By Hannah Simon
Congregation Shearith Israel SISterhood will honor Rabbi Shira Wallach as its Torah Fund recipient with a brunch at the synagogue at noon, Sunday, May 1. It is open to any member of the community. Cost to attend is $40 per person, plus a donation to the Torah Fund. The Torah Fund event raises money for the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminaries around the world. The seminaries train rabbis, cantors, educators and other Jewish community professionals. The Torah Fund started in 1942 and is celebrating its 80th year.
“We chose to honor Rabbi Wallach because of her dedication, passion and commitment to Congregation Shearith Israel and Jewish education,” said Arlene Sandgarten, who is on the Torah Fund event committee.
Rabbi Wallach was born in Tampa, Florida. Her parents built a loving and vibrant home rooted in the enduring values of Jewish tradition and education, injecting each and every practice and ritual with dynamic fun. Some of her favorite memories are moments around the Seder table or at her childhood synagogue, Congregation Kol Ami, spending time with her community and with Rabbi Joel Wasser, who encouraged her to study at List College, the undergraduate school of the Jewish Theological Seminary. Once there, Rabbi Wallach fell in love with her professors’ approach to Torah study, using an academic and critical eye to establish context, while at the same time, retaining a faithful and sacred relationship with the material.
“My time at JTS taught me that the more questions we ask, the more stridently we challenge, the holier our study. I love that Judaism insists that we eschew complacency. Our work of interpretation is never done; we must take it upon ourselves, in every generation, to reveal a Torah of compassion, depth and dignity,” says Rabbi Wallach.
Rabbi Wallach received rabbinic ordination and a Master of Sacred Music from the Jewish Theological Seminary in May 2013 after earning a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Barnard College and Bachelor of Arts in Hebrew Bible from JTS’s List College. In her graduate studies, she was awarded the Ismar Elbogen Prize in Talmud and the Morris Silverman Prize in Liturgy.
Rabbi Wallach has served Congregation Shearith Israel since 2013 and has impacted both the synagogue and the Greater Dallas Jewish community. She has enjoyed getting to know and falling in love with the Dallas Jewish community and the Shearith community. She loves the community here in Texas, as it feels like her extended family. “The more you get to know a community, the more holy it is,” she said.
In her work at Shearith, Rabbi Wallach has rebuilt the young family community from the ground up, bringing children and their grownups together around joyful, musical Jewish experiences. Her new approach to music and prayer also permeates the Weitzman Family Religious School, so that both students and families crave spending Shabbat evenings together. She loves volunteering at Levine Academy, whether leading the Friday morning Shabbat service for the ECC or telling a story for K-8.
Almost five years ago, Rabbi Wallach began Women’s Torah Study, a weekly class during which she brings texts from the Torah or Talmud that reflect traditional and changing views of women’s roles and characters. It has become an essential space for Rabbi Wallach and her students to address Jewish fundamental assumptions about gender, and has become a sacred community of friends who support one another through life moments of both sorrow and joy.
“Women’s Torah Study led by Rabbi Wallach has been transformational for many of us. We had all studied Torah in some form or another throughout our lives but studying it and now Talmud with Rabbi Wallach has opened up new horizons for us. Traditionally women do not study Talmud, but we have the opportunity to not only study it but do so from a woman’s perspective from a book by Dr. Judith Hauptman,” said June Penkar.
Rabbi Wallach is married to Rabbi Adam Roffman, who also serves Shearith Israel. They are proud parents of two beautiful daughters, Hannah and Rebecca. Rabbi Wallach is grateful for her extraordinary team at Shearith, including the remarkable gift of the ability to serve alongside her life partner. “Each and every day that I get to live and work here in Dallas, with the family that I’ve built, and the family that has adopted me, is a huge blessing,” she said.
To make a donation to the Torah Fund in Rabbi Wallach’s honor go to www.jtsa.edu/torahfund. For information on how to attend, please contact Arlene Sandgarten at firstname.lastname@example.org or June Penkar at email@example.com. Cynthia Cohen is the event chair of the brunch.