She'arim students and alumni
She'arim students are young women (ranging from ages 19 and up) with a strong desire to learn Torah. Many of our students have completed a university degree and are taking time off from busy careers or graduate studies. Drawn from around the world, the majority of our students are not from observant homes. Those who are, enhance their day school backgrounds while contributing to the rich mix of influences that constitute our school. Whatever age or background the women who choose to attend She'arim are motivated to learn and grow.
There is no standard profile of She’arim alumni. Each student develops according to her individual strengths, abilities and desires. Our alumni are active in almost every profession and every sector of the economy. Whatever they do, where ever they live they take with them the experience, friendships, and ideas that they learned at She’arim .
The following are illustrative examples of our students.
Judaism was always a major part of Carly’s identity growing up. Some of Carly's fondest memories of childhood involve her grandfather teaching her about Shabbat and Jewish traditions. She was brought up to be proud of her Judaism and to take an active role in it. So much so, that Carly became the president of her local synagogues reform youth group. Carly flourished in her role as president and began to date a young man named Yonatan that she met there, who was just as passionate as she was about his Judaism. Carly decided she wanted to continue her Jewish education and therefore enrolled at Temple University as a Jewish Studies Major. Once the excitement of college life subsided, Carly realized she was mostly learning about Jews, but not necessarily about Judaism. At the same time, her boyfriend that she had met in her reform youth group, began expressing interest in more traditional forms of Judaism, and even hinted he might want to learn in a Yeshiva one day. Carly told him she wasn't against it, but that if he came back from yeshiva with a beard or peyot that their relationship would be over. She also told him " I do not want to sit behind some mechitzah." Unwilling to end their relationship, the two of them agreed to do some research which led Carly to enroll in Maimonidies and Ma'or, two different Jewish enrichment programs. Carly soon realized, she had much to learn and encouraged her boyfriend to do the same. Carly, on her own initiative signed the two of them up to participate in Sinai Retreats. It was at this retreat that both Carly and Yonatan realized that they needed to do some soul searching. "Those months were extremely valuable as we both realized we wanted to commit to living a Torah lifestyle"
Carly and Yonatan got engaged a few months later. Upon completing University, Yonatan and Carly relocated to Israel so that Yonatan could finally fulfill his dream of studying in Yeshiva. With Yonatan enrolled in Yeshiva, Carly planned on finding employment. During this time, Carly's grandfather passed away. Remembering her grandfather's passion and desire that his children and grandchildren hold on to their Jewish identity, his passing propelled Carly to do her own learning and she began researching different places of learning for women. Carly decided she wanted a challenging and holistic program with a strong emphasis on Hashkafa. She also wanted to find a place that would specifically cater to married women and their needs. Impressed with She’arim's married women's program which includes classes in shalom bayit, and the warmth that she encountered, she officially enrolled at She’arim. The support system of newly married women at She’arim was perfect forCarly, as she flourished in her textual skills as well.
Leonie Taylor hails from Hull, England, a “small fishing town” that had a “fairly vibrant Litvish community.” She moved to Leeds when she was young, and went to a Jewish primary (elementary) school. After graduating from Leeds Girls High School, she decided to make her gap year something special: she left for Israel. She received madricha training, taught English in Israeli primary schools and worked in a kibbutz kitchen near Eilat while learning to dowse – a valuable skill in the desert! She finished off her experience with a final month volunteering in the Israeli army. Leonie returned to England to study History of Modern Art at Manchester University, while also joining the Officer Training Corps of the British Territorial Army (OTC).
Leonie went to London, and she put her people skills to work organizing public relations events and marketing corporate furniture design companies, building relationships with architects and designers.
By the time she was able to go to seminary for an extended period of time, she knew she wanted to focus on in-depth textual studies, and at a friend’s suggestion, tried She’arim. From the minute she walked through our doors, Leonie was at home. “I never felt so welcome and included as I have at She’arim.” Leonie admits, “Israel is amazing but intense. You need grounding, and She’arim provides that.”
Before her stay at She’arim, Leonie had an indifferent attitude towards G-d’s existence: “Of course I believe in G-d” was her approach. Now, she says, “She’arim has helped me to concretize my beliefs; to accept Hashem as the Creator and to place Him at the center of my life. Everything else is built on this – without it I had weak foundations so there was always risk of collapse.”
As time has passed, Leonie has used the unique environment at She’arim to “centralize Torah” while remaining herself. Her interests have stayed the same, as her professionally executed role as director over the annual Purim shpiel proves, but as Leonie asserts, “She’arim has changed how I deal with people and the world.” She is not leaving yet, but she knows that when she does it will be with a new perspective. As for now, Leonie says, “I am happier than I have ever been, not because things are easy, but because they are right.”
