Today marks the first yahrtzeit for Belda Kaufman Lindenbaum zt’’l.
I first met Belda in November 2003. We quickly discovered that despite our diverse backgrounds and age gap, we had much in common. She described herself as a late bloomer with respect to feminism, and I myself had just encountered orthodox feminism at 32. Her feminism stemmed from deep religious values and a clear sense of justice. Belda felt strongly that giving Jewish women and girls access to the highest level of Torah study was necessary for a thriving Jewish future. This motivated her, together with her husband Marcel and Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, to create Midreshet Lindenbaum, a pioneering institution in Jerusalem that offers women the same level of Torah study available to men. She was also instrumental in the development of Drisha Institute in New York and was a founding board member of Yeshivat Maharat.
Belda’s energy and intensity was contagious in everything she did. She communicated the urgency she felt about the need to engage women in Torah study, ritual and religious leadership. Aware of her influence, she did not hesitate to ‘spend her capital’ in her pursuit of greater opportunities and greater justice for women in the Orthodox community. While she was outspoken and uncompromising, she always injected a good dose of humor into serious debates. Belda’s sense of fun and love of life was infectious. Her grace and sense of style characterized everything she did.
Belda took a personal interest in my feminist journey, introducing me to scholars and activists through JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance) where she served as vice-president. Our friendship developed over the years and I recall many stimulating conversations with her about Orthodox feminist issues.
Whilst she was forthright in her views, she always had a way of making me feel as though my opinion really mattered to her. In this way she was incredibly empowering. She was a nurturing friend to me, but I know I was not unique in this regard – she made countless others feel the same way. She took special interest in the development of the students and faculty in the institutions she supported and developed close friendship with many of them. Her daughter Abigail once remarked to me that her mother ‘collected friends.’ Belda was an incredible connector. She met new people with enthusiasm, identified and cherished their special qualities and remembered everything about them.
While the many institutions and projects she founded and supported bore fruit, Belda was impatient at heart and always keen to push onto the next level.
On a recent birthday, Belda remarked to me: “Dina, we are expecting great things from you.” It was her belief in me that spurred me on to initiate an Orthodox feminist movement in the UK creating a platform for conversation about engaging women in greater Torah study and ritual practice. As I approach midpoint in my semikha studies at Yeshivat Maharat, it is with a keen awareness of Belda’s influence on my development as a Jewish leader mixed with immense gratitude and an acute sense of loss.
Belda lives on in the countless Torah students that benefitted from her vision and determination, the individuals she inspired and organisations she founded.
The image of Belda performing Hagba’ah (raising the Torah) encapsulates her contribution as a visionary who, in tenaciously pursuing greater female involvement in Orthodoxy, brought great honour to the Torah.
Adapted from the obituary I wrote for The Jewish Chronicle in May 2015
A Siyum honoring Belda Lindenbaum’s memory will be held at Hampstead Shul in London on Shabbat 2nd July.