Jews from across the religious spectrum are now beginning to
catch on to something that Orthodox Jewry has known for
years: that assimilation and intermarriage are the number-one
threats to the survival of the Jewish people in the 21st
Many things have been tried, but it's been proven time and
time again that the only way to bring Jews back to Judaism is
by teaching them Torah.
Now P'eylim / Lev L'Achim is proving it yet again with a new
program designed to help young, nonreligious women throughout
Eretz Yisroel return to their roots. Under the Midrashot
program, these women meet at least once a week in their
communities to learn Torah and hashkofo and, in
effect, to regain their Jewish identities.
According to Shoshana Pachter, director of the Midrashot
program, Lev L'Achim chose to focus on this segment of the
population because many young Israeli women feel a tremendous
emptiness in their lives and want something more.
"There is this big thirst in Eretz Yisroel right now, a
spiritual thirst," says Mrs. Pachter. "There are so many
young women who want meaning and substance in their lives,
and they need to have somewhere to turn to find it."
A Rapidly Growing Program
Lev L'Achim launched the Midrashot program in 1998 by setting
up a pilot midrasha in Ramle, a city notorious for its
violence and drug abuse, not to mention its high rate of
intermarriage between Jews and Arabs. The goal of the project
was twofold: First, to introduce young women in Ramle to
Torah values to prevent them from intermarrying, and second,
to determine whether similar programs could be set up
Initially, a small, diverse group of young women aged 17 to
23 joined the midrasha program in Ramle. They met
biweekly in an informal setting where they tackled such
topics as the uniqueness of being Jewish and the Torah's
outlook on relationships and marriage.
Of the 25 original participants in the program, a large
number continued their religious education and have become
observant. And even those who have yet to make that leap say
they have adopted a more discriminative attitude when it
comes to marriage.
Because of the success of its pilot program, Lev L'Achim
began opening midrashot in a wide variety of
communities throughout the country, including Ofakim, Haifa,
Netanya, Petach Tikva and Tel Aviv.
In fact, in the last year alone, the organization has opened
20 midrashot, a number well above its original
"Even when I say the number now," says Mrs. Pachter, "I still
don't believe it. We faced a lot of obstacles, but we had a
tremendous amount of siyata deShmaya."
Mrs. Pachter, who also runs the midrasha in Ra'anana,
adds that although the focus in the pilot program was to
prevent intermarriage, now the program also works to prepare
these women for their roles as mothers of the next generation
of Am Yisroel.
"The idea is not just to give them a Jewish identity," she
says, "but also to teach them how to build Jewish homes."
A Feeling Of Togetherness
It's Sunday night at the midrasha in Or Yehuda. About
20 young women, ages 16 to 30, are sipping coffee as they
mull over the lecture they just heard about getting married.
Empty cake plates litter their desks.
Vicky Hakohen, the supervisor of the midrasha, is
fielding a question from one young woman about the idea of a
soulmate being destined from birth. How can a person choose
her own mate, she asks, if Hashem already chose one for
The discussion continues for a while, and then the women head
slowly for the door, stopping to rinse out their mugs before
Coffee and cake are important parts of the biweekly lectures
at the Or Yehuda midrasha. One of the keys to the midrasha's
success is its relaxed, informal atmosphere. The women meet
in the evenings after work or school, and get-togethers and
special events are also held on Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh.
According to Mrs. Hakohen, the staff works very hard to
create a feeling of warmth and companionship among the
"Many of the women come," she says, "because of the personal
connection, the warmth. It's something they don't find in the
Just how important is this togetherness?
A few months ago Yehudit began attending classes at the
Ra'anana midrasha after she and her husband sensed an
emptiness in their lives that no amount of material wealth
She says the warmth and support she received from the staff
and other women at the midrasha was an important part of her
trip back to Yiddishkeit.
"When you become observant," she says, "it's like going from
one world to another, and it's very important to have
friends. I didn't have any religious friends, and they gave
me the warmth, support and friendliness I needed."
A unique aspect of the Midrashot program is its ability to
bring the classes of a major outreach organization to groups
of women in small communities throughout the country who
would otherwise not have access to them.
And because the midrashot are run by people who live
in or near those communities, they tailor the classes and
subjects of discussion to the needs of the local
While in Ramle the emphasis was on preventing intermarriage
between Jews and Arabs, in other communities it's on
preventing intermarriage between Jews and non-Jewish Russian
immigrants. These non-Jews are entering Eretz Yisroel in
increasingly high numbers, and many Jewish women are unaware
that the Russians in their neighborhood are not Jewish, or
they do not think on their own to inquire about their
In areas where intermarriage is less of a problem, such as in
Netanya where many of the women are from traditional homes,
classes instead focus on the importance of increasing mitzva
observance. Many of the women who attend the Netanya
midrasha, are, for example, now more careful when it
comes to tznius, and others have stopped watching
And in Rechovot, though the majority of women have no
knowledge of Yiddishkeit, classes are on a high
intellectual level because many of the locals are college
graduates and professionals.
"We start with the basics," says Rabbi Eliezer Schwob,
supervisor of the Rechovot Midrasha, "but our midrasha
is geared to academics, and we learn everything from
Chumash with Rashi to Sefer Hamitzvos, machshava,
Mishlei and hilchos Shabbos."
Although Lev L'Achim has already opened 20 midrashot,
getting the women to attend the classes on a regular
basis isn't always easy.
When each midrasha opened its doors, it held a major
event to mark the opening, with renowned speakers, such as
Rabbi Uri Zohar, headlining the evening. This is what brings
many women to the midrashot. Others hear about them
through word of mouth or learn about them through Lev L'Achim
But once the women start attending classes, problems often
Yaffa Sror, supervisor of the Ramat Gan midrasha, explains,
"Sometimes the parents make it very hard," she says. "They
don't want their daughters to become religious. But when they
start coming home and honoring their parents and speaking and
acting differently, the parents often come around."
There is also, of course, peer pressure to contend with, but
many of the women are able to ignore this pressure once they
see the true side of Yiddishkeit the midrashot
Leora was one of these women. She left home at age 17 looking
for fulfillment in life. She spent two years "trying
everything," but she came up empty-handed. Then a friend
convinced her to try an outreach seminar, and she eventually
began attending classes at the midrasha in Kfar Saba.
She now attends classes once a week and hopes to soon begin
learning on daily basis.
"I now know that the Torah is true," she says. "It gives me
something nothing else in my life has ever given me. And
believe me, I've tried it all."
Phone Calls That Pay Off
One of the ways the staff at the midrashot makes sure
the women attend the classes is by calling them on a weekly
Mrs. Pachter recalls how, in the beginning, the staff members
who made those phone calls often found their job difficult,
especially when family members would react negatively to them
or when the women themselves didn't show despite repeated
"What I did," she says, "is remind them of the big
responsibility they have. What about the woman who keeps
coming only because of that phone call? If we don't call her,
she won't come."
She also recalled how a certain staff member called one local
woman week after week for an entire year, yet the woman never
came to the midrasha.
Then one day the woman walked into the midrasha and
demanded to speak to the woman who called her each week.
"You want to know who has been nudging you?" a staff member
"No," she replied. "I want to see who it is who cares so much
and calls me week after week and never gives up."
While Mrs. Pachter says that at times her job can be
rewarding, she's involved in the program not because of its
rewards, but because of the important role she believes it
will play in the continuity of Klal Yisroel.
With assimilation and intermarriage rising to new levels
everywhere, Mrs. Pachter considers the organization's work to
be nothing less than hatzolas nefoshos.
"What we're doing," she says, "is providing emergency care.
But it's not for bodies; it's for souls."