va'tichtov: she writes
The shelves of the Beit Midrash are overwhelmingly dominated by books and articles written by men — we want to change that. We are excited to announce our 2023 Va'tichtov: She Writes Fellows. The fellowship elevates Jewish women's scholarship by building a cohort of scholars and providing the skills, support, and resources necessary to produce new content.
Candidates for this fellowship have at least 4 years of post-secondary Jewish learning.
Meet this year's fellowship coordinator: Rabbi Marianne Novak ('19)
Rabbi Marianne Novak received her BA cum laude in Political Science from Barnard College and her JD from Washington University School of Law in St. Louis. She has served as the Endowment Director at the Jewish Federation of St. Louis and also helped start the Women’s Tefillah Group at Bais Abraham. Rabbi Marianne then moved to Skokie, Illinois, became a Gabbait for the Skokie Women’s Tefillah Group, and taught Bat Mitzvah students. Rabbi Marianne is an instructor and curriculum developer for the Florence Melton Adult School of Jewish Learning and taught Tanakh at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School. She has lectured for many Jewish organizations and synagogues, and writes a blog for the Times of Israel. Currently she is Rabbia and Judaic Studies faculty at Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. She is also part of the Jewish Learning Collab and a rabbinic team member of A Mitzvah to Eat , amitzvahtoeat.org. Rabbi Marianne lives in Skokie with her husband Noam Stadlan and family.
Meet the Fellows
Dr. Guila Benchimol is a researcher, consultant, and victim advocate whose work focuses on
gender, abuse, and power. She holds a PhD in Sociological Criminology from the University
of Guelph and is also a trained restorative and transformative justice facilitator. Guila was one
of the key advisors who guided the launch of the SRE Network and she has been invited to
address Jewish professionals and clergy across Canada and the US, as well as other faith
communities where she educates, trains, and develops and implements policies on abuse
prevention and intervention. Guila also sits on the board of the Survivors Network of those
Abused by Priests and is a research associate at the Center for the Study of Social and Legal
Responses to Violence. Her first 10+ year career as a Jewish educator informed her
understanding of the need to address victimization of all kinds.
Rabbi Jessica Fisher (she/her) serves as a rabbi at Beth El Synagogue Center in New Rochelle, NY. She was ordained in 2020 by the Jewish Theological Seminary where she was awarded the Lillian M. Lowenfeld Prize in Practical Theology and the Rabbi Albert Pappenheim Prize in Professional Skills. A fourth generation Cincinnatian, Rabbi Fisher first came to New York to attend the joint program between Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary, earning degrees in both the History of Social Inequality and Midrash. Rabbi Fisher is always looking for opportunities to share her love of cooking, literature, the outdoors, and her Cincinnati roots.
Naima Hirsch Gelman ('24) is a writer, educator, and life-long student. She serves as the Rabbinic Fellow at the National Council of Jewish Women, focusing on reproductive rights. She previously served as the Programming Director at the Beis Community in Washington Heights, where she created an inclusive and welcoming home for Jews of varying backgrounds through strategic programming and outreach. She completed an internship at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and taught college students about Jewish approaches to sexuality at Hunter Hillel. Naima is an editor of Monologues from the Makom, a collection of women-written monologues, poems, and creative pieces related to sexuality, body image, gender, and Jewish identity. Her poetry and prose appeared in print and online publications. Her writing has appeared in print and online publications. Naima earned her BA from Hunter College in English (Creative Writing) with a minor in Women and Gender Studies.
Now back in Israel where she grew up, Rabbanit Michal Kohane ('20) continues to be a teacher of Torah and Talmud in Israel and abroad, while completing her chaplaincy certification. Prior to that, she was a long-time leader and educator in Northern California, serving as rabbi, Federation executive director and more. Most recently she was the Rosh Kehila of the Prospect Heights Shul in Brooklyn. Rabbanit Michal holds a BA in Studies of Israel and Education, an MS in Jewish Studies, an MA in Clinical Psychology, and holds a PsyD in organizational psychology. Rabbanit Michal’s first novel, Hachug ("Extracurricular") was published in Israel by Steimatzky and she writes a weekly Torah blog.
Rabbanit Sarah Segal-Katz ('25) is a halachic mentor, qualified by Beit Morasha’s Women’s Halacha Program, and a graduate of Yeshivat Maale Gilboa’s Halachic Kollel for Women. Sarah is also a fellow at the Har-El Beit Midrash. She founded and works at the Gluya Center, offering guidance as a Kallah teacher for young brides and couples to help them achieve a healthy physical relationship, as well as mentor single women and she runs workshops on healthy sexuality and lectures on sexuality and Halacha at the Yahel Center. Sarah is a graduate of the Revivim program, and holds an MA in Jewish Thought from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Sarah is married and a mother of three children, living in Jerusalem.
Yael Nitzanim serves on the faculty at Midreshet Lindenbaum and studies at Yeshivat Drisha in Kfar
Etzion. She previously studied at the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership at
Midreshet Lindenbaum and Migdal Oz. Yael received her Bachelors in Linguistics from Princeton
University with a minor in Judaic studies. She served as Rosh Beit Midrash at Camp Stone and as
Gemara faculty of Drisha’s High School Program. On the side, she works on content creation for
Hadran and is a certified Madrikhat Kalot.
