Women’s Focus

The Hebrew Institute of White Plains places a priority on the role of women in the orthodox synagogue, and works to ensure that women are integrated into shul life—including ritual, study, and leadership—to the extent permitted by halachah. Women have held leadership positions in the Hebrew Institute of White Plains for many years, serving on the Board of Directors, as Officers of the synagogue–including the presidency –and on all committees.

The following roles and practices have been established to help fulfill our commitment to full women’s engagement:

  • A board-level Women’s Focus Officer
  • A shul-sponsored Women’s Tefillah
  • Membership in the team of Gabbaim
  • Shabbat prayers in the main sanctuary: Women  recite the prayers for the U.S. government and IDF, and carry the Torah through the ezrat nashim (women’s section)
  • Simchat Torah: A  special “Oraitta” honor is given to a woman
  • Women actively participate in hakkafot and dancing with the Torahs, and have special women’s Simchat Torah reading
  • Purim and Shavuot: Women’s Megillah readings are held on both holidays
  • Sukkot: Women engage in full Hoshanot in the main sanctuary
  • A female congregational intern on staff
  • A Yoetzet Halachah (halachic advisor on taharat hamishpacha—laws of related to mikveh) has been engaged by the Hebrew Institute,  in partnership with some other Westchester synagogues. She assists our rabbi by advising women on sensitive questions and serves as an educator on related issues
  • A women’s Rosh Chodesh program meets several times a year, for discussions of timely and relevant topics

Our rabbi, Rabbi Chaim Marder, along with other colleagues, has written in defense of expanded roles for women in religious leadership.  See:  Reflections on the Current Debate on Women’s Professional Spiritual Leadership.


Learn more about:


Chaired by the Women’s Focus Officer, the Women’s Focus Committee oversees and coordinates the various women’s-focused initiatives and activities at the shul, overseeing and coordinating activities such as:

  • Assisting the gabbayit in assigning honors at the main shul during high holidays
  • Identifying candidates for women’s honors such as the Oraitta Honor on Simchat Torah
  • Interviewing and selecting candidates for the Congregational Intern position
  • Coordinating the calendar and suggesting programs for Rosh Chodesh group meetings, Adult Education, Yoetzet Halacha, and Congregational Intern
  • Advising the Rabbi, Management Committee, and Board of Directors on Women’s related issues and initiatives

If you have any questions about the committee, or would like to discuss women’s related issues, please contact Meira Orentlicher, Women’s Focus Officer, at meiraoren@gmail.com.



Women’s Tefillah Opening Letter 2017-2018

Welcome to a new year at Women’s Tefillah!  For those of you who are new to the community, we are looking forward to meeting you and greeting you more personally on Shabbat or at other shul events, but wanted to make sure that your arrival at HIWP includes a specific welcome from us, the Women’s Tefillah community at HIWP.


For more than 20 years, one of the elements that helps build a world of “thoughtful Jewish living” at HIWP has been our Women’s Tefillah group, which meets approximately monthly (except during the summer) for warm, spiritual davening and layning lead by women from our community.  We are a setting where girls who wish to do so can celebrate becoming a Bat Mitzvah by leading their kehillah in davening, layning Torah or Haftorah, and where those girls can continue participating in shul after the Bat Mitzvah milestone.  We celebrate holidays together with a special Women’s Tefillah Torah reading on Simchat Torah Day, a Megillat Esther reading on Purim Day, and a learning session on Shavuot.  We invite important female scholars of Judaic studies to join us and teach us for our annual luncheon and Scholar-in-Residence Shabbat, where we also get an opportunity to honor and thank individuals from our shul for their contributions to Women’s Tefillah.


In addition to the wonderful Women’s Tefillah programming we have had in the past, we are going to be trying a few new things this year.

  1. We welcome Brooke Pollak as our new Women’s Tefilla co-coordinator with Adina Steinberg.
  2. In order to enhance our davening experience, we will be gathering a group of women interested in singing to learn one new song per Women’s Tefillah date.  These women will practice in advance and will join our Baalat Tefillah as a “choir” for one short part of davening – building each time we meet with an additional song.  If you are interested in participating, please contact us.
  3. For the first time at HIWP, we will be hosting a Women’s Tefillah davening on the second morning of Shavuot, including the layning of Megillat Ruth.  If you know how to layn Ruth or are interested in learning, please contact us.
  4. Leading up to a siyum on Shavuot, we will be learning Megillat Ruth throughout the year.  Look out for more information on opportunities to learn and teach.
  5. Please come on time to our davening to help set the tone for the morning.  To take the edge off the early shabbat morning walk, we will have COFFEE, COFFEE, COFFEE and some sweets.
  6. On your way to shul, knock on a friend’s door and walk together to HIWP.  Note that someone else may knock on your door to enjoy your company on your way to shul.

