CoupleShapells/Darche Noam

A dream of many young couples is to spend one of the first years of their marriage (often the first year) learning Torah in Israel. They correctly see this as an important opportunity to base their marriage on a strong foundation of Torah. However, after completing this long-anticipated year some are disappointed that it was not a truly meaningful, integrated experience for both husband and wife.

The Shapell’s/ Darche Noam Married Couples Program is the answer. The program provides the opportunity for couples to invest in their development as a Torah family in the early stages of marriage. The husband studies at Shapell’s/Yeshiva Darche Noam at the same as the wife studies at Midreshet Rachel v’Chaya. Not only do both husband and wife benefit from high-level classes designed to increase their skills in textual studies, but they also share many of the same rabbanim and teachers since they are studying in two branches of the same organization - each with the same approach. In addition, they have the opportunity to participate in special “couples seminars” where they, along with other participants in the program, explore subjects crucial to building a home filled with both Torah and harmony. While some seminars focus on practical halachic topics like observance of Kashrut, Shabbat, and Pesach, others focus on topics such as communication, handling disagreements, dealing properly with non-observant family members, gender differences and educating children. As many (though not all) of the couples did not grow up in Orthodox families, these seminars - along with personal sessions with rabbis, provide an invaluable foundation as they build their home together.

The couples in the program also benefit from being part of a community of similar couples. In addition to various activities and Shabbatonim, they enjoy interacting with one another informally.

Every year, one couple is awarded the prestigious David Shapell z”l Memorial Married Couples Fellowship. This awards a couple with particularly strong leadership potential a full scholarship, subsidized housing and half board for the year-long program. Simcha and Sabrina Brick are this year’s fellows.

A native of St. Louis, Simcha previously studied at Shapell’s/ Yeshiva Darche Noam from 2014-16. His professional roles have all been in Jewish education (both formal and informal). From 2010-2015, he acted as the “Camp Rabbi” for a small camp in Southern Illinois, teaching students from elementary school through college about Judaism. In 2016, after leaving Shapell’s, he became the director of NCSY’s “Jewish Student Union” in Houston, running programs and classes for Jewish teens in public schools. He also taught Jewish philosophy and history in a local Jewish high school. In 2018, he was promoted and made the NCSY Director of Westchester County in New York.

Sabrina grew up in Metuchen, New Jersey, studied journalism at Rutgers University and simultaneously became involved with Rutgers Jewish Experience/Meor on campus. During a prior learning experience in Israel, she worked as a madricha for Meorot, NCSY’s gap year seminary program in Israel for public school teens. Already having decided to give back professionally to the Jewish community, she spent the year before doing outreach in private and public schools for Brooklyn NCSY, working part-time for Souled NYC, the women’s division of Meor Manhattan, and began writing for Mishpacha 2.0.

Sabrina commented, “The Darche Noam couples fellowship program has been amazing (and it's only December)! Since September, Simcha and I have been spending full days learning Torah at Shapell's and Midreshet Rachel. In the classroom, I can see and feel my skills building on a daily basis. I am reading and translating Chumash and Navi like never before. It's very special to go home at the end of the day and be able to discuss what we are learning and figure out how to take the lessons from the classroom and apply them practically in our lives.”

Simcha shared, “It's such a big idea in Torah that a quality start impacts the future, so of course we would want the start of our family to be immersed in Torah at Shapell's. Plus, every day that I expand who I am through my learning is more I can give over when I get back to my students in America”

Below- Married couples, their rabbis and teachers enjoy a welcoming barbecue at the home of Rav and Rebbetzin Shaya Karlinsky.

Recent alumni of the program- and their communities- have already seen the benefits of the program. Eric and Lindsay Feldman, now of Baltimore, shared that the program “strengthened nearly every aspect of our Jewish lives - our desire and ability to learn, our knowledge of Jewish law, our comfort in navigating issues with non-frum families, and in our roles as spouses and parents. We’ve both been able to contribute to and participate in a variety of weekly and monthly shiurim since our time in the Married Couples Program, including a shiur with a focus on Shalom Bayit that many young couples in the neighborhood attend.” Eric recently made his first siyum on a Masechet of Gemara (Arachin!) which can be attributed in large part to the skills and passion for learning that were gained at Shapell’s.” Despite leading busy professional lives (She as a teacher and he as a cost engineer for a construction company), both Lindsay and Eric are very involved in their community. Lindsay started a Jewish Student Union at her public high-school and hosted seasonal events. Her biggest “victory” was hosting a 20-person megilla reading in her classroom on Purim! Eric helped start the Baltimore Mussar Vaad (regular studying of ethics and personal growth), part of an international organization of study groups guided by Darche Noam/Shapell’s alumnus Rabbi Lawrence Keleman), and was the administrator of the group during its first year. Both are also involved with tutoring Jewish students at MEOR Maryland and the local chapter of the Russian American Jewish Experience.

Lindsay Feldman talks about the experience she and her husband Eric shared as a married couple and Shapell’s/Darche Noam, and how their education helped them navigate “Shabbat Christmas”!

Adam and Yocheved Musnitsky, originally of South Africa, were last year’s Married Couples Fellows. They had decided to take a year off from their work in the corporate world to enhance their Torah knowledge and spirituality. They chose to learn with us because of our reputation for helping students further their textual skills and spiritual/ personal growth as well as for our commitment to the “Darche Noam” (paths of pleasantness) approach that promotes respect and admiration for the variety of philosophies in the Orthodox world. Adam reflected, “In today’s world where everyone is so polarized and there is a lack of unity, we really felt that it was important to connect to all different Torah ideologies and learn about them. We have been really blessed connecting to all the rabbis and got an understanding of the various philosophies.” The Musnitsky’s ability to live on campus was a particular benefit that allowed them to have such an immersive experience. They had such an incredible experience that they decided to make aliyah! Adam shared, “One of the things about Shapell’s is that it makes you a lot more of a thinking person and allows you to develop yourself. We found that living in Israel, particularly in Jerusalem, is such a fantastic opportunity. We are not negating where we came from but we have really had such an incredible opportunity to live in Jerusalem. We have been truly blessed.” They now live near both Shapell’s and Midreshet Rachel in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem. Adam has continued studying in the yeshiva in the morning and works in the afternoons as an actuarial consultant for a firm in Tel Aviv. In addition to caring for their two young children, Yocheved tutors students at Midreshet Rachel and works remotely as a software developer. They remain part of the Shapell’s community, participating regularly in Shabbat tefillot and frequently hosting students for meals in their home.

Drs. Sean and Seri Ference, now of Memphis, are members of their local Young Israel. A physical therapist, she is on the programming board of the synagogue. Sean, who is in his second year of a residency program in periodontics, finds the time to learn with a number of chavrutot (study partners) on a weekly basis and feels “that my time at Shapell's enabled me to learn at a high level.” Sean added, “Our time in the Shapell's Married Couples Program was very influential on us. We learned an incredible amount about how to access classic Jewish texts. This education has helped us tremendously to be able to participate in our local Jewish community and has helped me to create lasting partnerships for learning. We deepened our connection to Judaism through the Married Couples Program and grew much closer together in our marriage. We truly feel that our year at Shapell's was one of a kind!”The Shapell’s/Darche Noam Married Couples Program is the ideal place for young Orthodox couples to invest in their learning and gain the tools to build a Torah home and contribute to the Jewish community. Though fellowships require a full year commitment, other participants may attend for a shorter period of time.

Dan and Edna Ritz of Passaic and Amos and Ellen Levi of Neve Daniel reflect on their experience in the Married Couples Program

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