By COLlive reporter
Photos by Monika Lightstone Photography
The opening of Ohel Sara Seminary in 2012 was more than just changing the seminary scene. It represented a new way of seeing the Los Angeles Jewish community. Sporting the creme de la creme of Southern California in its faculty, it proved to be a new way to learn, grow and teach in an inclusive environment.
“The world continues to change, yet the essence of a Jewish woman’s role stays the same,” says Mrs. Hadassa Spalter, the seminary director.
The content of the classes, the farbrengens and the people that surround the students have been chosen carefully to facilitate the students’ personal growth. Surrounded by men and women that are living a chassidishe life in the realities of today’s challenges, the students learn by example.
All learning at the seminary embodies the response to this changing environment. “The students are surrounded here by the reality of the world,” notes Mrs. Chanie Pinson, educational director. “It is easy to recognize our uniqueness when contrasted with “Hollywood.” At Ohel Sara our students are given pride in who they are and the importance to pass it on.”
For the bystander, the timeless teachings of Torah and Chassidus are ever so present in the unassuming building on the corner of Spaulding and Melrose that is home to the Chabad girls seminary.
The stark contrast between the secular and the spiritual is hard to miss. It truly embodies the mission of the school, to empower young women who are on the threshold of entering the real world; to arm them with the tools to create light around them.
The seminary building is also symbolic of the blending of the old and new. Housed in Young Israel of Los Angeles, the seminary breathed new life into a shul that was founded after the Second World War. Many of the congregants are Holocaust survivors. To them, seeing young students come in every morning is the sign of the everlasting Jewish spirit.
“It’s so nice to see the young people coming to learn every morning,” commented Jack Vogel, a Holocaust survivor who is one of the original founders and is still there opening the door for the minyan.
To Kaila Fine, this has been an especially meaningful experience. Coming to Los Angeles from Montreal, Fine was looking forward to a unique learning experience. However, her family has also come full circle in the process.
Her great-grandmother Esther Korchak came to the U.S. as a young 14 year old, to be married to her first cousin, Shmuel. They moved to Los Angeles, a spiritual desert at the time, and started their family while spending time to expand the community’s infrastructure.
One area that found void was proper Jewish burial, so the Korchaks founded the Los Angeles Chevra Kadisha. The evidence of the their active involvement in the Jewish community is eternalized in the plaques in the old Young Israel shul.
For years, those plaques faded into the background until one day in October 2014, when seminary student Kaila Fine’s path crossed her great-grandmother.
“One morning, I stopped to read the plaques on a memorial in the shul. I was surprised to see my great-grandmother’s name, Esther, on the wall,” Fine told.
In disbelief, she called her mother who confirmed that indeed Kaila has chosen to learn in a place that was so dear to her great- grandmother. “It’s so amazing to learn in the same shul they davened and were involved in,” Fine explained.
For the rest of the students as well, the year in seminary was all about looking back at their past. Summing up their years of education and fine upbringing; figuring out what to do with it in the future. Life changing decisions thus become easier when the light of the past is shed on them.
To the pioneer students in Ohel Sara Seminary this is all about carrying the legacy. The learning, the Shabbatons, the guest speakers and dedicated staff all join to create the catalyst for change, growth and living up to the expectations of the past.
“I just want to add here that my daughter had, to quote her ‘the most amazing years experience of her life,’ and it should build her to be a true Bas Yisroel, in every way, and bring true Chassidishe nachas to us all,” one parent wrote.
In preparation for the new year, the building has been undergoing some updating. Joe Mizrahi, President of Young Israel, has expressed his joy in the partnership between Ohel Sara and Young Israel.
“We love seeing the girls bringing life back into this shul. Not only their holy learning , their special midos are touching,” he said. “This is what it’s all about!”
The seminary’s opening this September includes some new teachers , adding even more to our stellar staff, including Rabbi Mendel Lipsker of Sherman Oaks, Rabbi Chaim Hanoka of Pasadena, and Mrs Y. Schneerson.
For more info, visit laseminary.com