By COLlive reporter
Walking into the Batsheva Academy in New York’s Catskill Mountains, you might find yourself asking, “Is this a hilltop resort? A Summer retreat? A Chassidus and Gemara boot camp for women?”
And the students might answer, “Yes—all of that.”
The young women who have gathered in Greenfield Park, NY are from diverse backgrounds, but they came with a common goal: to immerse themselves in a rigorous learning experience—and rigorous it is.
The students start their day with an eight o’clock chassidus class, which is a follow-up from the maamorim the women prepare the night before. The instructor, Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe, challenges the students’ minds with questions to ask themselves before learning the maamorim, and once again afterward. The students find that they see things differently after studying.
“I’m incredibly impressed by the level of knowledge, commitment and depth of understanding of the group,” said Rabbi Yaffe.
Every class at the Summer retreat is preceded by an hour and a half of independent learning with a chavrusa in traditional Jewish learning style. Each pair of students tackles the texts, attempting to decipher the language and analyze the concepts.
“I came in not knowing what gemara was, thinking that since I didn’t have any background, I would never be able to understand it,” says student Mali New. “After just a few days here, I’m already building a vocabulary and starting to appreciate how it works.”
After the chavrusa period, the students discuss the ideas they’ve explored with their knowledgeable and insightful instructors, Rabbi Yaffe, Mrs. Chana Silberstein, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Kagan and Rabbi Eli Silberstein.
For the students, the Summer retreat is more than just an opportunity to study. One of the young women, Carolyn Fine, says, “I’ve enjoyed reconnecting with friends and learning together. It’s been good for me on a personal level to immerse myself in learning. It’s been a good change from my regular routine.”
The unique schedule is a balance of Chassidus and Nigla. After the morning Chassidus class, the girls have a choice between in-depth Midrash and Gemara, followed by Halacha in the afternoon, and Chassidus chavrusa time at night.
What keeps these students going? Maybe it’s the teachers, as one girl puts it: “The teachers are really accessible and put themselves out there to answer our questions.”
Or maybe it’s just that common thread throughout the group: The drive to challenge their minds and learn more.
In honor of Chof Av, the students gathered to farbreng. They discussed the implications of what they’ve been learning. They felt that bonding with like-minded women has allowed them to create a community of women who are excited about learning Torah.
“It’s great to be in an environment where I can connect to other women who share the same interests and are focused on the same things,” said one student.
New faces showed up at the program before Shabbos to join the students for a weekend program. One woman who came said that the students were a real inspiration to her, and that they encouraged her to commit to her own learning.
The beautiful location was kindly arranged by Mrs. Fraidy Sabol who worked tirelessly to provide the best food, dorm, and general experience possible. The rustic greenery and fresh air really lended itself to the general atmosphere.
The program invites anyone who is interested to join the Shabbos program. Rabbi Yaffe and the Silbersteins will be on site for the weekend. Batsheva Academy is excited to create more learning opportunities in the coming year for women in crown heights. Learn more at batshevaacademy.com