US Senator Joseph Lieberman’s wife, Hadassah Lieberman, took part in the dedication ceremony of Nishmat’s new Jerusalem campus this week. In its new location in the Pat neighborhood, Nishmat has become one of the main service providers for the largely socio-economically disadvantaged population of secular and traditional Sephardic and Russian Jews. Community programs include regular visits by students to local elderly and ill residents, a free food program, weekly Torah classes for women, and holiday events for the entire neighborhood.
Nishmat offers a variety of Torah programs for native Israelis, Ethiopian immigrants and overseas students. The curriculum is "designed to give women high levels of acquaintance with traditional Jewish texts, in an environment of spirituality and commitment to Torah observance which will inspire them to take leadership roles in their communities."
Lieberman, a member of Nishmat’s International Forum, flew in especially for the dedication and was the event’s keynote speaker. "I associate Nishmat with energy and activism,” she told the participants. “The young women who come to Nishmat are en route to universities, to professions; some are starting new families and beginning to take their places in a larger world: Nishmat tells them all ‘you need to be educated.'"
Courses at Nishmat include training for the world’s first certified yoatzot halakha (Halakhic Advisors). The yoatzot are authorized by noted Orthodox rabbinic authorities to address matters of Jewish law (halacha) connected to family life, fertility and sexuality. Via their hotline, the yoatzot have fielded over 70,000 questions by women worldwide who felt more comfortable discussing these intimate matters with a woman, rather than with a rabbi.
Nishmat offers programs both for Israeli and for overseas women, as well as a groundbreaking course of study - the New Ethiopian Women (N.E.W.) program - for Ethiopian-Israeli students who require assistance in completing their Israeli high school matriculation.
One of these girls was Esther Semu, 18, of an Ethiopian family of ten children. She became very good friends with Senator Lieberman's daughter Hani, who was studying in another Nishmat program. After two years of national service in Hispin in the Golan, Semu - who speaks fluent English - was invited to work in Jewish education in the USA on behalf of Bnei Akiva Olami. Esther is now working in Salanter Akiva Riverdale (SAR) Academy in Bronx, NY.
Nishmat founder and dean Rabbanit Chana Henkin is the spiritual and academic force behind the educational institution. Rabbanit Henkin shared her vision: "Nishmat is developing women's potential as both scholars and leaders. We have opened the gates of Jewish texts to women and formed a dynamic learning community infused with Torah values as well as devotion to Jewish life and the State of Israel."
(Photos: Arutz-7 Photojournalist Josh Shamsi)
Hillel Fendel contributed to this story.