JOFA's Devorah Scholar Initiative

 

In the spring of 2020, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance awarded Orthodox Synagogues with Devorah Scholar Grants, an innovative program designed to seed the American landscape with women spiritual leaders. This groundbreaking program was made possible thanks to the generosity of Micah Philanthropies. Applications for the next cohort of Devorah Scholars will open in November 2021. For more information contact Dr. Sarah Kranz Ciment, Sarah@jofa.org 

Women who will retain the position of a Devorah Scholar will deliver congregational sermons, play an active role in youth and adult education, provide lessons and lectures to the broader community in addition to providing pastoral care and counseling.

Since 1997, JOFA has been advocating for expanding women's rights and opportunities within the framework of halakha to build a vibrant and equitable Orthodox community. Pam Scheininger, President of the JOFA board, said: “Hiring Devorah Scholars is an inspiring and ambitious leap forward. We are heartened by the growth and flourishing of women’s spiritual leadership in Orthodox synagogues. Judging by the number of inquiries and applications we received from women and men across the United States, Canada, Israel and Australia, it is clear that there is a demand for women’s leadership roles in Orthodox synagogues around the world.”
 

"We are truly happy to pilot this program which will enable communities across North America to benefit from Orthodox women’s leadership and scholarship. We know these communities will be deeply enriched,” said Ann & Jeremy Pava, trustees of Micah Philanthropies.

“The value added by creating a space for women spiritual leaders who will serve as role models in Orthodox synagogues is incalculable. The positive ripple effects will benefit community members, both young and old for generations to come. Girls and women can aspire to lead as other synagogues can aspire to emulate this model,” said Daphne Lazar Price, JOFA’s Executive Director. 

The $20,000 two-year challenge grant was awarded to these Orthodox synagogues who are seeking to increase paid spiritual leadership positions for Orthodox women. 

The 2020 grant recipients who hired a woman to fill the role of the Devorah Scholar are: 

Congregation Beth Sholom, Providence, RI
Netivot Shalom, Teaneck, NJ
South Philadelphia Shtiebel, Philadelphia, PA 
United Orthodox Synagogues, Houston, TX

Meet the Devorah Scholars

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Rabbanit
Avital Engelberg

Rabbanit Avital Engelberg, a JOFA Devorah Scholar, served as Director of Spiritual Engagement at Congregation Beth Sholom in Providence, RI; and is Ramit (rabbi and educator) at Midreshet Ein HaNatziv, Israel.  During her time at the congregation, Rabbanit Engelberg continued to run robust remote educational programming from her home in Israel. 

Rabbanit Engelberg innovated programs in the synagogue such as a joint sephardic and ashkenazi selichot services, women led-megillah reading and women tefillah services. She trained gabbayot who have since formally joined the ritual committee.

 

Thanks to Rabbanit Engelberg’s work in the community, bat mitzvah celebrations have become elevated and there is a new cadre of women who can read from the Torah.

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Rabbanit
Dasi Fruchter

Rabbanit Dasi Fruchter is the founder and spiritual leader of the South Philadelphia Shtiebel. She is also one of JOFA's Devorah Scholars. 

 

Rabbanit Fruchter is driven by relationship-based community building, facilitating meaningful ritual, and harnessing the power of spiritual community to make the world a better place. Under her leadership (and despite opening just prior to the outbreak of the pandemic), the South Philadelphia Shtiebel has quickly established itself as a synagogue and community center. 

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Rabbanit Jennifer Geretz

Rabbanit Jennifer Kotzker Geretz joined the spiritual leadership team at Netivot Shalom in Teaneck, NJ in the spring of 2020 as a Devorah Scholar. Rabbanit Geretz, in consultation with Rabbi Helfgot, lay leaders, and members, is developing and leading educational and other programs on over the holidays, on Shabbat and during the week. Passionate about Jewish education, she is also working to provide vision and strategy for programming infrastructure for adults and children. She is also providing counseling and pastoral support for members throughout the lifecycle.

 

Rabbanit Geretz’s leadership will continue to attract new members to Netivot Shalom allowing it to grow and flourish. 

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Rabbanit
Amalia Haas

Rabba Amalia Haas is the Director of Spiritual Engagement and the current Devorah Scholar at Congregation Beth 

Sholom in Providence, RI.  There she will offer pastoral meetings, shiurim, and digital learning. 

Rabbanit Haas is an experiential educator, writer, and organic beekeeper, who designs and teaches Judaism-informed honeybee education programs, sells raw honey and is “Rabba of the Bees” at the Shalom Institute in Malibu, CA. Previous education includes Michlalah, Machon Pardes, MaTaN, Yeshiva University, and Oberlin Conservatory. She is also a chaplaincy resident at the Center for Spiritual Care at the Cleveland Clinic, and serves as a Holding Space Consultant at the Institute for the Study of Birth, Breath and Death, a program created in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Rabba Amalia lives in Beachwood, Ohio with her husband Adam and six children ages 9 - 23.

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Ruthie Braffman Shulman

Ruthie Braffman Shulman served as a Devorah Scholar at the United Orthodox Synagogue in Houston, TX.  There she held the role of  Director of Education and Engagement and halachic consultant at United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston. Her role there as a member of the leadership team was multi-faceted; she led educational programming for community members, online webinars on current events and was able to advise community members on halachic matters.