Two Days with the Maharats
by Maharat Rachel Kohl Finegold
As a Maharat out in the field, my days are filled with the work of spiritual leadership, from the mundane to the sublime. On any given day, I am part of internal rhythm of the daily minyan or singing and chatting with our preschoolers; I am teaching my weekly Tanach class or preparing a drasha; I am visiting the hospital or attending a programming committee meeting; and throughout, I am sharing life cycle moments of joy and of bereavement.
Last week, I stepped away from that work for two days of celebration and reflection with my fellow Maharats. Rejoicing with the newest graduates of Yeshivat Maharat, as they received their smikha (ordination) was a moving experience. As each graduate was met with the words “Toreh toreh”, signifying that she was stepping up as a full member of the Orthodox clergy, the joy and exhilaration in the room were palpable. Each graduate approached the podium and told how she intended to use her smikha to impact the Jewish people. The words that were heard repeatedly were “humbly” and “responsibility” and “gratitude”. We all felt the grandeur of the moment, as these sensitive scholars and teachers were finally given access to an arena that had been previously closed to them.
The next day was a time for reflection. The Maharat alumni, who graduated in the first two years of the institution, gathered for our first alumni professional development day. We reflected on the constantly evolving nature of women in Orthodox religious leadership. We marveled at the comfort our communities have begun to feel with us at the helm. We acknowledged the complexity of the roles we play in people’s lives. We reminded ourselves that while the media prefers to sensationalize questions of titles and religious politics, we internally focus more on our function – serving the Jewish people to the best of our abilities, and maximizing the impact we can have on the women and men who seek our guidance and our Torah. We reflected on the difficulties of finding a balance between demanding jobs and growing families. This one can be particularly tricky for us. While we know that our struggles are similar to those of women in other career fields, somehow our challenges also feel unique. We laughed together at some of the absurdities of forging new ground and were amazed at some of the incredible successes we have experienced in our work.
In those two days, I was moved to tears for the joy and the struggle. In those two days, I felt a newfound gratitude for teachers, for colleagues, and for a supportive spouse. In those two days, I refocused on the work at hand. I bring that new sense of focus back to the daily minyan, the preschool, the hospital, the classroom, the meetings, and the lives of my congregants.