May 26, 2024
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Teaneck Yoetzet Event Draws Diverse Audience

Teaneck—The social hall at Congregation Rinat Yisrael was packed to capacity for the “Third Annual Community-wide Yoetzet Event for Women: Stories of Our Struggles and Our Strengths.” A diverse array of women, both in terms of ages and hashkafa was in attendance, as referenced in the opening remarks by steering committee member Tirza Bayewitz. “Regardless of our age or stage in life, our entire community has benefitted and continues to benefit from the role that our yoetzet, Shoshana Samuels (and Shayna Goldberg before her) serves at the intersection of women’s health and halacha,” she said.

“The yoetzet halacha initiative in Bergen County has grown significantly since (it began) almost 10 years ago. On an ongoing basis, Shoshana Samuels fields approximately 100 shailot every month … in addition to giving shiurim in various shuls/homes around town. I feel confident that the work she is doing is taking our community and our families to a higher level, and for that we are all grateful.”

While two communities in Teaneck (Rinat Yisrael and Netivot Shalom) currently have Shoshana Samuels serving as yoetzet, with Englewood and Tenafly employing yoetzet Nechama Price, the question of whether yoetzot can unilaterally answer shailot is not universally accepted in Tea­neck and the surrounding areas. It’s important to note that a majority of the community’s rabbeim continue to prefer that questions related to niddah be addressed exclusively to Orthodox rabbis, all of whom must have mastered the subject of niddah as part of their semicha training.

The event presented a series of dramatic monologues written by women from the community describing the joys and challenges that frum women may experience at various stages in their lives including halachic infertility and the yearning for a child, intimacy issues and sexual education, and two very different perspectives on the mikvah and taharat hamishpacha (family purity laws).

Samuels introduced the first of three dramatic monologues that anonymously depicted the true stories and experiences of real women in Teaneck. She added that “sometimes questions don’t have a question mark at the end… they are the expressions of struggles.”

The first monologue, entitled “I Am Blessed,” was performed by Ellen Krischer, and potrayed one woman’s deep yearning for a child and the “lonely, silent struggle” she endured as she was surrounded by friends and family who kept sharing the news that they were expecting. “I was truly happy for them,” she said. “But I also would feel a twinge, a twist of sadness… ‘I wish I too were in your position.’” Krischer’s reading described a woman whose yearnings were at first impeded by a husband who was not yet ready to add to their family, and later, when he was ready, by failure to conceive, month after month. “It was as if I kept pouring emotional energy into a bucket with a hole in it.”

Finally, the character shares, a friend advises her to call the yoetzet and she agrees. She describes how the yoetzet asked her a few questions about her cycle that she had never considered, and realized that she had been making some common, incorrect assumptions regarding bedikot and timing. As a result of lack of technical information, she had been mis-timing her mikvah visits. The very month she reached out to the yoetzet, she got pregnant. She concluded that asking detailed, technical questions is crucial.

Samuels then took the podium once again to encourage women to call. She also mentioned that the stories, of course, don’t always end quite so well as that one, and referred to last year’s Yoetzet Event, which focused on the interests of women throughout the different stages of fertility, during their childbearing years, and beyond. Having asked those in attendance at that event to put pen to paper, there was a bound collection of essays of infertility and miscarriage available for attendees this year entitled “If There Is Pain Like My Pain.”

The second monologue was called “My Complex Relationship With the Mikvah,” and was humorously performed by Marjorie Hirsch and Miriam Hermann. The two women spoke in turn, with one (Hirsch) expressing the voice of a women who perceives her relationship with the mikvah as like a “spiritual spa,” and the other (Hermann), who finds her mikvah experiences to be “inconvenient and embarrassing.” The characters were presented as complete opposites, one serene and positive (“I loved the idea of infusing my most intimate relationship with spirituality; it was a real pick-me-up”), the other darkly witty and skeptical at first (“I pass the mikvah building and think: ‘You and I are like neighbors that never speak. I can’t believe I’ll be forced into a relationship with you!’”) and growing less optimistic as she grew in familiarity. Samuels then revealed to the audience that the two stories were, in fact, one woman’s experiences spoken in two voices.

The final monologue was called “Kol Erva,” and was read by June Mandeville. This was a profoundly intimate and personal story of a woman’s very private physical pain and her search through a maze of experts to actually be heard, until finally, after continuously speaking up for herself, surgery resolved an unendurable ache she would have otherwise had to endure silently. “I had lost my voice,” she said. “I finally found it.”

The Teaneck Yoetzet Halacha Initiative is sponsored by Rinat Yisrael, Netivot Shalom, and with the additional support of community members. The evening was sponsored by Sharsheret, Emunah of America, Yesh Tikvah, Project SARAH, AMIT, NechamaComfort, and American Friends of Nishmat.

By Lisa Matkowsky

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