Investing in rebbetzens brings generous returns

What should the collective noun be for a group of rebbetzens? Lady Mirvis suggests 'a powerhouse'


What should the collective noun be for a group of rebbetzens? Lady Mirvis posed this question to a large group of us from across the country as she led another extraordinary “Investing in Rebbetzens” trip to Morocco.

Opportunities for the female leaders of our Jewish communities to learn together, exchange insights and derive inspiration from one another have certainly developed in recent years. But this initiative has become a real highlight of the calendar. And this year, it also provided an opportunity for us to reflect and grieve together following the tragic loss of Rebbetzen Lucy Dee, who many knew as a friend and colleague, as well as her daughters Maia and Rina.

Morocco might not seem an obvious setting for three days of Jewish learning, inspiration and renewal. But under the tutelage of Rabbi Raphy Garson of JRoots, we discovered the extraordinary Jewish history of a country full of surprises.

We learned, for example, that the historic 17th century Ibn Danan synagogue in Fez, which once served a vibrant Jewish community in the tens of thousands, would commonly be visited on Yom Kippur by the King of Morocco himself.

We stood at the grave of Solica Hatchouel, a young, unsung heroine, pursued for marriage by a Muslim nobleman. She refused to convert in order to marry him, instead giving her life standing up for her Judaism.

In Rabat,we visited the mausoleum of King Muhammad V, learning that he had refused to hand over the names of Moroccan Jews to allies of the Nazis.
At the Jewish Museum in Casablanca, we were told that his successor, King Mohammed VI, has approved a proposal for Jewish history and culture to be included in the Arabic-language curriculum for Moroccan primary school students.

Though the relationship between Muslims and Jews in Morocco has not always been perfect, in more recent times, the Jewish community has generally lived in peace and enjoys the respect of government and civil society. Fascinatingly, it is the only country outside of Israel where one can find both the Hebrew date and the date of Ramadan in the local newspaper!

While Morocco once boasted the largest Jewish community in the Muslim world, today the Jewish population stands at around 2,000. But it remains vibrant and well regarded nonetheless.

During a fascinating visit to Neve Shalom Casablanca Jewish Primary School, educating 111 children, its principal Rabbi Sebag explained that Morocco is the only country that has Jewish judges utilising halachah as part of its national judicial system.

Though all of these discoveries were captivating, without doubt the most valuable part of the experience was what we learned from each another.

There were some wonderful formal learning sessions, a highlight of which was Rebbetzen Rina Shindler’s fascinating presentation on the development of the Sephardic and Ashkenazi traditions.

We came to understand that the differences are dwarfed by the similarities and how nuances in the comparative leniency and stringency in Jewish law developed over time.

The horrific murder of Rebbetzen Dee was, of course, on our minds throughout. At times, the enchantment of the extraordinary colours, sounds and smells of this remarkable country seemed incongruous with the pain we all felt.

But by the end of the trip, we had managed to channel that emotion in a constructive way. Together we resolved to honour Rebbetzen Dee by doing whatever we could to continue her outstanding work in our own communities.

And suggesting an answer to her own question, Lady Mirvis proposed that the collective noun for rebbetzens should be “a powerhouse”. On the evidence of our visit, that seems apposite.

Eva Chapper (Borehamwood and Elstree) and Alli Sturgess (St Albans) are United Synagogue rebbetzens

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive