Rabbanit Henkin Visits Stern College
On Wednesday, November 8th, students at the Beren Campus had the honor of welcoming Rabbanit Chana Henkin to address the tragic situation in Israel. Rabbanit Henkin, a graduate of Stern College for Women, is the founder and dean of Nishmat, a widely acclaimed Jewish educator, and a leader of women’s Torah scholarship.
Rabbanit Henkin began by stating that she was not interested in putting on a performance or giving over a shiur. Instead, she opened the floor to questions, enabling students to express their thoughts and feelings, which she proceeded to address with powerful sincerity. Although Rabbanit Henkin was rushing to catch her flight back to Israel later that night, she spoke calmly and passionately, giving attention to every student’s questions.
When asked for a source that learning serves as protection, Rabbanit Henkin rejected the concept as a blanket statement and exclaimed, “Mitzvot always help but God is not an ATM machine! ... We believe in divine protection, but it is not an insurance policy.” Rabbanit Henkin mentioned her family’s personal encounter with Hamas, when her son and daughter-in-law, Eitan and Na’ama Henkin, were killed in a terror attack in the West Bank eight years ago. She explained that while this is something she will never get over, such losses do not shake her emunah because she does not understand her Torah or mitzvot to be an assurance of reward or protection. Rabbanit Henkin emphasized the danger of such an association and similarly pushed against searching for metaphysical reasons behind tragedy.
Rabbanit Henkin expressed that she is inspired to remain hopeful by seeing righteous people and witnessing good deeds. She added that she feels that the current unity of Am Yisrael is stronger than the divided society that has existed in Israel for the past couple of years, and Rabbanit Henkin feels confident that we will not return to that past state.
Students asked how fear of the rising antisemitism in Chutz La’aretz, as well as that of terrorism and dangers in Israel, should influence one’s decision to make aliyah. Rabbanit Henkin’s response to both questions was the same; fear should be a nonfactor in either way. The true reason for going to Israel and committing to its land, Rabbanit Henkin explained, must come from within and be for its own sake. It is not to flee antisemitism, nor should it matter that there are dangers to a life lived in Israel. When asked if she would have still made aliyah had she known her son was to be murdered, Rabbanit Henkin responded yes. Rather than “follow which way the wind is blowing,” Rabbanit Henkin believes in making decisions “based upon something far deeper, and accepting the consequences.” She powerfully described that she chooses to put her personal destiny together with the destiny of Am Yisrael and the destiny of the Medinat Yisrael.
Tehila Bitton (SCW ‘24), a student of Rabbanit Henkin and coordinator of the event, reflected and told The Commentator that she believed Rabbanit Henkin had a powerful message to share. “I believe that Rabbanit Henkin’s message might be a hard one to digest, but is ultimately the correct path to take,” she said. “Especially during these times when so much is being taken away from us, we cannot use it as an excuse to turn away from God.” Eliana Diamond (SCW ‘25), another student who attended, shared, “Simply having a part of Eretz Yisrael speak with us gave me chizuk and brought tears to my eyes as it sparked my emotional longing for my homeland.”
Rabbanit Henkin concluded by stating that it is our responsibility to make good things come out of this war and reminding us that tragedy and pain are not indications that God has abandoned us. She blessed us and expressed her excitement to return to Israel, the eternal home of the Jewish people. We were privileged to have Rabbanit Henkin speak and share her strength, honesty, and inspiration with us.
Photo Caption: Rabbanit Chana Henkin of Nishmat addresses Stern students on November 8
Photo Credit: Tehila Bitton