HOW DID YOU COME TO KNOW THE RABBANIT?
Fourteen years ago we sent our children to the same gan. She was “just” a mother then. It’s really hard to believe; she wasn’t even teaching Torah yet. She had trained as a lawyer. When I first met her she was working in an ulpan, teaching lawyers who had made aliyah professional jargon in Hebrew. She’s around five years older than me. At first I didn’t even know that she was something special. We’d only met socially because of our kids. One time we started to talk and I realized that we came from similar backgrounds. Well, they’re actually quite different but similar in one specific way, which is why I think she’s been so incredibly influential to me.
IN WHAT WAY ARE YOU SIMILAR?
I grew up in a home with amazing parents. They’re both doctors. My sister, a graduate of the University of Chicago, is a professor. My brother is a graduate of Harvard Law and a partner in a law firm. I always thought I’d follow the same path as the rest of my family, being very professionally-oriented. After my oldest daughter was born 16 years ago I assumed I’d go back to work, but it never happened. In the end, I really just wanted to be home and stay with her. My family is Conservative, and I became religious when I was in my junior year of college. It was a big, big, big switch. By the time I was 26 I was married, had a baby and was living in Israel. It was a huge transition. But in some ways the biggest and most difficult transition was in terms of how I saw myself in terms of career versus motherhood. My mother is a psychiatrist, and my grandmother, ob”m, was a professor at Hunter College. That’s what I was familiar with.
I thought I’d be a career woman like them. Then all of a sudden I wasn’t. It was an abrupt shift.When I got to know Rabbanit Yemima I found out that she had gone to Jerusalem’s prestigious Chorev high school, which has very high intellectual expectations of the girls. She was a star student and then went on to law school and landed a prestigious internship with an important judge. I’m not sure what happened when, but she told me she had a similar experience of suddenly finding herself changing diapers instead of being a successful career woman, and it was very challenging. A big part of her journey was coming to see the beauty, dignity and Divine mission in being a mother. She developed a sense of fulfillment, that this was what Hashem wanted from her, and that taking care of a baby is a true chesed.
HOW DID YOUR RELATIONSHIP DEVELOP FROM THERE?
In 2001 the Rabbanit started teaching a very small class in her house. A handful of her friends would go to her parshah shiur. There’s a woman named Yikrat Friedman who is now Rabbanit Yemima’s editor. Back then, she started transcribing her classes. Yikrat had a similar life story as mine and the Rebbetzin’s. She was a professor of communications and the editor of a popular magazine. Then she became a mother and had quite a few children, and it was a difficult transition from thinking that her main source of satisfaction would now be feeding her kids and supervising them at the playground. The Rabbanit’s message is that just by being a woman, taking care of your house, being a devoted wife, davening and making Shabbos, you’re doing the most important thing in the world. Yikrat understood that this was something the women of our generation are starving to hear. When she gave me some of the Rebbetzin’s transcribed shiurim I was immediately addicted. I read her pages every Shabbos, in Hebrew. Today, Rabbanit Yemima is the kind of speaker who could fill a stadium with a week’s notice, and she does. She is really, really, really a star. I think she’s had tremendous siyata dishamaya. She totally turned my life around. I feel like she changed me so much as a person that in a way I don’t even need her classes anymore! I mean, I still love them, but the essential way I see my role in life and what I’m doing has been transformed.
WHAT IS THE POWER OF HER MESSAGE?
I think part of it has to do with just seeing her. She’s a real malkah, queenly and regal. I’ve never known anyone with such dignity. She always talks about the importance of a woman dressing nicely and being the queen of the home. One of the most important things she did for me is that whenever I’m doing tasks I grew up thinking were humiliating, like cleaning the kitchen or cooking or sweeping the floor, I’m empowered by her message.She taught me that there are two kinds of work, avodah and melachah. Avodah is the work of an eved: “Oh, nobody ever helps me out and I’m such a martyr and whatever.” Melachah is the work of a malach. It’s feeling like I’m Hashem’s emissary; so rather than looking around to see who’s helping me, I know that I’m serving Him by making my home beautiful and feeding and raising my family. It’s like she completely reprogrammed me in the most wonderful way possible.
IS IT A CONTRADICTION TO YOUR INTELLECTUAL SIDE?
No, it’s not a denial of our intellect. Rabbanit Yemima thinks it’s very important for women to learn Torah on a serious level. She also fully supports women getting an education and working and being professionals. She just teaches that Hashem can be with you whatever you’re doing.
IN WHAT OTHER WAYS DO YOU FEEL SHE EMPOWERED YOU?
She gave me the sense that as a Jewish woman I have a certain power just by davening. She focuses on the significance of prayer, which is very empowering to everyone. A few years ago she talked about the importance of giving your kids a brachah every day before they leave the house. You say the pasuk, “Yevarechecha Hashem v’yishmerecha…” It’s also a shmirah to accompany each kid outside a few steps. She recently gave birth to a baby boy, at the age of 45. It’s very sweet; she said they named him Moshe because she feels like he’s everyone’s baby because so many people were davening for her and waiting for her to give birth. I knew she would take him with her on her travels all over the world because she’s nursing him.
IS THE POWER IN HER MESSAGE OR IN THE WAY SHE CONVEYS IT?
Both. But it’s also because she’s genuinely brilliant. I think she’s a genius. She creates what appears to be a very simple message that is also at the same time extremely profound. That enables her to touch both the woman who is a scholar and the one with no background in Torah learning whatsoever who’s sitting next to her. And she’s always on target. She says exactly what we need to hear.
DO YOU THINK SHE’S CHANGED BECAUSE OF HER SUCCESS?
Part of what makes me so in awe of her is that even though she’s become so famous, she’s still pretty much the same. She still speaks her mind freely and courageously and says what she believes is true. She’s really quite brave. She spoke from the heart when there were seven women listening and she speaks from the heart now, when there are many thousands. She’s become so popular and busy that I almost never see her. I was so happy to bump into her a few months ago. I hope we have a special connection. She knows how devoted I am. I was one of her first chasidim. And I’ve written a lot about her and how much she’s helped me. I dedicated my second book to her.
WHAT PART OF HER MESSAGE IS BRAVE?
She comments on things like the political situation in Israel and the tension between the different groups in Israeli society: secular, National Religious, chareidi, Ashkenazim, Sefardim. The amazing thing is that she doesn’t alienate anyone.
SHE TALKS ABOUT POLITICS?
She never, ever says whom she supports in elections, but she’ll comment on current events. Take, for example, the Gross family tragedy [two children died of accidental poisoning]. She spoke about how many people put down chareidim for learning Torah and not working, while at the same time the entire country fell in love with the Grosses and cried and prayed for them. But what are the Grosses doing? They’re having a baby every year or two and they’re living this very simple lifestyle to support the husband’s learning. People were so deeply impressed by their faith during this terrible time of crisis. They sort of forgot that they’re the same chareidim they presumably hate! Of course, their amazing faith is a product of the incredible reserves of strength the Torah gives them. The Rabbanit says a lot of things like that, that make people see the chareidi community in a different light. She also talks a lot about the important contribution made by men who learn. Exemption from the army for yeshivah students is such a tense issue here but she plunges right in without hesitation. I myself wouldn’t touch it on my website because it’s so loaded. She consults frequently with rabbanim; I know she used to consult with Harav Ovadia, zt”l, on important issues. Then, based on that, she’ll say exactly what she thinks and what her conscience dictates. She’s a leader. And she’s fearless.