The small group of Nishmat students mingling alongside the seminary's well-heeled American benefactors represented a cross section of the school's student body at a lavish banquet in honor of its spacious new Patt-based campus last Sunday. American, South American and Russian participants of Nishmat's overseas college and post-college courses acquainted themselves with members of the school's Ethiopian-orientated program, which offers Torah study combined with a second chance at high school matriculation. The unique initiative, said Nishmat dean and founder Rabbanit Chana Henkin, "provides Ethiopian immigrants with the chance for a brighter future in both Jewish and secular spheres in compliance with the school's socially active philosophy." Nishmat's relocation to the economically disadvantaged Patt neighborhood almost a year ago has supplied ample opportunity for the implementation of this philosophy. The school organizes community events, offers weekly classes for local women and is in the process of implementing a community bat mitzva program. Nishmat's educational approach, Henkin told guests, "is based on the belief that intensive and developed study of Jewish sources fortifies young women with the tools necessary to face the challenges of successful and rewarding religious and secular lives." The most innovative feature to have developed out of this philosophy is the creation of the yoatzot Halacha (halachic advisers) - a panel of women learned to the level required to obtain rabbinic status in the laws pertaining to family purity, who answer women's halachic questions. Henkin began training the yoatzot in 2000 after "encountering scores of women who were too embarrassed to approach rabbis with questions of such a personal nature and as a result were suffering needlessly." This innovation, according to Chief Rabbi of Haifa She'ar Yashuv Cohen, who paid homage to Henkin at the ceremony, "has promoted the concept of equality between the sexes within religious Judaism, as well as serving to protect the sanctity of the Jewish family which finds itself facing increasing attack in a modern world." Keynote speaker Hadassah Lieberman, wife of US Senator Joe Lieberman, echoed his sentiments. A member of Nishmat's International Forum, she spoke movingly of "the school's crucial role in the struggle to empower young women in both Jewish and secular life and instill in them the understanding that they aren't limited on the basis of their gender." Also a former Nishmat parent, she interspersed her sentiments with humorous anecdotes about her own daughter's experiences at Nishmat last year which included the sudden realization that "she'd be conversing in Hebrew from dawn till dusk." The evening rounded off with entertainment in the form of Nishmat students' depictions of eminent female biblical characters, among them Deborah the judge and wise Bruria, as well as a portrayal of an apparently newly reformed, biblical working girl, Rahab, in search of the more wholesome pursuits available to her at Nishmat.

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