As Beth Joseph Congregation joins the rest of world Jewry in celebrating Simchat Torah next week, it will also join more than 40 North American synagogues that aim to make Simchat Torah more meaningful for women.
For the second consecutive year, the Phoenix congregation is participating in the Orthodox Union Women’s Initiative Simchat Torah Together program, which provides shiurim (classes) for women on Simchat Torah morning.
These classes, taught by local female scholars, are held during aliyot, the period in the service where, at Orthodox congregations like Beth Joseph, all the adult men at the service are called to the Torah.
The idea for the initiative was sparked by a sense that women were looking for a meaningful experience on Simchat Torah morning during this time period, said Rebbetzin Dr. Adina Shmidman, founding director of the OU Women’s Initiative. “I think it’s very important for women to feel on Simchat Torah, or during any religious experience, that there’s a touch point of engagement where their presence is valued and acknowledged and reflected in the programming choices.”
Tzipi Turner of Phoenix, who will teach the class at Beth Joseph, says she appreciates that the program “gives the women a chance to participate in an activity, rather than watch from the side.” Turner said she’s honored to have been asked to teach the class and hopes “it will be a meaningful experience for all who attend.”
Turner’s background is in special education, working with teachers and students in the Phoenix area for over 17 years as a co-teacher, mentor teacher, instructional coach, teacher evaluator and special education administrator. Her Simchat Torah class is titled “Self-Care and the Torah.”
“Self-care means being mindful of your own limits and needs so that you can ensure your own physical, emotional and mental well-being,” Turner said. “Simchat Torah is the end of a very busy time in the Jewish calendar,” which also includes Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret.
“It’s a good three and half weeks of busy-ness,” she said. “The wonderful part about this time of year is the opportunity it provides to spend time with family and friends, as well as to reflect on ourselves and our year. The flip side is that every few days, we are preparing for another Shabbat or another holiday. It can be very tiring. And, let’s face it, the bulk of that responsibility falls on the women.”
She feels like this time of year is “a perfect time to discuss, reflect and focus on self-care.”
“As women, we are typically socialized to be caregivers and to take care of others, and often it comes with a price when we neglect to take care of our own needs,” she said. “Sometimes there’s guilt involved with doing something for ourselves. It feels selfish.
“I think it’s important to talk about self-care right now. And, more than that, to look at what the Torah, the Talmud and modern-day leaders have to say about self-care.”
The class, which is open to all women, will start around 11 or 11:30 a.m. on Simchat Torah, Tuesday, Oct. 22, after the Hakafot, which is the time during the service when people dance and sing with the Torah scrolls. It’s difficult to pinpoint a specific time, since the length of the Hakafot varies, said Rabbi Yisroel Isaacs of Beth Joseph Congregation. Beth Joseph Congregation is located at 515 E. Bethany Home Road, Phoenix.
The OU Women’s Initiative, which started in 2017, implements national programming for women of all ages and stages of life. Programming includes lay leadership and training, wellness courses and forums and community learning.
Since Beth Joseph has been affiliated with the Orthodox Union for over 50 years as a member congregation, the partnership “is a natural fit,” Isaacs said. “We look forward to making this project an annual part of our Simchat Torah programming.”
“Beth Joseph Congregation was proud to be part of the first cohort of this program last year,” he said. “The interest and attendance exceeded our expectations. We have always looked for ways to make Simchat Torah more meaningful and engaging for our community and we welcomed this fantastic idea.” JN