Gilah Kletenik, 23

Orthodox Jewish educator

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Gilah Kletenik likes keeping busy. A graduate of Stern College at Yeshiva University, she is a full-time fellow at the university’s Graduate Program for Women in Advanced Talmudic Studies (GPATS). At night, the young Orthodox woman is pursuing a second graduate degree in Jewish philosophy at YU’s Bernard Revel graduate school. “I’ve always wanted to study Torah on a serious level and GPATS is really the best place for doing that,” says Kletenik.

And on weekends?

Kletenik serves as a congregational intern at the Hebrew Institute of White Plains, including giving classes and tutoring bat mitzvah girls and converts. “I’ve always aspired to serve the Jewish community from within the framework of a shul,” says the Seattle native. She speaks at Friday night services, introduces the weekly portion and gives regular chaburot (learning sessions). And this fall Kletenik will assume the role of congregational intern at Kehilath Jeshurun on the Upper East Side of Manhattan; she will be the first woman on the KJ staff in that capacity.

But titles aren’t important to her. “I’m just passionate about doing these things that I love and I believe in,” she says. “It is really a fulfillment of my avodat hashem [service to God].”

Kletenik has been active in other progressive roles within an Orthodox setting. One of her passions is working to combat human trafficking. As the president of the Social Justice Society at Stern, she focused on raising awareness of the problem and studying Jewish texts related to the issue. In March, she spoke on the issue at the annual Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance conference.

Last year, she co-founded the “Eilu V’Eilu” fellowship at the Drisha Institute, along with previous 36-er Simcha Gross. The semester-long program for 50 undergraduate and graduate students meets six times with top scholars to “study Jewish texts seriously with eye towards meaning and implications,” said Kletenik.

Earning miles: Last summer, Kletenik traveled to Senegal with the American Jewish World Service. This month, she’ll head to Israel on an American Jewish Committee trip with Christian seminarians, to conduct an interfaith dialogue on the Mideast conflict.

Politics in practice: Kletenik, who majored in politics, spent one summer interning for Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Queens and Long Island).

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