|In ordinary times, I would share these thoughts with you during AFN’s Annual Dinner in New York. With the limits of our coronavirus era, instead, I’m sharing this with you in my last Nishmat News, as I retire on Friday.|
When I met Rabbanit Chana Henkin in 1991, I was enthralled by her vision for Jewish education, making the sources of our tradition accessible to every Jew. Women had been left out of the glorious discipline of halachic and Jewish text study for millennia, a disadvantage bound to weigh down the transmission of Jewish tradition and learning in the modern world, where universal education for both men and women is the norm. As a volunteer, who took over American Friends of Nishmat in the early ‘90s, after its founders, Jocelyn & Daniel Polisar, made aliya, I had the privilege of accompanying Rabbanit Henkin when she presented her exquisite Torah and her Nishmat vision to multitudes of Jewish women gathered in private homes. Soon, her passion became my own.
During my 15 years as AFN’s first President, Nishmat adopted the cause of Ethiopian-Israelis, Ma’ayan, which has prepared some 400 young women for college and careers. We mourned our beloved student, Alisa Flatow, hy”d, murdered by terrorists, and celebrated her love of Torah with Nishmat’s Alisa Flatow Programs and dedication of the Alisa Flatow Building on what would become the Dr. Monique C. Katz Campus of Nishmat, The Jeanie Schottenstein Center for Advanced Torah Study for Women.
When Nishmat launched its historic Yoatzot Halacha Program in Israel, Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, z”l, and Rabbi Dr. Haskel Lookstein enthusiastically introduced it to American Orthodox women and the rabbinic community. Dr. Felix Glaubach created Nishmat’s Miriam Glaubach Center (MGC) to educate every Orthodox Jew in the U.S. about Yoatzot Halacha. This was so successful that Dr. Glaubach, along with Dr. Giti & Jack Bendheim, launched the MGC Fellows program so Nishmat could educate American women Torah scholars as Yoatzot Halacha.
In the early years, I oversaw the creation of Nishmat’s logo and its motto: NISHMAT. Not just an institution, but a vision and instituted AFN’s annual dinner. I’ve edited and written most of Nishmat’s newsletters, including this one. Fifteen years ago, Sharon Liberman Mintz became AFN’s second President and for the last five years, I’ve been fortunate to serve as AFN Executive Director under her stewardship. She leads a Board of 28 ardently engaged men and women and AFN’s indispensable Executive Committee of Wendy Greenbaum, Ben Rieder, Stephen Flatow and Adina Fredman.
I could not be more proud of our team of AFN leaders and supporters and our lay and professional colleagues at Nishmat in Jerusalem. Together their engagement with Nishmat makes an historic statement, incorporating a deep respect for halachic tradition and a powerful understanding that Jewish continuity depends on profound Torah scholarship that’s accessible to women as well as men. I’m grateful to each of our donors, to every alumna, to the rabbis and our dedicated lay leaders who have brought the Nishmat vision into their shuls and communities and into their homes. Through you, the legacy of Jewish life, Torah scholarship and our miraculous State of Israel is assured.
I am truly grateful for my three decades devoted to Nishmat. My next steps are the blessings of a lifetime. I was recently engaged to a wonderful man, Dr. Les Vogel, and we expect to fulfill the dream of aliya together this year. Perhaps we will see you in Jerusalem? Please stay in touch. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Harriet Sherman Schimel
AFN Executive Director
AFN President Emerita