else to go through that.'

Mordechai Sones ,

Rebbetzen Chaya Rivka Davis
Rebbetzen Chaya Rivka Davis
Chaya Rivka Davis

"Two or three weeks ago I'd had it; 'That's it; I can't keep watching these girls just flounder and be neither here nor there, and drift further and further away', and I decided, 'It doesn't look like anybody's doing anything, I'm going to take the initiative because there's nothing else I can do.'"

These were the thoughts of Rebbetzin Chaya Rivka Davis, 23, of Jerusalem, and the result is Bnot Aliyah, a weekly program of fun and connection for young women between the ages of 18-30 that has already had its first successful evening and appears to be answering a vitally pressing need.

According to their flyer, Bnot Aliyah gets together once a week for "fun, connection, and purpose in an accepting atmosphere". Well-known speakers on topics that girls always wished they could discuss are interspersed with lots of socializing and activity, with an aim at creating deep, long-term connections with friends who can relate to each other's sometimes lonely journey.

Rebbetzin Davis was born in Israel and raised here most of her life. Her parents are American ba'alei teshuva, and they lived in Israel until she was eleven. She learned in a Yiddish school for 1st-3rd grade, then a mainstream haredi Beis Ya'akov in Beit Shemesh. When she was eleven they moved to Chile for half-a-year to do kiruv, then to Lakewood for three years, and when she was fourteen they made Aliyah back to Israel. Loneliness and lack of friends with whom to connect are situations Davis has felt acutely, and speaking with her, one senses the urgent empathy that wouldn't let her rest.

"Bnot Aliyah brings together girls from 18 years and up to come and get inspired and strengthen yiddishkeit," Davis explains. "I want the girls to actually have a connection to yiddishkeit, because a lot of times you see these girls from regular, religious, haredi upbringing, and sometimes they just have questions that didn't or couldn't get answered at the time that they were asked, or they didn't have the chance to ask them and then they just don't ever connect. So what I'm doing is giving them a connection to yiddishkeit, which means even a reason to stay religious.

"When girls struggle with the religious aspect of their lives, that's a symptom, it's not the cause. There's something there; either they don't connect, or they don't understand something, and sometimes they don't really pursue it, they just let it go, and slowly but surely their dress changes, their actions change, who they go out with changes, and slowly they just slip away.

"And I couldn't watch that happen. Especially since I know what it feels like to have a void and try to fill it as a teenager. I had that. And at 17 I just decided that I'm cutting cold turkey from watching movies and TV shows to fill that up, and listening to not-Jewish music to fill that up, and I just passed all that and I started listening to Rabbi Zecharya Wallerstein's shiurim for a year, from when I was 16-17, that's what I did. And it really helped me, and I was inspired by him and I felt like a person again. It's very hard when you have a void and you don't know how to fill it; you don't know what to do."

Similar sentiments were expressed by Hadas Bat-el Schreiber, 19, of Beit Shemesh, co-founder of Bnot Aliyah. "I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and made Aliyah in the middle of 8th grade, which was extremely difficult. When I heard that Chaya Rivka wanted to start this, I jumped at the chance. I was thinking, 'If they had something like this when I was in 8th, 9th, 10th grade, I would have loved to go!' A place to talk to other teens and ask questions and connect. There was a point in my life when I had no-one to talk to. I had no friends, and it wasn't like, 'Oh, I'll talk to my parents...' I don't want anyone else to go through that; I want there to be another option. That's what causes people to go off. That's what every teen wants; they just want to connect, and to feel welcome, and they want to feel wanted, and just have a place to have fun in."

The delay between intention and fulfillment seems to have been shortened by Divine decree. Rebbetzin Davis continues the story of Bnot Aliyah's founding: "I contacted a woman who taught me, from Aish haTorah, and I said that I want to bring somebody to speak to girls who were born and raised in religious, frum from birth, haredi homes, and to teach them emunah and bitachon; basic yiddishkeit, as if they'd never learned it before, so they can reclaim yiddishkeit for themselves.

