David and Chana Mason are neighbors of mine in Nachlaot. I’ve been to their home for Shabbat meals a number of times and have seen first hand the positive effects of their warmth and hospitality on others. This year they have made a bold and some might say audacious move by creating the newest seminary in Jerusalem, Shirat Devorah, located right here in Nachlaot.
Shirat Devorah is a seminary for newly observant Jewish women between the ages of 20 and 30. It was created by Chana Mason in 2009. Her desire is to create a structured learning environment where each student’s individuality and spirituality are nurtured, where they can learn how to live Jewishly and connect to the Land of Israel. She wishes to give them an understanding of the Jewish People, the “big picture,” and to help them bring out their own learning from within. She is creating an institution in a place that’s young and vibrant, and is infused with the Chassidic Tradition, with joy and song. Shirat Devorah does not just replace Jewish Day School learning, but is imbued with the educational experience that observant children gain from their parents.
In the book of Judges (chapters 4-5), Devorah the Prophetess and Judge rescues Israel from the hands of a foreign conqueror. She then sings a song attributing her success to her strength as a mother. All was amiss in Israel until, she poetically declares, “I arose as a mother in Israel.” We embrace the idea that Jewish women hold great wisdom and lead our people. Just like with Devorah, they can best accomplish this through their unique strengths as women.
Chana was born in Colombia and grew up in South Florida. She has a degree in Theatrical Directing and Engineering from Dartmouth College. She has worked in management consulting, high school education, non-profit advisement, and high-tech. Chana committed to Torah Judaism after college. She studied at various Torah institutions for three years until she gave birth to Aryeh Lev in 2004. In becoming a mother, she struggled to find purpose, meaning, and a connection to G-d when no longer attending regular Torah classes. In her decade of Torah observance, Chana has come to understand that a new generation of women needs a fresh approach to Torah. This approach emphasizes an experience of Divine service not just in textual study and formal prayer, but also in office work, cooking, and walks in the park. Chana made Aliyah in 2003 and lives in Nachlaot with her husband, Rabbi Gedaliah and son, Aryeh Lev.
I decided to ask Chana 10 sort of random questions in order to help others get to know her better. Shirat Devorah is about to start and there are still a few (very few) spots left. Maybe this last bit can help those who might want to consider signing up, or those of you who just want to know what Chana Mason’s fave heavy metal band is…
1. What’s your favorite Cheese?
I love locally and organically farmed goat cheese from the Holy Land of Israel.
2. Of course you do. I had some at your house. It was yum. So now, who sells the best tomatoes in the shuk?
The health food store, of course – they’re organic!
3. You should be mayor of Nachlaot… What was the last book of fiction you read?
The Secret Life of Bees. I loved the fact that there was a unique feminine voice. There was a lot of healing, wisdom, and strength inside of each character. The strength of the women was able to hold pain yet nurture renewal. I felt healed just reading it.
4. And it was just a total coincidence that Lily Owen’s Mom was called Deborah, right? Moving right along, who is your favorite heavy metal band?
You’re kidding right?
5. Sorry. I thought for sure you’d mention Atzmus, a Chabad Metal band from Argentina. Because you were born in Latin America and… ok never mind… So who is your favorite prophet?
Devorah the prophetess and judge. She led the Jewish people as, she says, “a mother in Israel.” She led through her womanhood. I dig that.
6. OK, I totally should have seen that coming, of course it HAD to be Devorah!! What is your favorite spot in the US?
I love Burlington, VT. Was there last summer and was blown away by the beauty of the place and the eco-consciousness that totally pervades the society there. And we picked the yummiest blueberries and ate them in the car the entire drive back to CT.
7. I miss freshly picked blueberries. So what is your favorite spot in Israel then?
My home in Nachlaot. I get to welcome the most interesting collection of people and cook the wholesome food I love!
8. Seriously, if they ever hold elections for Mayor of Nachlaot, you have my vote! What vegetable do you like the least?
9. Really? Tomato? Wow. I’m really getting great and super relevant insight into who you really are. Tomato hater! Kidding. If you could be reborn as any Rabbi who has ever existed, who would it be?
Rabbi Akiva. I think his generation was struggling with a lot of the same socio-political and religious challenges that we face today. I would love to see his and his peers perspectives on how to address such challenges.
10. Cool. Rabbi Akiva is one of my faves too. What do you miss the most from the US?
A big variety of organic produce. And my family. I wish they lived here.
I know how you feel! I want to thank Chana Mason for her time and for those of you looking for more information about this unique learning opportunity, please visit Shirat Devorah’s Web site.