One of DC Area’s Two Orthodox Female Clergy to Lead Synagogue in Philadelphia

Written by Rachel Kohn on . Posted in Community News

Rabbanit Dasi Fruchter, assistant spiritual leader of Beth Sholom Congregation and Talmud Torah in Potomac, Maryland, will be leaving the Greater Washington area to start her own congregation in Philadelphia in May 2019.

Rabbanit Fruchter envisions the as-yet-unnamed synagogue as a “thriving Modern Orthodox space … rich with learning and tefillah [prayer],” according to her to her July 28 Facebook post.

Beth Sholom’s leadership was informed of Rabbanit Fruchter’s plans at its regular board meeting on July 25, and an email from President Arnie Hiller and Rabbi Nissan Antine went out to congregants on July 28.

Rabbanit Fruchter “will bring her spirituality, scholarship, caring, and innovation to develop a new community in Philadelphia,” the email said.

“She is leaving on the best of terms and we are sad to see her go,” said Hiller in a phone interview. “She has done programming for children as well as the women and men of the congregation that has been phenomenal.”

Rabbanit Fruchter will receive financial support for her new endeavor as a fellow with Hillel’s Office of Innovation and from a seed grant from Start Up Shul. Recently co-founded by congregant Steve Lieberman and Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Sholom – The National Synagogue, Start Up Shul aims to create Orthodox synagogues that are in keeping with Halacha (Jewish law) while being more gender-inclusive than the current mainstream model. For instance, Rabbanit Fruchter will give her weekly sermon from the women’s side of the sanctuary in her new synagogue.

After the High Holidays, the board plans to look at its budget and decide next steps, said Hiller. “We certainly would be open to hiring another rabbanit,” he said, but he thinks the board will be looking for the best candidate regardless of gender.

Rabbanit Fruchter and her colleague Maharat Ruth Friedman at Ohev Sholom - The National Synagogue in Washington, D.C., are two of a handful of women serving as clergy in Orthodox Union (OU) member synagogues.

A graduate of Yeshivat Maharat — a title derived from the Hebrew acronym of “manhiga hilkhatit, rukhanit, Toranit” (female leader of law, spirituality, and Torah) — Fruchter’s title at the synagogue changed from maharat to rabbanit in March 2018. “There are many female Torah scholars in Israel who are already using the title rabbanit, and using this title, which reflects scholarship and leadership, places her in a larger context of Orthodox female spiritual leaders,” the synagogue leadership explained in a March 15 email announcing the change.

The email also indicated that this was a move highly preferred by the OU in their ongoing conversation regarding the future of female clergy, but Rabbanit Fruchter had already been batting around the idea well before then with Rabbi Antine. Her new title “lowers barriers,” she said, and that bump in some people’s comfort level helps her serve the community’s needs.

Both Rabbanit Fruchter and Rabbi Antine said that the OU’s Jan. 2018 statement on female clergy actually helped normalize her position by explicitly delineating what role a “female spiritual leader” could serve and still be in line with the OU.

“A shul can hire a female spiritual leader and be in compliance with the OU,” said Rabbi Antine. “Our intention is when we have a search, it will be within the OU’s parameters.”

By Rachel Kohn

Special Torah in Israel Has Local Connection

Written by Kol HaBirah Staff on . Posted in Community News

The completion last month of the first Torah scroll written on top of Masada as part of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) Be Inscribed program was dedicated by Andy Klein of Forest Hill, Maryland. The Torah scroll was officially completed at Masada’s ancient synagogue, a house of worship used by the Jews who sought refuge on top of the mountain close to 2,000 years ago. The Torah is going to Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), a Jewish and pluralistic educational institution affiliated with JNF.

Berman Hosts Annual Summer Yarchei Kallah for Educators

Written by Rabbi Moshe Shields on . Posted in Community News

More than 50 local educators recently participated in the annual Yarchei Kallah at the Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville, Maryland. It is an event that offers educators the opportunity to immerse themselves in Torah learning and discuss valuable ideas with their colleagues. The participants, who mostly teach in Baltimore and Silver Spring schools, spent a week learning from experts in the field of education.

Shomrai Preschool Enters Third Year Supporting Inclusive Classrooms

Written by Nancy Kohl on . Posted in Community News

When Elisheva’s two-year-old daughter was due to start preschool, she was not yet walking independently or communicating at a level typical of other two year olds. Elisheva (who asked that her last name not be used) said she was pleasantly surprised that “the staff at Shomrai not only accepted her to the school, but they fully embraced the challenge of working with a child who couldn’t physically keep up with the rest of the class.”

