Women’s seminary melding art and Torah

A unique women’s yeshiva class =takes place every week in the quaint Nahlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem that combines Torah with art.

 Students and teachers at the Shevach Torah and Art Women's Program. (photo credit: BEN BRESKY)
Students and teachers at the Shevach Torah and Art Women's Program.
(photo credit: BEN BRESKY)

A group of women sit around a large table with paint brushes as they artistically depict the words of wisdom they have just learned. Participants on Zoom follow along. The walls are covered with pictures of famous rabbis from long ago, who would not have imagined a group of students from around the world studying their teachings via the Internet.

It is part of a unique women’s yeshiva class that takes place every week in the quaint Nahlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem that combines Torah with art.

The instructors spoke to The Jerusalem Post about the Shevach – Torah and Art Women’s program, a branch of Yeshivat Simchat Shlomo.

Inspiration from struggle

Judy Brodt, whose late husband Rabbi Sholom Brodt founded the yeshiva in 2001, discussed the program and was joined by Yael Dworkin, the educational and program director of Shevach, and art instructor Sheva Chaya Shaiman.

 PHOTOS INCLUDE the late Rabbi Sholom Brodt, who founded the yeshiva with his wife; and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, one of the yeshiva’s inspirations. (credit: BEN BRESKY) PHOTOS INCLUDE the late Rabbi Sholom Brodt, who founded the yeshiva with his wife; and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, one of the yeshiva’s inspirations. (credit: BEN BRESKY)

Born in Hungary during World War II, Brodt left as a child with her family during the 1956 revolution and immigrated to the United States. She considers it her personal Exodus story. “Growing up with a memory of devastation and tragedy, I sought to rebuild my life by choosing to see God’s unending mercy despite all the sadness,” she said.

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, whom she and her husband met in the 1970s, was another inspiration. They named their yeshiva in his memory.

Rabbi Sholom Brodt grew up in Montreal with the Chabad movement. When the couple moved to Israel, they established the yeshiva and opened their home to young spiritual seekers. After Rabbi Brodt’s passing in 2017, Judy took on more of a leadership role.

Helping women connect

Yael Dworkin, who teaches Judaic studies, said “the courses offer an authentic, personal experience of Judaism that deepens the women’s connection to Torah, the land, the Jewish people, and most importantly to themselves as Jewish women. This is accomplished by fusing formal and informal – experiential learning, in an environment that supports and encourages personal, intellectual and creative expression,” she explained.

“The curriculum includes engaging frontal teaching classes alongside various art form classes. The aim of this approach is to offer the students the opportunity to integrate what they are learning in a three-dimensional way, thereby deepening and growing their emotional connection to their Judaism, based on Chassidic and classical teachings,” she added.

Born in Israel, Dworkin’s family moved to Canada when she was a girl, where she was raised in an observant community. Her father was a Holocaust survivor and came to Israel on the ill-fated Altalena ship. Her grandmother came from Turkey and instilled in her a love of Israel.

Before returning to Israel she was a colleague of Rabbi Sholom Brodt in Montreal and considered him a mentor and close friend.

“The learning has to have meaning for the students” she explained. “Judaism has a strong element of understanding of human psychology. We are meant to live the teachings and allow it to transform us into better versions of ourselves, deepening our connections to one another. It is part of tikkun olam [repairing the world],” she added.

 REBBETZIN JUDY BRODT is not just co-founder of the yeshiva but an artist herself. (credit: Shevach) REBBETZIN JUDY BRODT is not just co-founder of the yeshiva but an artist herself. (credit: Shevach)
Art can change the world

It is art instructor Shaiman’s job to take the lesson of the day, often the weekly Torah portion or upcoming holiday, and use it as an inspiration for the students to get their creative juices flowing. The owner of a glass blowing workshop and gallery in the northern Israeli city of Safed, Shaiman became an artist in college.

Growing up in Colorado to a secular Jewish family, she was not into art until she took a painting class at Princeton University. “I was amazed at how I felt painting. I felt very present. It was a kind of meditation, she told the Post. This led her to more and more art classes until she earned a degree in visual arts and art history.

“I always had a strong drive to do something meaningful in the world,” she said. “I did not think it would be art, but once I felt how rewarding it could be, I thought that through art I could reach people and affect them in a meaningful way.”

Shaiman got to know the Brodts by taking one of their classes in Jerusalem. Rabbi Brodt caught her doodling in the middle of a lecture and was impressed by her work. Since then her art has adorned books and other educational material produced by the yeshiva.

Helping the community

For Judy Brodt the art classes at Shevach are a dream come true. “You can have the most meaningful art piece in the world, but when it is inspired by Torah, that makes it more impactful. This program allows people to discover their unique personal expression,” she said.

The age of the students range from 20 to 80, from a variety of backgrounds. “They are here for all the same reason,” Dworkin said, “they want to grow. The cohesive unity transcends the age.”

In addition to art, there is also a dance class that focuses on the Hebrew alphabet and an improvisational singing session.

“You can spend months just studying each letter,” Dworkin said. “These are the building blocks of creation. After I teach, the dance specialist turns it into a workshop of free interpretive, intuitive dance movement.”

After dancing, the women sit in a circle and get a chance to reflect on what it means to them. “There is a healing aspect and a bonding aspect to it because it’s not a choreographed dance class,” Dworkin explained. ❖

In addition to classes, the women’s program also hosts monthly musical Rosh Hodesh events attended by both students and community members.

To learn more, visit: www.shevachtorah.org.