For over 50 years Rabbi Brovender has taught thousands of students from all around the world. This week we introduce you to Sara Tillinger Wolkenfeld.
How did you meet Rabbi Brovender?
I live in Chicago with my family: My spouse, Rabbi David Wolkenfeld, also a student of Rabbi Brovender’s, and our five children. I work as the Chief Learning Officer at Sefaria, where I am very blessed to spend my days working with an amazing team to make more Torah learning possible in the world. I am also a fellow at the David Hartman Center of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, and I direct the mikvah here in our neighborhood.
I was a student at Midreshet Lindenbaum in 1997-998, and Rabbi Brovender was already a legend to me. I knew that he had started a yeshiva for women that was instrumental in allowing women who were serious about learning, and in particular, who loved learning Gemara, to continue their studies. I had older friends who had been in his shiur but he was no longer on the faculty when I arrived.
I was very excited when a group of students including myself were invited to a weekly shiur with him for part of the year.
What do you find most important or striking about the “Brovender Method” -his unique way of teaching?
Rabbi Brovender is a strikingly honest teacher. When I think back on his class, what I remember most is how sure I was that he was telling us exactly what he thought. Sometimes that was about Torah, sometimes it was about ideas we had been taught in high school, and sometimes it was about life choices that we would have to make.
I remember laughing a lot, sometimes gasping in surprise, and generally being very alert during his classes, because you never knew what he might say next.
When it comes to Torah learning, what were you most drawn to after learning with Rabbi Brovender?
It is Rabbi Brovender’s work to further women’s Gemara learning that most influences my life to this day. No matter what he was teaching us, he made it clear that he considered his students to be intellectually and spiritually equal to any learning task, and that included our ability to deeply understand Gemara. The feeling that women could learn anything, and at the highest levels, pervaded the institution that he had built. At the time, I was only vaguely aware that this was not the norm in the rest of the Orthodox world.
Over the course of my life, I have had many occasions to be so grateful that Rabbi Brovender created this school and imbued it with this ambiance of serious learning.
It is Rabbi Brovender’s passion for learning Torah that is most present with me wherever I learn and wherever I teach. As much as he was funny and sometimes sarcastic, there was always a deep love for teaching Torah that I felt when I spoke with him. I believe that it was learning at Midreshet Lindenbaum that made me want to have a career in Jewish education, and that is in large part due to the strong love of Torah that Rabbi Brovender projected throughout the institution.