My neighbor’s daughter is religious, but you could see her skirts rising, necklines dropping, and less respect for Rebbium and halachah. Until she started going (on her own free will!) to Banot Aliyah an evening of classes designed for Beis Yaacov graduates.
Chaya Rivka Davis nee’ Kaufman never went off the derech (OTD), but she recognized how easy it is to get there. “When I was 17, I was very popular among my classmates, but I felt empty inside. I felt this great need to be busy all the time. I put pictures of all my friends on the wall to prove to myself how popular I was. Yet it didn’t free me from my emptiness. I was pursuing happiness in the wrong places.
I took upon myself, then, not to watch any movies or listen to non-Jewish music. It was difficult, but it was so helpful. That year I listened to only shiruim especially of Rabbi Zechariah Wallenstein. It helped me to get strong.” (Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein is the founder of Ateres Naava Seminary for Girls and Women in Brooklyn, having a tremendous impact on their growing and changing through learning Torah.)
Using Rabbi Wallerstein as a model, Chaya Rivka began to think how to help other young women. Knowing how easy it is to feel not connected she recognizes how precarious and dangerous that is for a young adult.
“I saw girls floundering with emptiness and sometimes looking where they shouldn’t be.” Teenagers and young adults need to feel connected to their home and their friends, and if one is missing, they will seek otherwise. The girls who come from a disruptive home life, whether there might be abuse, divorce, or simply a lack of structure or dialog, need answers to why we do the things we do. The same girls who find it difficult to listen to rules usually have questions, which haven’t been answered (and at times, they were not given a chance to ask). Ironically, they will be the ones accepted (if at all) to lower level academic schools that often have restrictive demands on the girls without necessarily offering explanations. Asking questions can at times mark them as ‘not religious enough for the school’s standards’. Yet, that is what they crave; a place to ask questions.
Chaya Rivka emphasizes, “There is never a question that is bad, just wrong answers.”
Chaya Rivka Davis, a young married 23-year-old, mother of a son and daughter, has seen some of these girls end up on the street. “I just had to do something.” And she did. She has started a movement; Bnot Aliyah. It offers classes on the fundamentals of Judaism, has activities and even more. She advertises on Facebook and other social media and depends on word of mouth to get the fun, learning interactive program known. Already after only five months, she has at least once a week a speaker, or activity for young women (married or otherwise) pulling in the top speakers in the Jerusalem English Baeli Teshuva Scene; Rav Moshe Zeldman, Rabbi Gavriel Friedman, Reb. Tsiporah Heller, Reb Silvia Schatz, Rav Dovid Gotlieb, and more. Together there are two branches (in Jerusalem and Ramat Beit Shemesh) and she is reaching 20-30 girls each week, without a budget.
Mrs. Davis is now trying to get donations to help build Bnot Aliyah so she can reach more girls, who want to learn and grow.
How did Chaya Rivka start?
Chaya Rivka Davis was born in Israel and lived in the Jerusalem area for most of her life. Her parents are American baeli teshuva, and until she was eleven, the family lived in Israel. From first to third grade, she learned in a Yiddish school, then a standard Israeli haredi Beis Yaakov in Beit Shemesh. Her family moved to Chile for half-a-year, when she was eleven, to do kiruv. Afterwards, they moved to Lakewood for three years. At the tender age of fourteen, the family returned to Israel. Loneliness and need to make new friends was a struggle for Chaya Rivka as it would be for anybody.
Chaya Rivka reflects, “When girls struggle with the religious aspect of their lives, it is a symptom, it’s not the cause. It means there is an issue underlying everything . Maybe they are not connecting, or they don’t understand, and sometimes they don’t really pursue the issue, just letting it go. But, slowly but surely their dress changes, their actions change, their friends change, and gradually one day they are not religious.”
She knew she had to do something when she saw a friend of the family, who at fifteen was quickly becoming an OTD statistic. “I couldn’t watch it happen.” Chaya Rivka decided it was her job to help. She spoke to people she knew in the kiruv krovim circles and was recommended to talk with Rabbi Moshe Zeldman from Aish HaTorah. He proved to be challenging to catch. Yet after a few weeks of perseverance, she caught up with him just as he arrived back in the Holy Land.
