Founded just over six years ago, the Orthodox Union’s Women’s Initiative, led since its inception by Rebbetzin Dr. Adina Shmidman of Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, has created countless programs and initiatives directly affecting the lives of observant Jewish communities around the world. Perhaps most impressively, those learning Torah with the OU Women’s Initiative recently finished its second cycle of Torat Imecha Nach Yomi, a program of daily study that breaks up each of the 742 chapters into a daily lesson.
The verses are studied globally by thousands of women and the process takes over two years to complete. Each day a student learns one chapter, referred to as a perek. An accompanying 15-minute shiur is provided by the OU on a multitude of platforms.
Through podcast apps, WhatsApp chats, the internet and good old seforim, groups of women from 28 countries (including Germany, France, England, South Africa, Australia and Israel); women in 38 states (including Alaska!) have formed siyum groups to meet and celebrate as they complete each of the 19 books that comprise Nach, which picks up at the completion of the five books of Moses (the Torah, or Pentateuch) and includes Nevi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings). The Nach Yomi cycle begins with Sefer Yehoshua (Joshua) and concludes with Sefer Divrei Hayamin II (Chronicles II). These in-person siyumim are supported by Zoom and video presentations by Women’s Initiative educators and have resulted in deep bonding between the participants and their knowledgeable teachers, many of whom travel to a wide variety of OU communities for scholar-in-residence lectures and shabbatonim, to further enhance womens’ learning.
Rebbetzin Dr. Shmidman spoke at the U.S. Nach Yomi siyum, which gathered 350 such participants this past Sunday at Congregation Keter Torah in Teaneck, New Jersey. She particularly thanked women who flew in to celebrate from Toronto, Dallas, Chicago, Cleveland, multiple cities in Florida, as well as those who drove long distances from Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York, along with many locals joining from all over New Jersey. Another siyum this past week was held for Israeli participants. An estimated 2,500 women completed Nach Yomi during this cycle.
With the youngest participants in their teens and the oldest siyum participant 92 years young, the group was as diverse as it was enthusiastic. “Diversity in age, stage, background and hashkafa, brings a richness to this Navi classroom—the largest Navi classroom in our history,” Shmidman said. “You have created a community built on the foundation of holiness.”
The siyum itself, with a Hadran (a celebratory discourse statement) drafted by Rabbi Avraham Shmidman and recited by his wife, Rebbetzin Dr. Shmidman, was preceded by two intensive and impactful hour-long shiurim by two Nach Yomi educators—Michal Horowitz and Stacy Goldman—and was followed by a moving speech on the constancy and comfort of Nach study by participant Jen Airley from Ramat Beit Shemesh, who lost her son Binyamin in the war in Gaza six weeks ago. She shared her experiences mourning and trying to make sense of the catastrophic loss with her fellow students as they concluded the last sefer of the cycle.
Teaneck’s own Nomi Rotblat, co-chair of the OU Women’s Initiative along with fellow Teanecker Miriam Greenspan, said that she was also impressed at the women across the globe who have engaged in the daily routine of Torah study and reached this amazing milestone, noting the wide variety of ages and stages of the participants. “What better way to get and give chizuk during these difficult times than to look out at the faces in this room and feel the power of this worldwide sisterhood of growth and learning?” Rotblat asked.
“Particularly over the last almost-four months, I have found the Nach Yomi program and the efforts of the Women’s Initiative and the Orthodox Union in general to be a source of strength and a source of inspiration,” she added, referring to the war in Gaza, which, at the time of this writing is in its 122nd day with 130 hostages still in mortal danger.
“The OU Women’s Initiative gives us access to brilliant women Torah scholars, who employ varied styles and methodologies to make us more knowledgeable, inspired and committed Jews who focus on our relationship with Hakadosh Baruch Hu and Hashem’s Torah.”
Rotblat also made mention of “our indefatigable, articulate and inspiring director,” Rebbetzin Dr. Shmidman, as well as Assistant Director Adeena Mayerfeld and the entire Women’s Initiative staff, for their varied and dedicated work in strengthening the Jewish communities nationwide with their efforts in creating and implementing their wide variety of programs. In addition to Torat Imecha Rosh Chodesh shiurim, the Women’s Initiative also has created the Alit Virtual Summer Beit Midrash; special event programming connected to the Jewish calendar; the OU Women’s Leadership Summit supporting nonprofit communal lay leaders, CEOs and organization heads; and the OU Women’s “Understanding Our Communities” conference, which supports rebbetzins, kallah teachers, kiruv and education professionals.
Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, director of OU’s community initiatives, agreed there are really no words to explain the astonishing impact that Rebbetzin Dr. Shmidman and the Women’s Initiative team have had on the Jewish communities here in America and around the world, citing the team’s approach to Torah education with thoughtfulness, creativity, substance and inspiration. He joked that Rebbetzin Shmidman’s achievements are so extraordinary that she will make the Women’s Initiative so big, so vibrant, so comprehensive and dominant in the OU that “we will need to open a Men’s Initiative ‘to try to do something for them.’”
Rabbi Glasser also stated poetically that his community of the Young Israel of Passaic-Clifton has also been transformed by the Women’s Initiative and the cycle of Nach Yomi study. “I am here today as the son and as the brother of women who are completing the Nach Yomi cycle, and I stand here as a husband and a father whose family has been dramatically uplifted and inspired by the voices of Torah emanating from my wife’s phone.”
The third cycle of Torah Imecha Nach Yomi started this past week and is available at OU Torah, Torat Imecha App, OU AllParsha, Apple Podcasts, Spotify and online. Sign up at ouwomen.org/nach. Learn more about the Women’s Initiative at ouwomen.org.