I was in Michlelet Esther and Neve when I was 18 and I was really excited. I loved it; I felt that G-d was giving me such a big gift. I wanted to share it with the world. So I did. I bought a blackboard and started teaching, giving over what I had learnt. I was giving classes in my lobby and eventually there were 30 or 40 women coming. I knew I wanted to learn and that the best way to learn is to teach. It’s the way to grow. When I wanted to learn something, I would start teaching it.
I was in Michlelet Esther for only three months, but I made some of the most important relationships of my life. My Rabbi was Rabbi Winter, who became a father figure for me. He is so caring and compassionate. A non-judgmental individual. I then went to Neve, where I stayed for 5 months. I kept returning to Neve over a few years because it was hard to go home, there was no religious community, I wanted to be in Israel anyway and there was no chance of me finding a shidduch at home. Altogether I was there about a year.
Rabbi Chalkowski became my Rabbi, guiding me as I went through Neve, back home to Panama, and made my way through shidduchim. He was a beacon of emunah for me as I underwent fertility challenges. He’s so normal and down to earth. He taught me that it’s ok to feel pain, to know that we are human and there are challenges. I am very blessed to be close to him.
I had to leave Neve and go to college in Mexico where there was no-one to teach, so I started a newsletter with my own divrei torah. For 5 years, I wrote to 300 people about the parsha, pirkei avot and other subjects. One day I’ll turn them into a book.
When I was 21, I went back to Israel and became a madricha in Neve and Mechina. When teachers weren’t there, I subbed and taught classes in Mechina and people liked them. Then I was offered a job in Panama teaching in a high school. I didn’t want to go, but Rabbi Chalkowski told me to. I said, “Rabbi, I need to get married.”
He told me, “Raquel, you need to teach, marriage will come.”
I still didn’t feel comfortable, so I went to Rav Chaim Kannievsky and he told me I should choose whatever I wanted to do most.
I went to Panama.
It was the best thing for me. When I got there, a new midrasha was starting for women aged 15–45. They gave me the hardest class to teach; Kohelet. But my classes were well liked, and they had to open up three more classes for Kohelet to accommodate everyone.
I returned to Israel at 24, where I met my husband and got married. Since I had subbed in Neve during my time as a madrichah, I was asked to teach again. I was a newlywed, and I was teaching night classes! But I wanted to teach. I started leading Momentum trips, a JWRP initiative for Spanish speakers. Momentum is something else, it’s very special to see mothers in their 40s and 50s filling themselves with new hope and reinventing themselves.
I teach all over the place, or at least I did before corona and hopefully will again soon. Whoever wants me, whoever asks, I’ll come, I’ll teach, I’ll speak. I love it.