Sarah Osborne has a Master’s degree in Jewish education and close to ten years of experience as a day school educator. As a result of her personal experiences with needing to eat on Yom Kippur, she founded A Mitzvah to Eat, which supports Jews with a vast range of physical and mental health conditions, disabilities, life circumstances, trauma and more who need to eat on fast days, use a device on Shabbat, or relate differently to other mitzvot. Sarah is passionate about making Jewish texts accessible to everyone, particularly in situations where having access to sources could potentially save lives. Additionally, she is committed to creating and building a Jewish community that supports a variety of life experiences, amplifies unheard voices, and does not condone or encourage suffering in the name of Torah and mitzvot. She lives with her family in the Washington D.C. area.
Dani Rader is a master’s candidate at Harvard Divinity School, where she studies gender and sexuality in religion along with Jewish Studies, where her work lies at the intersection of the Hebrew Bible and feminist theory. Her research interests include contemporary feminist midrash, the anthropology of reproduction, critical theory, visual exegesis, and women’s faith-based activism. Dani is a former abortion doula and continues to advocate for reproductive justice in the United States and abroad. Dani is passionate about the study of Torah in feminist community and has even created a feminist midrash workshop at Harvard. She is passionate about creating midrash as a vehicle for rehabilitating Jewish texts and for better understanding the lives of women in the Hebrew Bible. When Dani is not studying Torah and making midrash, she enjoys yoga and cooking Israeli dishes.
Naama Sadan is a Ph.D. student at the Hebrew University, learning local environmental policy
networks, a practitioner, translator and teacher of the "Yemima method" a Jewish feminine spiritual approach to well-being and a permaculture designer. Since 2021, she is the lead teacher at the Eiynaich Yonim fellowship for spiritual climate leadership. She lives with her
husband in Berkeley, CA.
Shalhevet Schwartz is a Research and Program Coordinator at Shalom Hartman Institute of North America,where she focuses on supporting the work of the Kogod Research Center, the Institute’s think tank. She spends much of her spare time studying and teaching Talmud, which includes teaching a weekly gemara shiur at Columbia University Hillel. She received her BA from Yale University, where she graduated in 2021 with a degree in philosophy, and before university spent two years studying in Beit Midrash Migdal Oz. She spent several summers working in experiential Jewish education at Camp Stone, most recently in the roles of Rosh Moshava (Head Counselor) and Rosh Beit Midrash. Next year, she will be a full-time student at Yeshivat Drisha in Kfar Etzion. In her spare time, Shalhevet enjoys hiking, playing board games, and singing Slavic folk music.
Rabbanit Yael Smooha ('21) came to Maharat after nearly two decades of teaching in both Jewish Day Schools and NYC public schools, and receiving an MA in Childhood Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Rabbanit Yael’s passion for deepening Jewish spirituality drives her to facilitate meaningful connections among her students through personal reflection, discussion, and artistic expression. In addition to her classroom teaching experience, Rabbanit Yael served as Director of the Jspace Family Hebrew School program at the Bayit, and as rabbinic intern at the Mt. Freedom Jewish Center in Randolph, NJ. Rabbanit Yael currently teaches Judaic Studies to middle school students at the Shefa School in New York City, a Jewish day school for kids with language based learning disabilities.
Rabbanit Myriam Ackermann-Sommer ('23), BA, MA, was born and raised in Southern France and has been living in Paris for four years with her husband Emile. She earned a B.A. in English in 2016, majoring in English and minoring in Hebrew at the Sorbonne while completing an undergraduate degree in Humanities at the École Normale Supérieure, a selective French college. Rabbanit Myriam has had an extensive training in teaching and translation, and regularly gives talks in Jewish as well as academic contexts, starting a co-ed study group (“Ayeka”) with her husband in 2017 for Parisian students and young professionals. Her favourite subjects are gender representations and notably the challenge of egalitarianism in Orthodox Judaism, the exchange of ideas and insights between Judaism and contemporary critical theory, and Jewish ethics. A dedicated musician, Rabbanit Myriam has also earned a diploma in transverse flute in 2015 and loves to enhance the spiritual dimension of Judaism by singing her heart out in prayer groups.
Rivka Wietchner ('24) is a member of the Israeli Rabbinate Beit Midrash at the Shalom Hartman Institute. She is a fellow of the Herzog College Women’s Beit Midrash and holds an MA in Theory and Policy of Art from Bezalel Academy of Art. Originally from Har Bracha in Samaria, Israel, and nowadays lives in Jerusalem. Previously, she was part of various Beit Midrash programs and served as an OU-JLIC Co-Director and Educator at University of Chicago Hillel. Rivka has a BA from the Open University of Israel and a Kallah Teacher Certification from Nishmat. Rivka is married to David, a rabbi and doctoral student in philosophy at Bar Illan University. She is a mother of four and in her free time, she loves to read and paint.
Rivka Believes in connection between different leaders and communities and is hoping to make Torah more relevant to our postmodern culture, by bringing together cultural theories and deep Torah studying. She cares about making lifecycle events meaningful for the people around her by preparing and putting together ceremonies and experiences.