Yerach Meirsdorf met Nava Berenshtin in 2017 when they were students at the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem (SRS), which is affiliated with the Conservative movement, known as Masorti in Israel. In advance of their Talmud class that was taught chavruta style (study partner learning), over 40 students were asked to fill out questionnaires. Yerach, then 32 and in his last year of the seminary, was paired with Nava, then 27, and a first year student.
Nava smiles: “Nothing was asked about our dating partners, so there was no reason to mention that Yerach and I had just started dating. In fact, I had taken the initiative. He called me only after I Facebooked him with my phone number. He wanted a ride to Tel Aviv, where I was then living. I dropped other plans for that evening and told him that I had two free tickets for a concert. He immediately accepted, and the rest is history.”
The questionnaires did reveal that Yerach and Nava shared a common background. Both came from Orthodox Zionist families and transitioned to Masorti Judaism as adults.
Nava was raised in Petach Tikva, went to religious elementary and secondary schools, followed by national service for religious girls and then a degree in Theater from Emunah, a Jerusalem college for religious women. She changed trajectories when she spent three years in Los Angeles teaching theater and Hebrew in LA Jewish schools. “That’s where I came to appreciate a world outside of Orthodoxy that welcomed the full participation of women.” When she returned to Israel, Nava enrolled in the MA program at the Schechter Institute.
Yerach was raised in the religious neighborhood of Har Nof in Jerusalem, studied in yeshiva, and then did army service. His spiritual journey began after he received a B.Ed from Herzog College. He admits: “I kept it a secret that I was walking to a Masorti minyan every Shabbat. After two years I saw a poster advertising the MA program at the Schechter Institute.” He earned his MA and in December 2017, Yerach (Yerachmiel) Meirsdorf was ordained as a rabbi by the SRS. He currently serves as rabbi for the NOAM Masorti Youth Movement in Israel.
“I still thank Rabbi Holzer for pairing us together,” says Yerach. “I think it helped our relationship. Today we do almost everything together.” They currently offer classes in their home in the Ein Kerem neighborhood of Jerusalem. In an official Masorti Movement blog, Yerach and Nava are called “leading lights of the Masorti movement in Israel.”
When planning their wedding, the couple heeded the message of their spiritual mentor, Reb Mimi Feigelson: that their chupa represents their home – open on all sides to welcome all people. Yerach comments: “In particular we wanted our parents to feel comfortable. I spent much time studying with my father, an Orthodox rabbi, to make sure that our marriage ceremony would be Orthodox kosher.”
Nava continues: “Still, we wanted the ceremony to reflect our core beliefs. Here’s how we managed: Yerach followed the Orthodox custom of badeken when he covered my face with a veil. But then I covered Yerach with a tallit. Traditionally, to complete the kiddushin (betrothal) process, the groom puts a ring on the bride’s finger. We did kiddushin with a tallit instead of a ring. In deference to our families, our ketubah was signed by two male witnesses. But, a week before the ceremony, we signed a spiritual ketubah and both male and female friends were our witnesses.”
Yerach and Nava were married on March 6, 2018 at the Ein Kerem National Park in Jerusalem. Mazal tov.
Dr. Leah Hakimian currently researches the question: How Jewish couples meet and marry. In the 90’s she founded two nonprofit Jewish matchmaking programs, and continues to champion the role of community in helping singles meet. She resides in Jerusalem and Great Neck, New York.