“If you had spoken to me before,” he informed her, “I would not have been interested. I teach boys who are baeli teshuva, I don’t have any knowledge of girls and women and certainly not teaching women who have learned in the Beis Yaakov system. It is a very different education. When I was in America, the FFB (Frum From Birth) women surprised me by demanding classes. All women are in need of asking basic questions and are looking for deeper meanings than they were taught in Beis Yaakov. “
Rav Zeldman continued, “I actually started preparing a 5-week course for women. So, yes I would be delighted and proud to be part of your amazing organization. I want to be part of bringing women together who have gone through the system, know a lot about Yiddishkeit, yet want to deepen their connection and become Bnot Aliyah.”
Although most of the women attending have had a religious background, they enjoy the baeli teshuva approach.
What is the difference between the Baeli Teshuva and FFB approach?
When children learn from a young age essential concepts, many times their first impression is what stays with them. The issue may not develop beyond an immature understanding nor blossom to a deeper level if the student is not challenged and aided. Therefore, religious girls (or boys) who have learned about Hashem starting from the age of three or younger may never really advance their entire conception of HaKodesh Baruch Hu past the simpler concepts of a child. What does it mean that Hashem is our Father, our King, and our Judge? How are we supposed to relate to Hashem? How are we to speak to him? When? Do we really understand the deepness in the halachos that we do?
Those who came to Judaism at an older age, however, were taught on an adult level with a more sophisticated understanding. Their more mature perception help develop a stronger connection with their belief system or at least give them a more profound grasp on basic or ritualistic ideas. The years of learning, however, cannot be easily made up nor compare to the very fibers of an FFB in their understanding Torah.
Yet simple questions may never been asked. Why does the kallah go around her chassan seven times? Why do women light the Shabbos candles before we say a bracha? How can free will exist with Hashem knowing everything past and future? And more. These ideas are so interwoven in a frum from birth’s experience; they may never have stopped to ask the questions. Baalei teshuva, however, have asked these questions and are used to getting answers; with profound responses.
Chaya Rivka was greatly bothered when she heard married women saying they had questions on fundamental concepts but did not ask nor knew where to go for answers. Their complacency response ‘when I’m 120, I’ll know’ infuriated her.
“That is wrong! This is our heritage. It is a travesty not to have a connection to Hashem. We have to know whom we are crying out to. Kids should be taught to ask any question they want. If a teacher cannot answer a question on hashkafah, it is usually because the teachers don’t have a clear understanding themselves, not because there was something wrong with the question. Every Jew is entitled to have the tools to grow. Stagnation from a lack of knowledge only breeds danger.”
Chaya Rivka wants young girls to be connected. “I want to create a group where young women can feel comfortable and develop real relationships, a real connection to the Creator, the Master of the World, where they can ask their questions they always wanted to ask, and get real answers.”
Hadas Bat El cofounder of Bnot Aliyah and runs the branch in Beit Shemesh envisions the program‘s objective as in “giving clarity to the Beis Yaakov girl who hasn’t grasp the basic concepts of Judaism. We talk about important topics like emuna, how do we know Hashem is in our lives, how do we know he loves us, how do we have free will. All those kind of subjects. The classes are interactive. The girls love it. I see how it is helping so many people.”
One of the participants mentioned how just being part of a group of questioning women, she has learned so much. She gains not only from the answers but even the questions that are asked. It is profoundly broadening her understanding more than she ever knew before.
Rav Gav Freidman, from Aish HaTorah, asked the girls in his shiur one evening, “What are we all looking for?” Surprisingly he answered, ‘happiness’. “We are looking for happiness. What is happiness? Is it just a feeling good? No, it is more specific. Happiness is the sensation you get when you are doing what you are supposed to be doing. Happiness is when you’re accomplishments are meaningful to you within the job you are supposed to be doing. G-d crated the world so that each person has their own tafkid, their own job. When a person fulfills their own job that is meant especially for them, they feel incredible happiness. How do you know what your job is? Look in your toolbox. Look and see what capabilities, talents, and interests you have. When you accomplish the job that G-d created for you within the Torah guidelines (which G-d gave to us on a national level) we feel happiness.”
Chaya Rivka is creating a place where our precious neshamos (and future mothers and builders of Klal Yisrael) can learn to be happy in the framework of Torah. How? By giving them the best tool ever; knowledge (and excitement).
Don’t you want to be a part of it?
Contact Bnot Aliyah: