My name is Sheva Lipsker, and I’m 19 years old. I attended Tzohar in its seventh year. The year of “Malchus”, we called it. The year that took everything it had culminated from the past six years, and gave us the unforgettable experience we had. Personally, it was a life changing year in many ways. Having been in a Bais Yaakov school for most of high school, Tzohar was the first time I learned Chassidus in a way that changed my perspective on Torah, giving my relationship with G-d so much more meaning and understanding.
We were fueled with chassidus every morning, Rabbi Herman taking us through an innovative and meaningful process of learning. Through all the amazing teachers classes at Tzohar, each of us absorbing in our own ways, we received an incredibly deep foundation of knowledge in Judaism. It’s not just a year of learning, but an all encompassing experience that nurtures growth as a person. My year at Tzohar showed me that it’s not enough just to learn. It’s about what you do with the knowledge. How you make it yours, how you implement it into your life.
I didn’t realize the power of art before I came to Tzohar. Through the encouragement and guidance of Mrs. G and the help of all the art teachers, our afternoons were spent infusing what we learned into something tangible and personal. We experienced what it meant to go through the ups and downs of the creative process, and to come out the other end with a new understanding of yourself, and with something real and beautiful to show for it. The impact of the presentations and the work that went into preparing for the projects we did was unforgettable, and will always be with me. I was able to write music for the first time and explore a part of myself that I never would have otherwise.
Within the kind, quiet community of Squirrel Hill - in our school building that was always brimming with warmth, creativity and higher awareness of G-d and of one another - I was able to do the kind of soul searching I needed, to ask myself those hard questions and have the space to express it all. I have been out of Tzohar for six months now and have since realized the lasting impact its had on me, in the way I’ve been able to grow since then. The Chassidus I learned is forever a part of my life, and the skills I gained have enabled me to continue learning and creating. And spreading whatever I have to those around me. Pittsburgh will always feel like home, and I’m so grateful for the relationships and the memories I made in Tzohar.
- Sheva Lipker, student 2017-2018
“I didn’t always plan on going to seminary, but when I started considering it I knew exactly what I wanted — needed — in a program: Small, out of the box, close to home, diverse and accepting. When I discovered Tzohar, I knew it would be all of these things and I knew it would be a great fit. I’m creative and I like writing, theatre and singing, but I never thought of myself as Artist. That changed once I got to the magical land of Tzohar. I had found my people, and by the end of my year there I was well on my way to finding myself. I had never dreamed of spending a year in a seminary that focused on both chassidus and creativity, but it was exactly what I needed. The dual curriculum, warm environment, brilliant teachers and friendly classmates were critical in helping me develop all aspects of my life and personality in ways that I had never been able to before. It was an incredible environment that fostered my growth as a Jew, an artist and a young woman. The year I spent at Tzohar, on the brink of the rest of my life, prepared me for the rest of my life in many ways. It gave my adult life a strong foundation in Yiddishkeit – both in knowledge and spirituality. It provided me with friendships that still haven’t faded — a first for me. And it gave my artistic side a voice, validation and instruction. My year at Tzohar Seminary had a profound effect on me then and I will continue to carry it with me for rest of my life.”
- Avie Robbins, student 2012-2013
It’s been almost three years since I left Tzohar and I can hardly believe that sometimes. It feels like not so long ago that I was first flying into Pittsburgh, both anxious and excited. None of us first-years knew what to expect but after somewhat sarcastically dubbing ourselves “lab rats”, we learned how blessed we were to benefit from the challenges and triumphs of a first year seminary.
I came into Tzohar knowing that I enjoyed writing but having nothing more than some angsty poetry written in the back of my high school classroom to show for it. I left with an acceptance letter to Stern College for Women and have since written for multiple magazines, small businesses, and agencies while pursuing a degree in journalism. I came in not very sure of where I was headed or what form I wanted my writing to take. At the end of the year, I left a new home behind with a new family and support system cheering me on. I left with a better understanding of myself, my past, my Torah and my Rebbe, my writing, and my future.
In my time at Tzohar I felt guidance from Rabbi Herman and Mrs. Guterson both in their respective fields and in their acceptance of me. I gained mentors and surrogate parents that year. They became my teachers, cheerleaders, and confidantes. They welcomed me into their homes and community and taught by example what it means to value Torah and value your art. They taught me that a duality can exist and that it should be celebrated.
It’s been three years and Tzohar is still a significant part of me. It comes in the form of late night texts of support from Mrs. Guterson and emails seeking advice and guidance sent to Rabbi Herman. I find it in my Judaic classes at Stern where the Chassidus I learned that year still infuses the texts. I find it in afternoons I spend walking through exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art reminiscing about the art lessons and field trips we took that year. I find it in the ease with which I’ve entered the secular creative world while still proudly maintaining my Jewish identity. Not only can these two parts of me coexist, but they can and do infuse one another. Tzohar was the beginning of my career as a writer and I feel so blessed to have started that path in a place of Torah and truth.
- Miriam Herst, student 2011-2012
(Though I write about what tzohar did for me, Tzohar is a school made up of inspiring directors (Rabbi Herman, and Mrs. Guterson), amazing teachers, and revolutionary students. And somehow they managed to fit that all into one word: Tzohar, a window, a light.)
Throughout high school I was on a consistent downward spiral; in all aspects of life. I wasn’t going to submit myself to a traditional seminary, I had never gained anything from Torah learning before, so I didn’t think seminary was an exception to that rule. I was done with trying to be inspired; Torah and religion obviously had nothing to offer me, it was all too mainstream, and I was flowing in an entirely different direction.
But I had my art, my writing, my creativity; and when I heard there was a place that could finally nurture these parts of me (and that would simultaneously make my parents happy, since it was still a Chabad Jewish studies institution.)
I figured I’d give it a chance. For the art of course.
But what happened there was nothing I had expected.
Tzohar seemed to grab me and scream to something inside of me “Wait! What about meaning?”
What about all the questions I needed answers to?
What about all these thoughts circling my mind that didn’t seem to connect to the “real world”?
What about the words I put to paper day after day?
What about meaning?
It forced my downward spiral to stop and take a good look at itself and what it was really searching for.
What Tzohar did for me, has everything and nothing to do with religion. And it had everything to do with my individual soul.
I gained a lifetime of knowledge and wisdom in that one year. That one year pales in comparison to 12 years of my mainstream schooling.
Because that one year in Tzohar stopped trying to teach me about my religion (and the way it should be).
They taught me about myself, through myself.
It was such a relief to come to school in the morning and instead of being handed a box to fit into, I was being given the right tools to create my own box. Through my own tools and talents I was being taught to create my life from scratch, the way it truly needed to be for me.
And slowly, as each question was finally answered, as each painting and writing was created, as each conversation ended in precious realizations…I discovered myself, God, and the world…and the best part, how they all connected perfectly.
- Ester Eckhaus, student 2013-2014
Tucked away in the streets of Pittsburgh, under the aged trees and the brightly lit sky is the place we have found inspiration. Within the blue dining room where we eat our meals and the warm and snug lounge where we sit and sing together we have found beauty. Gathered around the table farbrenging we have found acceptance.
Our day is filled with programs and learning. We spend time studying Chassidus in a lively and interactive class. We explore the world of improvisation where it is not uncommon to become both a matchmaker and a ringmaster all in one lesson. We venture into other worlds as we discuss the finer points of playwriting, dive with backstage passes into the makings of Agent Emes, turn back the pages of Tanach to find meaning in our writings, and learn in unison the dance steps that lead us where we want to go.
We have a common goal here at Tzohar. A goal to empower each other and ourselves as we use our G-d given talents to spread the light of Chassidus throughout the world. Our lives in seminary together paint a picture of a world where who you are is celebrated and who you want to become is attainable. We’re changing like the seasons, like the leaves that crunch beneath our feet as we walk to school. We are supporting and encouraging each other, reflecting and responding. We share our stories and consider how the next chapter will read, weaving our experiences together to build this world where acceptance is like the air we breathe- a given.
- Miriam Herst, student 2011-2012