Hi! My Name is Rachel Reichhardt
Just before Rosh Hashanah, we received an email with the bright greeting above. Before the end of her first paragraph, Rachel had outlined her credentials as a certified soferet (from the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano Marshall T. Meyer, www.seminariorabinico.org.ar, in Buenos Aires), Senior Jewish Educator (from the Melton Center at Hebrew University of Jerusalem), and a founder of Brazil’s first egalitarian congregation.
“Is it possible?... I’m asking because when I read about the project again... at this Elul time, I came to believe that maybe now it is time to [make] true an old dream.” Our dream of expanding the number of qualified sofrot working on the Women’s Torah has come true, too, with the addition of Rachel to the team.
Rachel’s journey to sofrut started with her lifelong love of Hebrew letters, first learned in her Orthodox school. She was fortunate to meet with R. Zalman Schachter during one of his visits the egalitarian congregation Rachel helped to establish in Brazil. “From meditation after those meetings, I decided that I wanted to work in scribal arts, which was impossible to do in Brazil.” Rachel studied at Pardes in Israel where she wrote her first Megillah Esther. “My teacher was very sweet, but he told me that he wouldn’t teach me any more, that he wouldn’t teach me to scribe a mezuzah and wouldn’t teach me to scribe the names of God.” Soon after, a rabbi at Camp Ramah in Canada asked her to scribe a mezuzah. “I said I couldn’t. He said, ’I’m a rabbi and I’m asking you,’ although he also said that he could not give me official certification. When I came back to Brazil, a rabbi here said that if the mezuzah is kosher for [that rabbi], then it is kosher for us.”
Two years ago, at the World Union of Progressive Judaism Congress in Sao Paulo, the dean of the Seminario Rabinico, invited Rachel to study there, which she did under the supervision of the sofer. In 2004 she was officially accredited the title of soferet from the Institute Bet Ezra Ha’Sofer of the Seminario Rabinico.
Rachel works at Comunidade Shalom, a Conservative congregation with the first Brazilian woman rabbi working in Brazil, as the education coordinator for the b’nei mitzvah program, developing curriculum and assisting the teachers in applying it. She also prepares the b’nei mitzvah students for their Torah readings and teaches adult classes on Kabalah and other Jewish subjects. According to those who know her, besides being extremely learned in Jewish studies, Rachel has always been quite active in opening space for woman in the Jewish tradition.
When friends ask Rachel what she did on her summer vacation, which is just about to begin in Brazil, she’ll tell them that she started scribing on the Women’s Torah. We could not be more thrilled.