It’s not easy for young married women and college students to invest time on a Sunday morning, let alone each week, for an entire semester. Yet, a group of dedicated students come to Emet’s Learning Center each week to learn Torah and experience unparalleled growth.
This past Sunday, Emet Outreach’s seminary for girls, Ateret Emet, began the fall semester of its second year. Led by Emet Women’s Director Shira Fendel and featuring the renowned Rebbetzin Tehila Jaeger, this weekly program offers upper-level students an insightful and deeper understanding of halachah, t’filah, hashkafah, Navi, and other fundamental topics. The curriculum typically focuses on subject matter that many people, including those who have an extensive yeshivah background, tend to find mystifying and difficult to comprehend.
The program begins with a warm and pleasant atmosphere, including a fresh, catered breakfast and hot coffee, with music playing as girls arrive. Breakfast is followed by two advanced classes delivered by Rebbetzin Jaeger and Emet staff member Rabbi Binyamin Yuhanan.
Rabbi Yuhanan points out the tremendous dedication required to stick with the program each week. “It takes a lot of commitment to spend time every Sunday morning learning and engaging in spiritual growth for an entire semester,” he says.
He adds that to maximize student engagement and retention, classes are presented in a highly interactive way. “Students are not just attending a lecture and forgetting it. We have interaction during the class and, at the end of the semester, students receive a printout for review. We also record each class and post the audio on our Whatsapp group.”
One student explains that the seminary is just like all of Emet’s programs: It has an extremely positive atmosphere that makes students excited to learn. “Emet’s staff is so welcoming and talented that they never need to pressure you to learn. People learn because they want to.”
In addition to weekly classes, Ateret Emet students participate in Shabbatons. Several months ago, one was held in the Five Towns and Far Rockaway. On Friday night after the meal, students enjoyed an uplifting oneg. On Shabbos day, they attended a lecture by Rabbi YY Rubinstein. Shalosh Seudos was held at the home of Rebbetzin Jaeger; her husband, Rav Naftali Jaeger, the Rosh HaYeshiva of Sh’or Yoshuv, joined for Havdalah and gave each student a brachah.
One of the most personal and impactful aspects of the seminary is that it offers an opening for students to deepen their connection with staff members. They engage in one-on-one discussions with Rebbetzin Jaeger and ask her advice about personal matters. They send text messages to Rabbi Yuhanan all week long with questions about all areas of halachah.
For many, merely experiencing the regal persona of the Rebbetzin each week has a powerful impact. One married student, who views her as her role model, recently began covering her hair. One longtime Emet student, Michelle, who attended the seminary this past summer, says she feels a major improvement in her morning prayers. “For the longest time, I’ve been saying morning blessings without really understanding them. When Shira told me that Rebbetzin Jaeger was going to address that topic, I was really excited. The Rebbetzin taught us what the blessings truly mean, and now I understand what I’m saying to Hashem every morning, which has brought new meaning in my life.”
Although Michelle has been connected with Emet for many years, one of the main reasons she joined the seminary was to be with the Rebbetzin. Before joining, she participated in the Shabbaton in Far Rockaway, and was extremely inspired by Rebbetzin Jaeger. “The Rebbetzin has guided me,” says Michelle, adding, “She is so amazing. When she speaks with you, everything she says is from the bottom of her heart; you feel like you know her so well.” After that experience, Michelle’s decision to enroll was a no-brainer.
Shira says that students were the driving force behind the seminary. “Many of our higher-level students spend time in seminary in Eretz Yisrael, and when they come back they want to continue advanced seminary-style learning, with classes that are text-based and address halachah and other practical topics.” They initially launched for a single semester to “test the waters” and were excited when it gained instant popularity.
Wide Array of Topics
Rabbi Yuhanan makes an effort to discuss common relevant issues in halachah, clearly and concisely. “Very often, when you study written halachah, you need to work hard to understand the language and logic, and you may lose sight of the actual halachah itself,” he explains, adding, “I try to deliver the halachah in the clearest and shortest possible way, so that students walk away with a clear understanding of the most relevant information.”
The seminary’s impact goes beyond the classroom. In addition to expanding their own knowledge, students share what they learn with relatives and friends. Married women teach their husbands and kids what they’ve learned, and single women teach their parents and siblings.
Ateret Emet is an outgrowth of one of Emet’s oldest and most popular programs, Step-It-Up for higher-level girls, which has been coordinated by Shira since its inception. Michelle says that her relationship with Shira has uplifted her in many ways. “I can honestly say that Shira is the kindest person I know. She is such a giving person, truly selfless, always wanting to impact others, never thinking about herself. Shira is always bombarding me with positive text messages. Anything that involves me coming closer to Judaism, Shira is always there.”
About Emet Outreach
Emet is a campus- and community-based organization under the direction of Rabbi Mordechai Kraft and Rabbi Akiva Rutenberg, working with college students, young professionals, couples, and families to bring the beauty of Judaism and Torah to many local Jewish communities through specially-designed lectures, trips, campus programs, special events, classes, fellowships, counseling sessions, and many other events and programs.
To learn more, visit www.emetoutreach.org.
You can still enroll in Ateret Emet this semester by calling Shira Fendel at 917-628-3170.