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Rabbis Wives Gather for Mentoring, Networking, and Training at Third Annual Rebbetzins' Yarchei Kallah

Mar 25, 2008 -- Na’ama Nadel raises two toddlers, teaches full-time, is finishing a master’s degree, and pursues an interest in art. This would be enough for any one woman to juggle, but Nadel is also a rebbitzin, the wife of Rabbi Seth Nadel of Young Israel of West Hartford, CT. It’s a role that comes with its own unique—and considerable—demands, placing Rebbetzin Nadel at the center of a tight-knit Jewish community that looks to her for spiritual guidance, education, and advice.

Nadel was among a group of 50 young women from around the country who gathered for two days at the third annual Rebbetzins' Yarchei Kallah, a project of YU’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) and the Legacy Heritage Fund Rabbinic Enrichment Initiative. It was the second time she had attended.

“One of the really nice things about the program is meeting other rebbetzins from similar backgrounds,” Nadel said. “During the mentoring sessions newer rebbetzins talk about issues with older rebbetzins. It’s very nice to get advice from the more experienced rebbetzins as well as ideas of what does and doesn’t work.”

The rabbis’ wives came to hear words of encouragement from rabbinical leaders, overviews from counseling professionals, and most importantly, tart practical advice from experienced colleagues. The women also had time to network with each other, and caucus on specific issues in small mentoring workshops.

This is the first program of any denomination to focus on the needs of rabbis’ wives, despite the widespread recognition that these women play an integral role in the Jewish community, said Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter, Senior Scholar at the CJF and the guiding force of the conference.

Rabbi Schacter brought spiritual and intellectual depth to his lectures about the marital relationships of the biblical Patriarchs and Matriarchs, connecting to God through prayer, and preparing Torah classes. This last area was cited by several of the women as especially valuable, since today’s Modern Orthodox communities have a higher level of Torah education and demand classes for which most rebbetzins have no formal training.

Several speakers addressed the challenges of marriage and parenting in the limelight of the Jewish community. Dr. Esther Joel, a psychologist, and wife of YU President Richard Joel, recommended that rabbinical couples take regular time-outs from the public eye, and raise their children to “be themselves, but their best selves, as if they were on a date.”

Dr. Norman Lamm, Chancellor of YU, hailed rabbis’ wives as prime movers in getting their congregants “to think about Torah.” He suggested that the women choose between being “professional” or “volunteer” rebbetzins. The former dedicate most of their time to communal work; the latter are required to do as much as, but not more than, devoted members of the community.

But it was Rebbetzin Mindy Lamm who stole the show, delighting the women with her feisty independence and her dogged loyalty to her husband and children through decades of service. She advised on dealing with difficult congregants, and gave tips on maintaining privacy, especially when serving in small towns. She acknowledged, however, that today’s rebbetzins must play a different role than her generation, when most women did not work.

For work they do. Most of the attendees work full-time, many in professional or entrepreneurial fields, have large families, and frequently prepare huge Sabbath meals. Yet many still manage other interests, such as sports and exercise.

The Yarchai Kallah was an opportunity to focus purely on themselves and how to get the most out of their myriad roles.

Rebbetzin Nadel was energized by the event. “I loved the conference and can’t wait to go back next year!” she said.