Elisheva’s daughter is one of many children who benefit from Shomrai Preschool’s commitment to inclusion. Three years ago, Shomrai Preschool, located in Silver Spring, Maryland, created The Anna Rutner Memorial Fund to honor a wonderful educator who made significant contributions to the Shomrai Preschool community. Morah Anna was an advocate on behalf of all children, and she was especially responsive to children with special needs.

“The Anna Rutner Memorial Fund is an invaluable resource to the children, families, and teachers of Shomrai Preschool,” said Suri Kinzbrunner, Shomrai Preschool’s director. “If we are to be a school that caters to the children of our community, we have to be willing to at least try to accommodate children of varying abilities. The Anna Rutner Memorial Fund helps us to do so in the best way possible.”

With the fund’s support, Shomrai Preschool contracts with Child Development Consultants (CDC) to help teachers create and maintain inclusive classrooms. CDC provides training for the teachers, observes them in their classrooms, and provides guidance on improving instructional practices and classroom management.

“I professionally have benefited from this program. The teachers are given training by a professional to teach us ways to manage our classrooms when we have children with special needs,” said Lisa Landy, a Pre-K teacher. “With the parents’ approval, we call in specialists through the fund who observe the child in our classroom, they then assess, and write a report. The therapists meet with families and teachers who work together as a team to support the child and implement recommendations tailor-made for that specific child. These interventions help us and the families support the child to integrate into the classroom community.”

Shomrai Preschool offers families the expertise of the CDC team, including an occupational therapist, an early childhood special educator and behavioral specialist, and a speech and language pathologist. The team can observe a child in their natural environment to assess how they function in “real life” situations. CDC collaborates with the family, school director, pedagogical consultant, and teachers to create highly individualized strategies and recommendations to support each child in the classroom.

“Our family came to truly appreciate Shomrai’s focus on inclusion when our daughter was diagnosed with selective mutism at age three. As worried parents, we found comfort in Shomrai’s tremendous commitment to our daughter,” said Emily Friedman. “We brought in an outside professional, an expert in the disorder. Shomrai went above and beyond to collaborate with her and support our child — from teacher training, to meetings, to progress monitoring, to allowing the clinician into the classroom to guide and direct the teachers in best practices for working with a child who has selective mutism.”

Elisheva had a similar experience with her daughter. “Her teachers worked tirelessly with her, doing the exercises provided by the therapists and taking note of what she was accomplishing and what she still needed help with ... We feel so fortunate to have had such a tremendous support system built in to the preschool environment.”

“While we also knew that everyone was doing ‘extra’ to help our daughter, we were never made to feel that way,” Friedman added. “With much gratitude to Hashem and the teachers and staff at Shomrai, we now have a vibrant, happy child who is ready for kindergarten.”

Shomrai Preschool also refers families to and collaborates with Infants and Toddlers, Child Find, and Child Link, which are free services provided by the county. Two years ago, Shomrai Preschool had an embedded advisor from Child Link providing expertise on mental health issues and best teaching practices, and the school has requested on-going support from Child Link for the 2018-2019 school year.

However, “many times children are not eligible to receive [county] services,” Landy explained. “This is when we are able to step in and help find the resources needed to help the child succeed in school through the fund.” By partnering with public and private practitioners, the school ensures that every child’s needs are met, and ultimately creates an improved learning environment for all students.

To learn more about Shomrai Preschool and the Anna Rutner Memorial Fund, visit http://nursery.yise.org/ or contact Suri Kinzbrunner at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

By Nancy Kohl


 

Nancy Kohl is the pedagogical consultant for Shomrai Preschool. Nancy has over 35 years of experience working as a master teacher, trainer, and parent educator, and she has presented at various local early childhood centers.

 

 

Strengthening the Jewish Community Through Parent-to-Parent Connections

Written by Rachel Kohn on . Posted in Community News

This article is part of a special community services-themed section featured in this week’s paper.

Added to the full plate of job, home, and/or child (and possibly more than one child at that), finding the time and opportunities for new social connections can be challenging as a parent. Yet whether one is new to a community or new to parenting, finding that gem of a friend who is knowledgeable about schools, synagogues, and other Jewish community resources can have a huge positive impact on one’s entire family.