June 12, 2024
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BPY Honors Judy Heicklen: A Woman of the World

Teaneck—It makes sense that Judy Heicklen, President of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), was initially trained as a CPA because her words and deeds actually add up. Heicklen, who today is also a Managing Director at Credit Suisse, says that what fundamentally drives her and Judaism is tikkun olam, repairing the world, and that is exactly what she strives to do on a daily basis, and on many fronts.

This extremely savvy and educated woman, with a BA in Economics from Princeton University and an MBA from NYU Stern School of Business, not only uses what’s in her head to make this world a better place, but also what’s on it! In the middle of her interview with The JLBC, Heicklen had to get off the phone to get her first haircut in two years so that she could donate that hair to Zichron Menachem, where it will be used to make a made-to-measure wig for a child suffering from the alopecic effects of cancer.

Heicklen, a mother of three herself, seems to be the culmination of her parent’s wisest teachings. Her mother had told her to reach for her dreams—and she did—ascending rather high on the corporate ladder while maintaining her religious beliefs and keeping Shabbat. The Wall Street bell may ring at 4 p.m., but for the past 26 years, every Friday, Heicklen is out of the office by one o’clock sharp. Her job has taken her around the world. She has lived in Tokyo, Sydney, Singapore, London and now Teaneck… from whence she commutes to Manhattan.

She has achieved uncommon success as a woman in a heavily male-dominated industry. But dreams and aspirations aren’t a final destination for Heicklen because she doesn’t aspire for herself as much as she does for her children and the Jewish people. And that is where her father’s teachings come in: Be the change you want to see; make it happen!

And it is those dual impetuses that make Judy Heicklen the perfect president of JOFA—a position she has held for four years after being voted in by an all-female board of 25. JOFA is the leading organization advancing social change around gender issues in the Orthodox Jewish community (men will soon be appointed to the board). The organization aims to expand the spiritual, ritual, intellectual and political opportunities for women within the framework of halakha by advocating meaningful participation and equality for women in family life, synagogues, houses of learning and Jewish communal organizations to the full extent possible within halakha.

The core JOFA belief is that fulfilling this mission will enrich and uplift the entire Jewish people. “This is where my passion is,” says Heicklen, “where orthodoxy and feminism intersect.” JOFA provides women with vast resources including the halakhic sources that permit them to touch a Torah scroll, say Kiddush on Shabbat, and recite Kaddish. “I have 70-year-old women who come up to me and tell me they have never seen the inside of a Torah scroll,” she shares. “We try and raise awareness about possibilities.”

Heicklen and her group celebrate the achievements of women studying at the highest levels of Torah and working towards rabbinical roles such as Maharat and Rabba throughout the Orthodox community. “We hope and pray for continued success and advancement in this arena” she says. “We don’t tell people what they must do but rather educate them as to what is permitted based on Jewish law and varying interpretations of halakhic sources.”

As far as agunot (women who can’t get a religious divorce from their husband), Heiklen says, “We moved a little way forward but nowhere near far enough.” And even for this banker who is used to dabbling in millions and trillions, when it comes to agunot, she says, “even one is too many.”

As for women’s place in prayer, JOFA in the past condemned the arrest of Anat Hoffman and support Sharansky’s Women of the Wall Proposal which calls for a section for egalitarian prayer at the Kotel. “JOFA recognizes the reality that Jews have many different approaches to prayer,” their website says. As for her own approach to prayer, Heicklen has a hard time with the liturgical passage which reads, “Shelo Asani Isha,” (thank God for not making me a woman). “How do I explain to my children what that means?” asks Heicklen, who has two daughters and a son.

But perhaps Heiklen, who is also a board member of the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education and the Halakhic Organ Donor Society, really doesn’t need to explain anything at all because she teaches by example. This week she is being honored by Ben Porat Yosef (BPY) at its 12th annual dinner, to be held at Congregation Keter Torah in Teaneck. She has been involved with BPY since its beginning, serving on and providing critical support to the BPY Shorashim Capital Campaign Steering Committee and dedicating the school’s indoor gym equipment and Hebrew book lending library. And though the school is honoring her, she can’t speak highly enough about the school: “BPY is celebration of diversity.” She feels. “It started as Sephardic school and was fully integrated and celebrates a multiplicity of practice. They also focus on Hebrew and bring in Israeli teachers from whom the students learn not only the culture but also their accents. And they excel in secular studies with an emphasis on experiential learning.”

When asked which biblical heroine she could most relate to, Judy Heiklen said, Devorah. “She wasn’t afraid to step up into a leadership role and be out there while at the same time doing the right thing for her people.”

By Aliza Davidovit

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