April 16, 2024
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April 16, 2024
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Learn for Life in Teaneck with Lamdeinu

It’s funny where life takes you sometimes. Rachel Friedman was a graduate of Columbia Law School and well on her way to success on the corporate track when she experienced one of those moments that forever altered the course of her daily existence.

“I had just had my second daughter and I stepped back and asked myself what my contribution was going to be, what I was going to accomplish in the world,” Friedman told The Jewish Link. “While practicing law was wonderful, I felt that I needed more religious learning in my life.”

Electing to go back to school for a master’s in bible studies, Friedman began taking classes at Yeshiva University’s Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, indulging her long fascination with Tanach.

“I love the characters, the images and the scenes and the way the Torah is organized so that when you weave together the law and the narrative and the poetry it becomes a fabulous tapestry—not simply a book of laws, but a way of life.”

Passionate about the richness of the text she was studying, Friedman went one step further, giving classes of her own. She spent 17 years on staff at the Drisha Institute in Manhattan, ultimately working her way up to associate dean and chair of Tanach. During her time at Drisha, Friedman created several adult education programs, including classes on Tanach, tefila and parshanut.

“This became my life,” recalled Friedman. “But it wasn’t enough.”

Friedman founded Lamdeinu in the summer of 2014, hoping to create a place that would provide spiritual and intellectual nourishment, with some classes created specifically for women, while others were open to everyone.

“My mission was to inspire and be inspired,” said the mother of five and 27-year Teaneck resident. “I was looking to create a learning institution that offered high-level, meaningful Jewish text study that would enrich day-to-day life.”

Friedman describes Lamdeinu’s program as “highly substantive, engaged, involved learning.” Initial classes included studies on parshat hashavuah, haftorah and advanced Talmud, but over time, offerings have grown to include additional areas of Jewish study and thought. More than just lectures on chosen topics, classes are designed to engage students in interactive discussion, and conversations often go in a variety of directions.

“It encourages inquiry and expansion of thought,” observed Friedman. “I want people to challenge themselves, to write about what they are learning and see what is meaningful in their everyday lives. We talk about how the Torah has been studied over the millennia, mingling classical and modern sources. Students dissect the subject matter and challenge each other with the utmost respect.”

While Lamdeinu’s summer advanced Talmud class for women is extremely popular, drawing many teachers enjoying vacation time as well as other professionals, another Talmud class for both men and women is geared towards first-time Gemara learners. Other courses have included an in-depth study of Migdal Bavel, a class on illuminated hagaddot and others on the five megillot. Friedman hopes to incorporate a class in tefillah into her future curriculum, an effort to inspire people in their prayers. Jewish history classes are also of particular interest to Friedman.

“We have portraits in Shoftim and Yeshayahu,” said Friedman. “It is important that students of Jewish history get a sense of the development over the years. I find that people in the Bible Belt in the Midwest often know more of the later prophets than many Jews.”

Students of all ages from across the greater New York area have been flocking to Lamdeinu for inspiration and enrichment. Friedman is also incorporating a more experiential dimension into the program with events that broaden Lamdeinu’s scope of activities.

A monthly Rosh Chodesh event includes a traditional women’s davening, with a Lamdeinu staff member sharing a d’var Torah, and a light breakfast.

“It is a really beautiful thing,” said Friedman. “You come, you daven, you learn, you eat and you are off to work by 10 a.m. It is a real chavaya.”

After an incredible success last year, Lamdeinu will be holding its second annual Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration on May 12, featuring women’s tefila, divrei Torah, brunch, live music, Israeli films, singing and more. Friedman noted that while there are quite a few Yom Ha’atzmaut programs held at night, Lamdeinu’s celebration is truly unique.

“Last year’s program was really something special,” said Friedman. “We had over 100 women and we just broke out into spontaneous dancing. We had some wonderful, special people who were alive at the time the medina was founded and they shared their thoughts.”

One of the high points of the 2015 gala was the musical component.

“The singing was incredible,” said Friedman. “Learning is important but there are times in your life where the most important thing to bring out the depths of the soul is to sing.”

Lamdeinu’s email list has grown to include over 300 recipients. In less than two years it has become an important part of the fabric of the Teaneck community, said Friedman.

“Different things appeal to different people,” explained Friedman. “Some are attracted to deeper Torah study while others come for a more experiential opportunity, while others are drawn to both. It is very important to me to have a place of learning where everyone has their place.”

In addition to expanding the educational horizons of others, Friedman has found that she has gained tremendously from her efforts at Lamdeinu.

“I have been overwhelmed by the selflessness of our volunteers and have learned so much from our students. People say that there are shivim ponim l’Torah, 70 different ways to interpret the Torah, and while it sounds trite, there are many different ways to study any story or verse. There is so much to be gained by being engaged.”

By Sandy Eller

Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites, newspapers, magazines and many private clients. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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