Aviva women work to mix Judaism, modernity

Aviva women work to mix Judaism, modernity


The eighth annual Aviva Conference, a gathering of Jewish sorority and community women leaders, on April 5 at the Crowne Plaza in Clayton, focused on “Modern Women, Living Values: Incorporating Jewish Values into Our Evolving World.”

Over a dessert buffet, college-women and women from the community gathered to listen to Cantor Adina Frydman, Rachel Lubchansky and Stephanie Kurtzman speak.

Frydman, a native Argentinian who grew up in Miami Beach, Fla., used Jewish music to portray a transition that began with a bachelor of music in voice performance from Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., and cantorial investiture at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and has brought her to St. Louis, where she lives with her husband, Rabbi Avi Katz Orlow — St. Louis Hillel rabbi — and son, Yadid, and works at the Jewish Federation as the director of Focus Israel. Frydman has also founded the St. Louis Jewish Women’s Choir and HaZamir St. Louis Teen Choir — both of which she directs — and is an active member of Congregation Bais Abraham’s Women’s T’filla.

“Most of the people that I knew who had become Orthodox had completely severed any ties with their former Reform lives,” Frydman said. “I, however, still believed in much of Reform ideology, but simply wanted to live a more observant lifestyle. There wasn’t really a model for me. I knew one thing for sure: I would have to forge a new path.”

Lubchansky spoke of her own transition, from attending college at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and working in the fashion and design industries in New York, to the creation of FunkyFrum.com, an e-boutique that caters to modest-dressing women looking for a stylish alternative.

“As time went on and dressing modestly became more of a priority, I, too, had a hard time finding feminine, youthful and stylish apparel to suit my new choice of lifestyle,” Lubchansky said, “and I didn’t want to sacrifice my old look for my new life. As most mitzvot don’t come easy, I began to miss the days of shopping on Madison Avenue. And there it was, my ‘Aha’ moment, when I realized the opportunity to create just that — a boutique that would be accessible to women throughout the country, since this issue isn’t isolated to St. Louisans, offering fashionable and stylish apparel that doesn’t compromise one’s standards for modesty.”

Kurtzman spoke about growing up in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., where there were three other Jews in town, “my dad, my mom and my older brother,” and being a self-proclaimed “high-holiday Jew.”

“I don’t view this background as a deficit,” Kurtzman said. “It is simply my reality. I give it to you only in a context and to highlight that any lack of Jewish upbringing you may have does not preclude you from embracing Judaism in new ways as you move forward in your life.”

Kurtzman is the director of community service at Washington University, where she has worked since 1998, and also serves on the boards for Lydia’s House and for Central Reform Congregation.

The night also consisted of discussions meant to spur dialogue between the college students and community representatives on the role Judaism plays in one’s life.

The 2005-2006 Aviva Committee consisted of Jana Ballin, Sally Cohen, Sam Katz, Jocelyn Orloff, Ariel Savransky, Meredith Wilensky, Shira Zar-Kessler and Emily Walsh, Jewish Campus Service Corps Fellow for St. Louis Hillel.

Keren Douek is a staff writer and can be reached at [email protected]