Women’s Tefillah is entirely layperson led.  We hope that if you are already comfortable davening, layning, or giving a dvar Torah, you will volunteer your services at one of our services soon.  If you are still working on these skills (or haven’t gotten started yet and would like to try), we’d love to help, and can pair you up with a teacher.  If you’d rather get involved in some of our event programming, we are thrilled to have your help.

Please see attached our schedule for 2017-2018.  Looking forward to meeting you soon, and please introduce yourself to us soon if we haven’t already met.


Adina Steinberg and Brooke Pollak, WT co-coordinators


Women’s Tefillah Calendar 2017-2018



The Gabbayit coordinates women’s roles and honors during Shabbat and Yom Tov services at the main Sanctuary. She also assists women who are reciting kaddish and provides general support within the ezrat nashim.  She is a part of the team of gabbaim and works closely with the Rabbi. She is responsible for coordinating, managing and engaging women in aspects of the tefillah. This is a role within the main shul, and not part of Women’s Tefillah.

Our current gabba’it is Leah Portnoy Worenklein. To reach Leah to request an honor or with any questions please email leahz@leahz.com.



The Yoetzet Halachah assists our rabbi by advising women on sensitive issues of taharat hamishpacha (laws related to mikveh), helping women find solutions in real time in the realm of women’s health and halachah.  She also serves as an educator in our congregation on these and related issues.

We are thrilled that Shiffy Friedman will continue to serve as the Westchester Yoetzet Halachah. Shiffy also serves as a Yoetzet Halacha in several Manhattan shuls, and is a member of the Judaic studies faculty at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School. She, along with her husband, Rabbi Noam Friedman, are the JLIC couple at Columbia/Barnard Hillel. On campus, she teaches classes, hosts shabbat and yom tov meals, and generally takes part in Columbia/Barnard Jewish life.

Shiffy, who hails from Teaneck, studied at the Stella K. Abraham Beit Midrash for women in Migdal Oz after graduating from Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School in Teaneck, NJ. She then went on to earn a BA at Yeshiva University in Judaic studies and dual Master’s in Education and Jewish studies from New York University.

More specifically related to her role in our community, Shiffy studied in Nishmat’s Miriam Glaubach Center’s U.S. Yoatzot Halachah Fellows Program and was certified as a yoetzet halachah as part of the second graduating class in the United States. Her training also encompasses areas of biology, psychology and sexuality. Since her graduation, she has taught brides and couples in preparation for their weddings and she counsels women through questions relating to the interface of halachah and women’s health.

Shiffy and Noam, along with their children, Avital and Adir, live near the Columbia and Barnard campuses in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights.

You may contact Shiffy with questions related to mikveh and women’s health/halachah by email at westchesteryoetzet@gmail.com or call/text 201-341-6022.



For many years we’ve engaged women scholars as Congregational Interns. The Congregational Intern teaches formal and informal classes, serves as a community resource, leads study and discussion sessions with upcoming b’not mitzvah, and shares divrei Torah with the community on Shabbat.

Our current congregational intern is Leah Sarna.

Leah is a fourth year student at Yeshivat Maharat and a Wexner Graduate Fellow. Originally from Newton, Massachusetts, she studied at the Maimonides School and the Beit Midrash for Women at Migdal Oz before attending Yale University, where she received her BA in Philosophy & Psychology in 2014. Leah has taught Torah in communities stretching from New York City to London, Tel Aviv and Melbourne. In addition to serving on the faculty of the Dr. Beth Samuels Drisha High School Program for two summers, she has completed clergy internships with the Orthodox community at Harvard University Hillel and Ohev Sholom: The National Synagogue in Washington, D.C. Currently, she is in her second year as Congregational Intern at the Hebrew Institute of White Plains. Leah particularly enjoys mining traditional halachic texts for spiritual meaning and insights into human nature. She lives in Washington Heights with her husband, Ethan.



A Rosh Chodesh program for women meets several times a year, featuring discussions led by women in the community on timely and relevant topics. Our meetings are wonderful opportunities to learn from one another, to engage in meaningful conversation about Jewish topics of interest, and socialize. Past themes have included meditation and spirituality, health and nutrition, community service, Jewish text study, and Judaism and the arts.

If you have an idea for a future Rosh Chodesh program or would like to host one, please contact Tani Schwartz-Herman at nataniaz78@gmail.com