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Judy Freier

02/14/2022 09:19:16 PM


“They say there are 70 ways to interpret Torah. I’m still searching for all 70.”

- Judy Freier aka “The Torah Lady” 


Judy Freier founded the Valley Beth Shalom Parsha Discussion Group on the belief that if you build it, they will come. Nine years later, she is stepping down from facilitating the weekly group of 15-30 people, but she isn’t stepping away from Torah. If anything, she only seeks to get closer, making up for the many years in which she wasn’t able to pursue Jewish education. 

Born and raised in New York City, Judy wasn’t given much of a Jewish upbringing. She didn’t experience her first seder until she was in college.  Despite living in a Jewish area, the people closest to her didn’t know or practice our traditions and rituals. She was desperate to attend Hebrew School like her brother, but wasn’t permitted since “when you were a girl there, you didn’t get to go.” Despite this, she always felt that her neshama, her soul, was deeply connected to Judaism. 

Judy ensured that her children wouldn’t be cheated out of a Jewish education. She and her husband sent their two daughters to Jewish day schools and kept a Kosher home. Her husband helped with the religious and Hebrew subjects, and Judy, a math teacher and coordinator, helped with the secular work. After her husband’s passing, she still felt that Jewish topics were out of her reach. And Judy, who is naturally hungry for knowledge, decided to do something about it. She began attending Friday night dinners where she learned about Ohr Ha Torah synagogue and Rabbi Finley. That’s where she first witnessed a lay-led study group, and immersed herself in Torah for the next 5 years. 

Judy’s hunger for knowledge only grew, as did her ambition. She found her way to Valley Beth Shalom, but felt something was missing: a lay-led Torah study. Judy explains “I feel it was my calling. Torah should be accessible to everybody, and I never wanted anyone to feel like it was out of their reach.”  With Rabbi Feinstein’s approval, and the staff support from Elana Zimmerman and Orit Rappaport, she started her group. Judy’s background as a teacher and a specialist in cooperative learning were instrumental in her facilitation of the group. The sessions started with Judy reviewing a summary of that week’s Parsha, after which she opened it up for people to share their views and how they see the relevance of the Parsha in their daily lives. Judy always brings in commentary from various perspectives because “everybody has a different learning style and way of seeing things. It’s never a lecture… I want people to feel like they own the material for themselves, to really reflect on it and bring their own perspective. We all learn from each other.” Participants would stay for three, sometimes even four hours. In addition to this time, Judy spent about 20 hours each week gathering her sources and readings.

To Judy, Torah is present with her in every situation. “You use Torah to be a better person and to show you how to live your life. That’s the essence. If you don’t point it out, it’s not always immediately obvious. Even though the group has read through each Parsha several times, we need to read the Torah as if we’ve never read it before and find a new joy. Because we are different each time we revisit it.” When asked if Judy has a favorite Parsha, she replies “the [one] I’m reading at that time is most special to me. But I do love the Book of Genesis. The humanity…the flaws. We have no saints in Judaism. Nobody is a saint and yet we have examples of people who accomplished greatness. Joseph, for example, starts off a vain tattle tale and ends up saving his people…Torah study has completely changed [my life] and the way I do things.” She believes firmly in the daily applicability of Torah: “Human nature hasn’t changed, family dynamics haven’t changed. Torah is there to help us find that balance.”

Valley Beth Shalom is forever grateful to Judy for her many years and countless hours dedicated to the VBS Parsha Discussion Group. 

Article written by Nitzan Barlev, Volunteer Engagement and Community Organizing Coordinator

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Sun, April 14 2024 6 Nisan 5784