This week’s Torah portion is Acharei Mot-K’doshim. It is one of those challenging portions when you must dig to find a message for women. Acharei Mot is divided into 3 parts:
In the parashah, there is much discussion about blood. How can we relate that to the modern woman of Reform Judaism?
If we look at the lessons in this portion, we learn that people can change through participating in a properly performed ritual. The entire book of Leviticus deals with the establishment of rules to guide our lives. The following of rules allows us to move from the impure to the pure.
The women of Reform Judaism have, since before we were an organization, worked to change things for the better in their congregations. Individual sisterhoods were formed before there was a national organization. It was the women of these sisterhoods who came together in Cincinnati at the invitation of J. Walter Frieberg, President of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, to form the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods (NFTS), now Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ). These women established the rules that still guide our actions today.
These women saw a need and rose to the challenge of raising money to provide a place for rabbinic students to live. They held lunches in their temples around the country and actually raised more that the goal and were able to fund the building of the Sisterhood Dorm at Hebrew Union College (HUC) in Cincinnati. They helped move us forward as a movement.
In the 1930’s it was the women of NFTS who were able to save 5 German Rabbinic students by bringing them to the US to complete their studies. They performed the ritual of saving a life.
In the early 1960’s, our then Executive Director, Dr. Jane Evans z”l, called on the UAHC and CCAR to ordain women as Rabbis. It took more years, but she led us in the battle for equality for women.
In 1965, NFTS passed a resolution calling for Equal Rights for LGBT Jews. This has been a long, hard battle and we have been on the forefront for a very long time. We believe in Equal Rights for all.
In the 1980’s NFTS raised money to build the Youth Hostel at Beit Shmuel on the campus of HUC in Jerusalem. When our children visit Israel, they have a place to stay. Our first year HUC students often stay at Beit Shmuel while they search out apartments to live in. We led the fight to welcome the stranger.
What do we, the modern women of Reform Judaism do today? We:
How do we participate in this movement of change? By our membership in WRJ we have a voice on the social issues that we confront every day and that are so important to all of us. Just as the Israelites changed by learning the rituals that moved them from impure to pure, we effect much needed change in our world today.
We have been doing this since 1913, and my challenge to all of us is to try to do more than our amazing foremothers. Their vision and foresight set us on a path of social activism, commitment to education, development of rituals for women, support of our youth, and so much more. Be a part of WRJ as we continue to grow and reinvent the future. I wish you all a Shabbat Shalom – a Sabbath filled with joy and happiness.
* From the Women’s Commentary, Outline page
Nancy Marcus is a WRJ Board Member, Past Secretary of WRJ, Past President of WFTS District 24, Past President of Women of Bat Yahm, Newport Beach, CA, Past President of Temple Bat Yahm, and is currently serving as Parliamentarian of both Temple Bat Yahm and the Women of Temple Bat Yahm.