Meet the olah running a dance school for haredi women

The program’s goal is to empower the girls’ self-esteem and feelings of self-worth.

Rachel Factor (photo credit: COURTESY RACHEL FACTOR)
Rachel Factor
(photo credit: COURTESY RACHEL FACTOR)
 When one thinks of Miss Rachel Factor, many things come to mind: dancer, singer, performer, amazing person and mother are but a few. 
Rachel Factor is nothing short of extraordinary; from her journey to Judaism to her generosity in the community and worldwide, one cannot help but feel as if one has known her forever when speaking with her. Factor and I had a brief Zoom meeting, where she excitedly showed me her dance studio and introduced me to some of her pupils. I wanted to keep chatting and more importantly, I wanted to dance there with them, too!
So who is this talented woman? Factor was born and raised in Hawaii. When she was in junior high school, she discovered dance and realized that it was her passion in life. She moved to Los Angeles and then to New York City, where she performed in numerous shows such as Shogun the Musical and Miss Saigon and was in a few Shakespeare plays as well. She even danced for the Rockettes! In addition, she made numerous appearances in TV commercials and shows. She has spoken at various colleges and seminaries around the globe. 
At age 29, she discovered Judaism and converted. 
The Factors visited Israel for three months and then decided to stay for a year, eventually making aliyah via Nefesh B’Nefesh. The family was amazed how people in Israel are all treated like family. Factor explains: “I did not just want to live Judaism; I wanted it to be a part of me! For the first time I felt full, worthy and valuable.” She knew that it had to do with keeping tznius (modesty). 
The biggest impact for Factor was the fact that she could perform for women. Soon these performance audience sizes grew from the tens to hundreds then the thousands. More than 30,000 women of all backgrounds and ages have attended her many shows over the years. 
“In Jerusalem, I started a religious women’s dance school which eventually became what it is today, JCPA-Jerusalem Center for Performing Arts for haredi girls and women. Things I never dreamed possible! And I found a deep sense of fulfillment in the life I was leading, with the quality of my work and my growing family.” 
Factor feels blessed that she founded the JCPA. The work is rewarding, and she enjoys working with the girls, seeing the smiles on their faces. The girls learn a multitude of dance steps and get fit while developing everlasting friendships. However, the program’s goal is to empower the girls’ self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. 
“It is less about the scale of the performance and more about taking care of each other as a team and having a wonderful time in the creative process, building empathy and courage.” 
A main component of the program is mentorship, where older girls mentor younger students. These girls form bonds and create lifetime friends. The mentorship program goes on in the studio, on-site in and around the regular classes and has been the most powerful aspect of the program. Thankfully, the program is now viewed as a mainstream program through haredi eyes. They are embarking on a partnership with the Lavy Organization to bring the program into the after-school programming in public schools, thus bringing their special program to many more kids who otherwise would not have access to something this unique. However, they do not fund regular programming, which is suffering due to COVID.
The WeDance Initiative is Factor’s response to the current situation, which threatens to shut down the program. Factor believes that “chesed can help you move from negative thinking (like me worrying about my dance school, or your uncertainty, boredom or lack of structure) to the positive thinking that giving inspires, changing your week and changing your world!”
She explains, “We support ourselves on tuitions, which are down by almost half this year due to closures and the fear of closures, yet our expenses remain constant. Instead of giving in to the despair and just remaining paralyzed by the current situation, I created this chesed program (free of charge!!) to continue providing dance and mentorship while we are not able to give in-person classes.” They meet in groups of less than 10 and go privately to homes to spread the joy of dance and provide the mentorship opportunities the studio usually offers. Rules they abide by: 
• We Love: By caring for each of our students. 
• We Notice: By engaging and inspiring with compliments and encouraging words.
• We Hear: By listening with our hearts. 
• We Give: A JCPA dance curriculum designed by Rachel Factor with a lot of love straight from heart our heart to yours!
The Causematch campaign is a crowdfunding campaign Factor started to raise money to save the school. It will culminate in a virtual dance-a-thon on Motzei Shabbat, December 19. Anyone can donate via the link up until then to help keep them providing a space for harnessing intrinsic motivation, creating a culture of empathy and nurturing a sense of belonging.
Factor proudly states, “As I Jew, I have learned that everything happens for a reason and that everything Hashem does is good. My job is to find the good in it and make it happen!” ■
To learn more about Rachel Factor: rachel-factor.com/the-story 
The writer can be reached at ganeitikva@icloud.com.