By Deb Silverthorn
The family of Nikki and Rabbi Mike Friedman made aliyah this past summer, but they aren’t letting a little thing like 6,924 miles come between them and their Nafshi community in Dallas. Nafshi’s mission, to integrate Jewish and holistic principles to enhance well-being, thrives in both online and in-person formats in Dallas and Israel.
“We are living the dreams of our great-grandparents. Nikki’s grandparents survived the Holocaust while her great-grandparents perished and my own family moved to Palestine from the 1880s,” said Mike. “My grandparents came to the U.S. in the 1930s, my grandfather a fifth-generation rabbi, to build Jewish community. Eighty years later, we’ve learned that people can be reached anywhere, from anywhere, and our hope to return to Israel, while carrying on our meaningful work, has been realized.”
The couple’s new apartment is in the Jerusalem area of Ramat Bet Shemesh, with a view of Park Ayalon, where the couple went on their first date in 2007. Fourteen years later, with children Akiva, Azi, Meira and Shalev, their dreams are reality.
“Our being here is nothing short of magical,” said Nikki. “We couldn’t be happier, and the kids are settling in and enjoying making new friends.”
The Friedmans moved to Dallas in 2010. Nikki taught mathematics at Akiba Yavneh Academy for their entire stay in Dallas, and Mike served as assistant rabbi at Congregation Shaare Tefilla and as Dallas coordinator of Yachad, the national Jewish organization for disability awareness. He also taught Judaic studies at Akiba Yavneh Academy, the JCC’s Gesher Adult Education Program and at Congregation Anshai Torah’s Hebrew High School. In 2015, he trained at Jewish Family Service, working for five years as a mental health therapist before ultimately opening his own practice, Lion Counseling.
He leads Nafshi’s Wellness Wednesdays Unblock Me series, the Open Mic with Rabbi Mike sessions and The Rational Kabbalah course.
At 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 13, Nafshi will begin a collaboration with the Abraham J. Twerski Learning Center in Israel to offer multi-platform programming. Many offerings are in partnership with Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president emeritus of the Orthodox Union, who serves as Nafshi’s rabbinic advisor.
“Our programs are supportive, experiential and educational,” said Mike. “We have both licensed counselors and spiritual facilitators leading the conversations, and we are able to support those who are seeking, hurting or simply trying to bring their lives together with a deeper meaning.”
Nikki, an established artist of canvas, metals and Judaica works of resin, now uses the family’s patio as her studio as she completes orders that come from around the world. She plans to resume teaching art classes in person in Israel and online as well. She has also started The Ladies’ Circle, a WhatsApp group sharing short, inspirational, Torah-based messages and the Nafshi Book Club. which featured Sara Yoheved Rigler’s “I’ve Been Here Before.”
For Liat Levkovich, raised in Dallas and now living in Brooklyn, New York, being a part of the book club has brought her closer to home.
“Sharing the book was amazing. I loved reading it myself and then connecting to process it together,” said Levkovich. “Nikki and Rabbi are awesome, and I look forward to whatever is next.”
Nafshi’s small support groups include Overcoming Spiritual Abuse; WOMBS (Women of Mind, Body and Spirit) for infertility support; the G.E.R Project (The Gifts and Emotions of Religion) for those who have converted to Judaism; and The Spirituality of ‘No’ for learning to set healthy boundaries.
Nafshi’s Dallas coordinator David Rachman leads meditation groups at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays, 1 p.m. on Mondays and 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, online and in-person.
“Through Nafshi, I’m able to continue growing in my own Jewish learning and experiences and to bring others in our community along on the journey,” said Rachman. “Rabbi Mike and Nikki are dialed in to connecting and I’m grateful to be working with them.”
Dallas resident Nancy Reuben Greenfield’s “Tiptoe Through the Torah” course begins again at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Oct.7, via Zoom.
“‘Tiptoe’ is a delightfully different study and I’m thrilled to begin again,” said Greenfield. “Nafshi is the real deal. The Friedmans have a genuine gift and I am truly inspired by them.”
Some of Nafshi’s activities, including dance and basketball, have been on hold due to the pandemic, but the Friedmans hope they can soon return in their original format or revamped to work to allow social distancing.
“We’re all making friends, seeing many of our former students and friends from Dallas who have also made aliyah and finding our way,” said Nikki, who also still tutors math online. “Every day is an adventure, one we are so blessed to take together.”
All times listed are the U.S. Central time zone. For more information, visit nafshiwellness.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.