"She said, 'Listen, I have the perfect speaker for you, his name is Rabbi Moshe Zeldman; this is his number. After two days when he wasn't in the country, I called him, he answered me and I told him what I want to do. And he said, 'You should know: Two weeks ago, if you would have contacted me I would have told you that I have my yeshiva, the Aish guys, ba'alei teshuva, that's what I deal with, I don't teach haredi, "FFB" people; but - I was just in the States and Canada, and religious, haredi women who have been through the Beis Ya'akov system, for some reason, don't have that basic knowledge or feeling or connection to yiddishkeit, and they just want answers, and they were begging me to teach them.

"'Because of that, last night I wrote a five-part seminar for haredi, frum-from-birth girls to teach them basic emunah and bitachon, and the basics of yiddishkeit.'

"So that was Hashem showing me that, 'Wow, two phone calls; one to get his number, and that's it!' Hashem was like 'Boom! Here you have a Rabbi.' So baruch Hashem, we got it started."

No sincere campaign of this type can fail: "The first meeting was amazing; seventeen girls showed up, which is amazing! I didn't know what to expect, I was just hoping I'd have enough to cover the costs, and seventeen covered the costs. We ended up doing it in a place called Temech, which is a non-profit organization that helps haredi women into the workforce, and helps them build their businesses. They have conference rooms they rent out for a decent price, so thirty shekels from each girl covered the conference room plus the speaker, which is amazing.

"After we walked out of the first meeting, everyone was on a high, saying 'We're coming back next week! You should do this in Betar! You should do this in Givat Ze'ev! You should do this here, you should do it there!' They're all excited; a lot of them are coming back.

"I have a girl who went off the derech and came back and she enjoyed the class so much she wants to try and arrange something for her non-religious friends. Another girl, who because of her I felt compelled to start this event, because I've been watching her flounder for a while - she came to the event last Monday night and she loved it!!"

Hadas Bat-el: "We realized that classes aren't enough, they'd been through classes; maybe an hour before, the girls also need to connect, play games, and talk, and have fun. Because I feel a lot of girls don't have anybody to connect with. Everyone connects online with social media and stuff, but they're not put into a room where they have to actually meet other girls and actually talk about things on a deeper level.

"I was surprised by the amount of girls who came, I was so excited, and the way that Rabbi Zeldman addressed the girls, I felt that everyone who was there was really receptive and really liked it, and that got me really excited, like, 'It's not just an idea that theoretically I think would be good, the girls actually liked it!"

Rebbetzin Davis explains how their first speaker captivated his audience: "I told the Rabbi he should be open to any questions, and he was, and girls asked. Before a girl came she asked me, 'What, like, can I ask, "How do we know that Hashem exists, who said that our G-d is the right G-d?"', and I said 'Yes, of course you can ask whatever you want,' and I suggested that either she go to him after privately, or, in the open discussion we had where one girl asked, 'If I don't see or feel G-d, how do I know that He exists?' So they ask very basic questions.

Rabbi Moshe Zeldman, who has been has been at the forefront of the kiruv movement at Aish Hatorah for over 20 years, designed his five-week course precisely for such an audience. Entitled Emuna - Making it Clear, Making it Real, the classes deal with the tough questions - Hashem's existence, free will, suffering, and helps students develop a more personal connection to Hashem, Torah, and mitzvos.

Rebbetzin Davis says that "the classes are important because I wanted the girls to have the basics, but that's not all we're doing. I also want there to be fun activities, for girls to bond; I want it to be more small and intimate, so I'm probably going to want to branch out to different places and have different representatives in various parts of Yerushalayim, to just have girls connect and talk amongst themselves."

The next meeting will be held this coming Thursday night, June 29th, at 8:00 PM, in Temech, Sha'arei HaIr, which is Rechov Yaffo 216, ninth floor, in the conference room.

Rebbetzin Davis: "After the event all the girls stayed for another half hour talking with each other and connecting, and it's just good; they feel part of something, something that has to do with religion and it makes them feel good about it, they're doing something positive."

Bnot Aliya current flyer
Bnot Aliya