Highly intelligent and motivated students in their 20’s and 30’s have been coming to Shapell’s/Yeshiva Darche Noam and Midreshet Rachel v’Chaya in Jerusalem for over 40 years. They come to deepen their understanding of Judaism by focusing on their textual skills and gaining a deeper understanding of the Torah. They are encouraged to think independently and to serve the Jewish community. It is not surprising that out of this highly talented group of more than 4,000 alumni, a great many lay and professional leaders of the Jewish community have arisen. We wanted to find out how some of these leaders were impacted by their time at Shapell’s/Darche Noam.
Rabbi Yonah and Rebbetzin Rachel Bookstein are the co-founders of the Pico Shul in Los Angeles which they started after extensive professional experience reaching and teaching their fellow Jews in both Europe and America.
Rabbi Bookstein shared, “Darche Noam helped to energize, and propel me as a Jewish community activist and leader, providing a unique and dynamic environment for Jewish growth and Torah education. In subsequent years, the yeshiva and its worldwide alumni network have consistently supported our work by providing advice, chizuk and mentoring.” Rebbetzin Bookstein added, “We are always excited to send students to Darche Noam to learn and strengthen their knowledge and skills and to create more Jewish families.”
Allison Josephs is the founder of Jew in the City and Project Makom in metropolitan New York. In these roles, she breaks stereotypes of Orthodox Jews and also shows that there are many types of Torah Judaism. This is a particularly important message for those thinking of leaving Orthodoxy who may have been taught there is only “one way.”
She shared, “I got a great hashkafa (outlook) at Midreshet Rachel - one that was based on mentschlichkeit (being a good person), erlichkeit (honesty) and seichel (intelligence). I was taught to respect and see value in the diversity of Torah approaches. I was taught by example to speak up when there’s a problem, and that correcting a problem is not something to be ashamed of, but rather a KiddushHashem. I left the school with close ties to my rabbeim, whom I could always turn to for questions that arose after I left. Great values can be given over during a year of study, but having a rav to turn to when you’re out in the field is invaluable.”
Eliza Delman is the Upper School Counselor, Director of Student Services and former Principal of the upper school of the Columbus Torah Academy.
She reflected, “When joining the Orthodox world, it can be confusing to discern which parts of our past we should still hold on to and which parts we should shed. Midreshet Rachel teachers helped me understand the difference between sociology and Torah/Halacha. Having grown up in the non-religious American Jewish world, I had the benefit of a sophisticated and high-quality secular education. When I became part of the Orthodox world, I saw that I could make a positive contribution, helping to introduce best-practices in education and school counseling to American day schools. The Darche Noam approach of respecting different sociologies while keeping Torah as the center gives me the ability to connect with all different kinds of Jewish families, a tremendous benefit in Jewish educational leadership.”
Leaders who got their start at Shapell’s/Darche Noam aren’t just in Israel and North America. For example, there are a number of professional and lay leaders serving the Jewish community in England and Israel.
One such leader is Rabbi Andrew Shaw. He came to Shapell’s having grown up in Bnei Akiva and already wanting to be a rabbi. He shared, “Even though I am the Chief Executive of Mizrachi UK and am absolutely passionate about the hashkafa I was raised with and believe in, Shapell’s taught me to understand that there are many ways of expressing yourself in Torah, and to never think that other expressions of Judaism within the Torah world are invalid. This has been absolutely crucial in the relationships I’ve built up with other institutions that have ideologies that are different from my own. Certainly, it made me realize that we have far more in common with the haredi world than not. It’s an important realization that we must always talk about the positives of our ideology, rather than negating anybody else’s. Shapell’s is a unique place in the world where you can see that every single day through the relationships between the rabbeim and the respect they all have for one another even when they may disagree on major parts of another’s hashkafa. There is a love, camaraderie, and respect that inspired me then; and it continues to inspire me today, over 20 years later.”
Rabbi Dr. Moshe Freedman is the Rabbi of London’s New West End Synagogue. His time at Shapell’s has also greatly influenced his work.
He recalled, “Learning at Shapell’s helped me to both develop my skills in learning classic Jewish texts, and also build my confidence in being able to relate complex Jewish ideas to audiences of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds, making them relevant to current issues. The unique approach to learning Torah at Shapell’s helped me to appreciate and respect a broad range of different Torah hashkafot, which, in turn, allowed me to become a more broadminded leader within my own community.”
Rabbi Leib (Lawrence) Kelemen of Jerusalem is a noted author, teacher and founder/ Rosh Kollel of the Center for Kehillah Development. He was profoundly impacted by his time at Shapell's/Darche Noam, sharing that, "Darche Noam provided the incubator I needed to not only develop fluency and accuracy in Gemara but to discover my path in Torah. Rabbis Karlinsky and Shurin actually took me to speak with Rav Wolbe when they saw I was attracted to his derech. There was never pressure to conform to any institutional hashkafa."
Some of the Jewish people’s lay and professional leaders of tomorrow are currently studying at Shapell’s and Midreshet Rachel. These students are being educated to not just have fluency in our people’s holy texts, but also to be totally committed to the welfare of our people.