Thursday, July 31, 2008
Binyan Shalem is an institute devoted to strengthening the Jewish family. They are connected to Midreshet HaRova in Jerusalem giving guidance and training for maintaining and nurturing marriage and family. Besides their year-round programs, there has been an amazing two day gathering each summer of literally thousands of women who come to hear shiurim and lectures on topics related to maintaining a Jewish home and marital relationship. (Sorry, the Hebrew word zugiut זוגיות -couplehood?- just doesn't have an English equivalent - too bad!)
I took this picture on Tuesday morning in at the ICC in Jerusalem at the break after the first round of lectures let out. There were almost 100 shiurim to choose from over the two day conference which was attended by around 4,000 women! There is tremendous energy in this experience and I find these encounters invigorating.
I attended the first Binyan Shalem conference (I think it was 9 or 10 years ago) and have participated in several since then. I always enjoy encounters with women especially when they are focused on serious issues and espcially on Jewish issues. That's just how I am. Binyan Shalem and I are not a perfect match though. There is an idealization of the family and the woman's place which draws heavily on Rav Kook. This wasn't easy for me to accept because it seemed to ignore all the difficulties that develop over the years both between spouses and in the family. In the last few years they have devoted more attention to real issues like single parent families (widows and divorcees), coping with with disease and death, child development, fertility, pregnancy and couple counseling. I was pleased to see that they had set up an area where individual women could come for consultations and referrals. This is good for our community and good for religious women.
I was also very pleased to see that they are finally trying to reach the men of the national religious community (I believe this is the third year they have organized a parallel men's conference.) It's about time they realized that men are part of the family. The men's conference was much smaller and they have a long way to go, but it is a beginning. I am waiting for the session on how to balance a career in torah study and raise a family. Then I'll know they're really serious.
Something else I found disturbing was the status of the unmarried women. The discussions were about choosing a mate, how, when etc. What was missing was a sense of self-definition outside of being part of a couple or potentially part of a couple.
All in all it was a very nice two days and I enjoyed it even more because I was there with my daughter, daughter-in-law and one of my sons also participated in the men's conference. I'm happy I went.