Jan 29, 2017
Spanish Program at Machon Alte

40 girls have joined for the first year of Machon Alte Women's School in Tsfat's Spanish track.

By Yehuda Sugar

A stroll past the foliage-shrouded gates of Machon Alte where students pass in and out briskly all day and a walk through the corridors and classrooms of the venerated learning institution, Israel’s original women’s baalos teshuva yeshiva, reveals something new is stirring inside.

Amid the palpable spiritual buzz historically evident among a student body of mostly English and Hebrew speakers, a new contingent of Spanish dialects is now “accenting” the landscape of the yeshiva in Tsfat, with the advent of a brand new program catering to Spanish speakers, mostly hailing from South America.

With the help of a serious-minded and determined alumna, Mrs. Bat Sheva Konfederak, 27, originally of Buenos Aires, whose life was significantly transformed by the program six years ago -- before a formal Spanish program was started -- Machon Alte launched the new Spanish track this year and 40 girls signed up.

The seed was planted two years ago when discussions started about the potential for such a program, between Mrs. Konfederak and Machon Alte’s Dean, Rabbi Yosef Rosenfeld, and the project has turned quickly into a blossoming tree.

“It was just really a nice idea to make a Spanish yeshiva program here,” said Konfederak, organizer of the program she describes as unique for its aim to take mostly not-frum women and schedule them to learn all day.

“This is a chidush (something new) in the world,” she said in solid Hebrew with a strong Spanish lilt and a fiery delivery. “Not just in the Spanish world, but in the whole world -- to have girls who are not frum learning all day with experiential learning activities into the night.”

Chabad on Campus were instrumental in making the program happen by way of providing travel grants to the students that amounted to over $45,000. The success of this new initiative could not have happened without the support and partnership of Chabad on Campus International, headed by Rabbi Avi Weinstein and the help of Lamdeini Co-ordinator, Mrs. Chaya Schurder.

The 40 girls who enrolled in the program, mostly in 3-week modules spread over the two-and a half month Tsfat winter, were winnowed down from a total of 70 applicants.

To get the ball rolling on the South America front, Konfederak, who now lives in Migdal HaEmek, with her husband, went to the top Chabad shliach in Argentina, Rabbi Tzvi Grunblatt, who welcomed the program with open arms.

She then spread the word among other Chabad House rebbeim in Argentina and elsewhere in South America. The word got out and the referrals rolled in, much the way Chabad on Campus with the help of Chaya Schurder provides a steady channel for girls to find their way to the yeshiva from North America. Most of the first flock of Spanish students are from Argentina. Two are from Paraguay and one from Uruguay.

Staffed with an impressive roster of some 14 Spanish-speaking teachers and assistant teachers recruited by Konfederak, the Spanish students, like their English- and Hebrew-speaking counterparts at Machon Alte, are treated to the institution’s successful curriculum formula, including courses in mystical Judaism, Jewish law, Jewish Philosophy, Tanach and a favorite focused on the Contemporary Jewish Woman. The program appeal is clinched through experiential activities such as meditation sessions and spirited farbrengens and tutorials, including live challah-baking sessions and kashrus presentations hosted in local kitchens within the community.

The experience of Michelle Mendeluk, a 21-year-old in the program from Buenos Aires, who was encouraged to enroll in the program by Argentina shliach, Rabbi Yechiel Frankel, is a match for the goal and mission promoted by Konfederak of taking girls from zero to 60 in their yiddishkeit overnight.

“I thought I would be overwhelmed by Judaism because we are studying most of the day,” said Mendeluk about her initial worries about the program. “And then I just got excited as many of my questions were being answered,” questions focused on faith and trust in G-d and the notion of His ever presence.

“I always believed in HaShem, but now I have a stronger connection,” she said upon completing two of three weeks in the program.

She said she was further spurred on by an atmosphere of nurturance and support.

“I love the way people treat us here,” she said. “The staff and rabbis are really careful about about how we are doing, how we are enjoying the program. It’s total ahavas Yisroel.”

Other than a scramble to accommodate the expanded need for lodging, the other programs housed under the Machon Alte roof, the English- and Hebrew-speaking Baalos Teshuva programs and the Chaya Mushka seminary, mesh well with the new Spanish contingent, said Mrs. Chana Traxler, Machon Alte’s educational director who is also over about 30 women in the ongoing English and Hebrew speaking programs. “We are a little flooded in terms of space, but everyone is getting along.”

It’s been the tradition at Machon Alte, established in 1977 by Deans, Rabbi Rosenfeld and his wife, Rochel Leah, as the first yeshiva in Israel for English-speaking Baalos Teshuva, to maintain an atmosphere of emotional harmony, academic rigor and spiritual loftiness such that many have a hard time finding their way to the exit door.

Such is the case with Michelle Schreiber, 27, a marketing major from Buenos Aires who works in the field. She was introduced to the idea of enrolling in the new program by Buenos Aires shluchim, Rabbi Zalmy Levy and his wife, Rivka. Schreiber signed up for the initial three weeks and added a fourth, claiming the only reason she did not ask to extend her stay even further is because of a pre-planned family vacation.

“At the beginning, I wasn’t so sure,” she said. “Then I got here and one class was better than the other,” conveying that the co-mingling of the classes and the infectious enthusiasm of her fellow students and approachable rabbis, there was no reason to leave.

“When I get home, I will just have to keep studying and applying what I have learned here in my daily life,” she said. “This will be the challenge. Going back to Buenos Aires in my normal life and trying to keep this in my normal life.”

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Opinions and Comments
Kol hakavod Batsheva!!!!!
(1/29/2017 11:18:05 AM)
The Rosenfelds
are the best and have done an amazing job in Tzfas
(1/29/2017 11:28:42 AM)
Muy Bueno!
(1/29/2017 5:44:42 PM)
The Rosenfelds have changed so many lives. They are amazing. May Hashem bench them with much Hatzlacha in everything
(1/29/2017 8:16:49 PM)
kol Hakavod!
great work Machon alte Staff!
this is a Mosed that turens our mekuraot to become fully chabad chasidishe wifes and mothers!!
mechail el chail!!
(1/30/2017 5:15:19 AM)
Conectado con el espiritu del Friediker Rebbe
Estas chicas estaran estudiando en Espaniol. Si es asi, estan haciendo honor a los esfuerzos no solamente de Moshe Rabenu quien tradujo la Tora a los 70 lenguajes del mundo sino tambien a los esfuerzos del Anterior Rebbe, R. Yosef Yitzhak, quien tuvo como objetivo traducir mucha Tora a muchos lenguajes. Que Ds las bendiga en esta especial etapa de sus vidas! Kol hakavod a los Shlujim involucrados.
(1/30/2017 7:01:04 AM)
Kol Hakovod
Muchas Gracias!
(1/30/2017 9:40:58 AM)
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