Born in Haifa and raised in Allentown, Pennsylvania in a Hebrew speaking home, Yael Smooha grew up enchanted by the stories of the Torah she learned as an Jewish Day School student, eventually taking on an observant lifestyle at the time of her Bat Mitzvah. Yael’s passion for Torah learning grew as an NCSYer, and after graduating Bruriah High School, Yael spent her post-high school years in the Breuers community of Washington Heights, studying as a seminary student and devoting her creative talents to teaching Judaic Studies to her fourth graders.
Heeding an inner call to expand her sphere, Yael earned a degree in Elementary education at Teachers College, Columbia University. As a public school teacher she worked alongside with artists to engage inner city students in yoga, cooking, and art to improve their academic performance. Ultimately, the longing to teach what was closest to her heart drew her to serve as a Jewish educator first in the elementary grades at the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan and subsequently at the middle school level at the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester.
Throughout her teaching career, Yael has reveled in the power of the arts to spark imagination and deepen her students’ thinking around their textual learning, engaging her learners in activities involving improvisation, songwriting, movement, and journal-writing. Experiencing the effect of the palpable effect of the arts on all of her students has moved Yael to consider ways in which to bring more art and spirituality into Jewish practice. As a Maharat student, Yael is excited about expanding her own understanding of spirituality and bringing these gifts to her future congregants. Yael currently heads the Jspace family education program at HIR - the Bayit on Sunday mornings.
Yael currently lives in Teaneck, NJ with her husband, children, and stepchildren.