Born and raised in Los Angeles, California and coming from a Persian/Israeli background, Dahlia Eliav found her way to the "gates" of She'arim. "Ever since I can remember, tradition was always a huge part of our daily lives, and thank G-d, our family's mitzvah observance has grown in the past ten years or so. Although I am the youngest of three kids, I was the first to say 'lets get back 'on the Derech' and allow for true Torah values to enter our home and inspire all those around us. My mother is the youngest of 12 children. Her maiden name is Emunah and her family was raised in Iran. My father is one of eight children and they moved to Israel from Iran in 1948.You can imagine the diversity that comes along with so many cousins and extended family. Still, with this diversity, many of my cousins have rekindled their neshamas' flame and reconnected to Torah and Hashem in one way or another. Baruch Hashem we are finding our way back, one step at a time."
Dahlia visited She'arim a few times before, attending for six months from July to December 2008. Whilst Dahlia served as a madricha on the Aish Sephardic Jerusalem Fellowship she had some opportunities to visit She'arim. "Each time I came during those trips, it made me yearn more and more to return to She'arim and learn.
Now it is so much more fulfilling to understand the reasoning behind what I practice, and to know that I am observing halacha correctly - according to Sephardic tradition; to know that this is what Hashem wants.
"She'arim enabled me to develop and improve various skills, including reading and writing Hebrew as well as grasping an in-depth understanding of the commentaries.. I had expected to grow in Judaism, however upon returning from Israel I also found my family and close friends commenting on how much more mature, content and confident I have become. I have tried to apply what I've learned to my daily personal and social life here as well, and must admit it has strengthened my relationships with my family and friends.
"Unique to She'arim is the Sephardic Heritage program created especially for Sephardic girls to expand their knowledge of their heritage and halacha. In my opinion, Rabbi Alexander Cohen and Rabbi Chaim Levy are the missing pieces many people are looking for before coming to She'arim,. As a Sephardi girl myself, I thank She'arim for going out of their way to see that we are learning that which we can apply to our specific culture, family life and homes.
One of the many highlights of the day was the Sephardic Heritage program and what it had to offer: from the staff to the amazing classes which I had never experienced elsewhere. I thank She'arim for providing me with the tools I need to one day create my own family, and in the meantime inspire those around me as a leader in the Persian community.
"Since returning from Israel, I decided that if I can't be in Jerusalem soaking in all that She'arim offers, I will just have to bring She'arim to LA and create my own little Jerusalem here. During the day, I help various organizations with community events they are planning as well as plan events for PAJO (Persian American Jewish Organization) which I am president of, and I just try to fill my day with meaningful and productive activities. Five days a week I go to various classes offered throughout the city. On Wednesday nights, I teach classes inspired and based on Rebbetzin Brussel's Interpersonal Relationship classes at She'arim! We call it "Girl Talk" and thank G-d it is becoming more and more well-known amongst the religious and secular Jewish Persian community in LA. I gain so much from the questions asked and from reviewing the material.
"I was always excited about Judasim," explains Ilana Herring, as she fondly recounts how she brought a menorah to school to show her non-Jewish classmates in 2nd grade. Ilana grew up in a home where her parents instilled within her positive feelings towards Judaism and Israel. Following the completion of her BA at Brandies University, Ilana returned to her home town of San Diego, CA. In addition to job searching, Ilana was also searching for something else – a personal connection with G-d.
As she developed her career, she also developed a stronger thirst and dedication to Torah: "I was growing in my observance—taking on Shabbat, attending Aish LA events, Shabbatonim, and Birthright. I knew I wanted to come to seminary." When she finished her MA, Ilana quit her job, sold her car, and came to Israel in search of a seminary. "I wanted a small school and a place where I felt at home," remarks Ilana. "When I came to She'arim I found an atmosphere that was 'no-pressure' and full of students with healthy enthusiasm, interested in learning and growing." Ilana also admired the commitment and passion she noticed in her teachers and their care for individual students.
Looking back on her experience, Ilana says, "I came because I knew I needed a Torah education, but what I got was a paradigm shift. I began to view life with the perspective of 'How does everything fit into Torah'—and not the other way around."
Ilana has returned to She'arim, a year later, for "She'arim 2.0: I'm here to experience learning in Israel while living and working here, too."
Click here to watch Ilana speak about her experience at She'arim: