Chabad High School in Oak Park allows senior class to teach Torah to Jewish women in the community.
Photos by Derrick Martinez
Chaya Mushka High School in Oak Park provides its students with one of the most unusual high school experiences around.
The school, founded 10 years ago, is an all-girls Chabad school whose main goal is to train young Jewish girls to be shluchos, which directly translates to “emissaries.” The focus of the school is not on getting the best grades or getting into a good college, but instead on allowing its students to become the best people they can be, said the school’s founder Bassie Shemtov, also director and co-founder of Friendship Circle.
“We focus on educating them to view all their Jewish brothers and sisters the same, whether they are Orthodox, Reform or not really practicing at all,” Shemtov said.
Four years ago, in pursuit of this goal, Chaya Mushka began its Chavrusa program. The Chavrusa program is centered around Torah study and brings together Chaya Mushka’s senior class with Jewish women in the community who practice Judaism at varying levels. The young women are given the opportunity to impart their knowledge of Torah and create a deep spiritual connection with these women.
“To see the girls thriving and just so proud of how they can connect on such a deep level is so empowering for everyone involved,” Shemtov said.
One of the women who participated in the program is Renee Laker of West Bloomfield. Laker has been involved in Chavrusa for two years.
“I have been extremely impressed with the young women and how deeply they love Judaism and are able to have a larger picture of the world,” Laker said. “I am so inspired by them.”
Prior to joining Chavrusa, Laker didn’t even know Chaya Mushka existed.
“I heard about it through Friendship Circle,” she said. “When I began, I was expecting it to be a purely academic pursuit, but it really was like a book of life for me. I learned about Judaism, but it was more about learning to be the best human being you can be.”
Chana Schmotkin, 18, of Oak Park looked forward to participating in Chavrusa throughout her high school career. For her, being in a position of teaching was a new experience.
“The program opened my eyes and made me realize I have a passion for teaching I never had before,” Schmotkin said. “It is exciting because I do hope to have a Chabad house and teach in the future and this was the first step to that.”
This past year, Chaya Mushka’s senior class took a short trip to New York with the women they had spent the year studying with. The trip included a tour of a Chabad community in New York, a visit to the Ohel and the chance to hear speakers discuss different aspects of Judaism.
“The trip was beyond special,” Shemtov said.
Shmotkin said, “We got to work with other women outside of the partners we worked with every week. We got to work together and discuss and inspire each other.”
Overall, the most powerful thing for the participants of Chavrusa was the connections they were able to create with each other and their faith.
“There is something beautiful about women studying with other women,” Laker said.
“Especially being taught by someone who could be my granddaughter and seeing how much respect they have for each other and their community. It really has left me feeling extremely hopeful.”
To learn more or get involved, contact Bassie Shemtov at (248) 613-9218.