April 9, 2024
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Annual Livingston Mikvah Gala Encourages Women to ‘Produce a Personal Path’

What do a sitcom writer in LA, a physician in New Jersey and a Chabad shlucha (emissary) in Montana have in common? As it turns out, quite a bit.

On Monday, May 8, over 600 women gathered for the 12th annual women’s gala to benefit Mikvah Chana in Livingston, New Jersey. Each year, women travel from all over New Jersey as well as Manhattan to enjoy the event, which includes delicious food, fantastic raffles (one woman took home a pair of Hamilton tickets!) and a compelling keynote address. This year’s program, “Producing a Personal Path,” featured three remarkable women, who enthralled the audience with their own personal stories about how their faith has shaped their lives.

The Power of the Mikvah

Dr. Nancy Simpkins, a Livingston-based board-certified internist and television personality, began the evening by talking about her first encounter with the mikvah. After accompanying a friend to the Mikvah Chana gala last year, Dr. Simpkins was intrigued by what she heard and asked if she could take a tour of the mikvah. Dr. Simpkins says that she and her daughter Lauren both decided to fulfill the mitzvah of immersion before Lauren’s upcoming wedding.

“At first it seemed unlikely that I, a Reform Jew and a physician, trained in science, and rational and empirical thought, would consider an experience such as the mikvah,” Dr. Simpkins recalled. She said that her unexpected connection to the mikvah changed her “in ways no one would have believed,” and she encouraged those in the crowd who had not been to the mikvah to consider learning more about it. “I urge all of you who do not know about the experience to at least visit the mikvah and learn the beauty, the warmth and the inspiration the experience holds.”

Facing Challenges Head On

Chavie Bruk was no stranger to the mikvah—but getting there was another story. Mrs. Bruk and her husband had been sent to open a Chabad House in Bozeman, Montana, to bring traditional Judaism to the state for the first time in over 150 years. So Mrs. Bruk found herself making the six-hour drive to Salt Lake City once a month to visit the “closest” mikvah. But in addition to the challenges that come with leading a Jewish life where no infrastructure for one exists, the couple was also struggling with infertility.

Mrs. Bruk captivated the audience recounting the emotional rollercoaster of their journey: from the despair when they found out that they would not be able to have biological children, to the ecstasy of getting a phone call from the adoption agency when they first became parents.

Though the Bruks went on to adopt a total of four children, their obstacles were still not behind them. Mrs. Bruk discussed the harrowing ordeal of learning that her second daughter had a disorder so rare that only 500 people in the world have it. Mrs. Bruk is happy to report that, with proper medical care, her daughter is developing beautifully. In addition, their Jewish community is thriving and the Bruks have built a mikvah in Bozeman, which now services surrounding states.

She said that her faith is what kept her going in life whenever she has faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles. “We can’t decide what life will bring us, we can only decide how we will respond to what is sent our way,” she said “[Faith] is our bedrock that keeps us going when all else fails. It’s our generator that keeps the lights on when there’s a blackout.”

Orthodox in Hollywood

Though Ilana Wernick’s path has taken her in a completely different direction, she also credits her faith with having been the foundation of her life. Ms. Wernick’s wonderful sense of humor and inimitable delivery had the audience laughing nonstop, making it clear why she has had such success as a sitcom writer and producer for shows including “The King of Queens” and “The Middle,” where she is currently a co-executive producer.

Despite working in Hollywood, where the expectation is that writers will be available constantly, including on Shabbos and Jewish holidays, Ms. Wernick said that she has never—and will never—compromise her beliefs. “I know who I am,” she said. “I know that I am never working on Shabbos. I know that I am never eating non-kosher food. I am an Orthodox Jew. And when you know who you are, you put that out into the universe and other people know it, too.”

Joking that she grew up with the television on “24/6,” taking a break only for Shabbos, Ms. Wernick says that being an Orthodox woman has often been an asset in her career, because it has given her different life experiences from most of her co-workers. She has come up with successful sitcom storylines inspired by tzedakah, family purity laws and even a synagogue bake sale. “It’s ok to be different from everyone else because it will give you a different viewpoint and that’s good,” she said.

Her final message was one that applies to women (and men) from all walks of life: “Don’t ever change who you are or your belief system to fit in with the outside world. Be great at what you do, be unswerving in who you are, and the outside world will accept it.”

The audience was clearly moved by each of the women’s stories. “I loved the contrast of the stories told by each speaker,” said Amy Weinberger, a Livingston resident. “As a working mother myself, I appreciated that all of the women discussed the role that Judaism has played in their careers.” Mrs. Weinberger has been attending this event for several years with her mother-in-law, Joyce, who works at Mikvah Chana, and said that the evening’s program was the most powerful that she had seen.

By Rachel Jager

 

 

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