“Many times life requires us to make transitions from something old and familiar to something new. It's not always easy to face these changes, but they are a necessary part of growth. This week's Torah portion (the first in the book of Deuteronomy) begins the transition Jewish People had to make from their familiar life of the last 40 years in the wilderness, to prepare for what would be the very different life they would be leading in the Land of Israel. Although Moses, their leader, knew life in Israel would be a good thing for the people, it still wouldn't be easy to face a change, so he spent quite a bit of time preparing and encouraging them, making sure the transition would be successful. The key to remember is that whenever God expects us to make a transition, He will give us just the tools we need to succeed.
Moses’ first farewell speech begins with a retelling of Israelite history. Moses juxtaposes places linked with the Israelites’ disobedience to God—and the resulting consequences of this disobedience—with places where the Israelites followed God’s commands and enjoyed success on their journey toward Canaan. Moses’ remarks emphasize God’s faithfulness to the promises made to the Israelites, despite their chronic misbehavior. The people will require new leaders so that they do not repeat the mistakes of the past. These leaders must possess the requisite characteristics for the upcoming military campaign and the settlement of the Promised Land. These leaders will guide the people, and God will be with them.”
Davarim: As read in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary
Written by Rabbi Stephanie Bernstein, Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi, Dr. Lisa D. Grant, and Rabbi Andrea L. Weiss, Ph.D., editors, Rabbi Hara E. Person, series editor
This parshah has a lot going on, but what spoke to me was Moses’ message about leadership. Moses is busy not only looking for leaders, but also working with them and teaching them to be leaders. This is something we as women do in our lives every day. Many of us have learned how to balance family life, jobs, and volunteer work over time, identifying opportunities that work well and stepping back to regroup when situations go awry. We are constantly preparing those around us to help, to lead, to take charge. For instance, we know that our families depend on us to keep things running smoothly, just like the Jewish People depended on Moses for their status quo. While household management is often a group effort as we work together to get dinner on the table or pay the bills or do the laundry, typically in a family, be it good or bad, it’s the woman who acts as the CEO and is responsible for major resolutions. On the work front, our jobs sometimes require us to supervise and work on projects that are important to our companies and our positions. Before decisions can be made a lot of research, data acquisition and interpretation must take place, followed by clear and accurate information dissemination to those who need to know.
As I read and re-read this parsha, I thought of how our sisterhoods rely on us, the organization’s leaders to keep things going. So often we are concerned with making sure to place the right woman in the right position with the right experience and skills to help the organization succeed – just like Moses did with the Jewish People as he prepared them for the transition. As I visit with groups throughout my District, one question that I am frequently asked is how to get women engaged. How do we keep their interest when there are so many other activities and priorities in their lives? One way is to utilize the WRJ tools we have available to us every day. The WRJ and District websites are loaded with information on tools like webinars, workshops, Area Days and conferences to help engage our sisterhood leaders and women.
Next year there will be at least three opportunities where WRJ sisters can learn and share together. For instance, at the local level, there will be Area Days hosted by local sisterhoods within each District that you can attend and encourage your sisterhoods to attend. District Area Days are short conference-like events set in a smaller more intimate setting that can give our women a sample of what the District and WRJ has to offer. We like to think of them as ‘mini WRJ Assemblies.’ We also have the Fried Leadership Conference scheduled for March 2018 in Nashville, TN, that will offer different content tracks to our women. Whether you are like Moses and are looking for ways to train and teach your sisterhood leaders or are a new leader yourself just beginning your WRJ journey, the Fried Leadership Conference will have a track for you. Lastly, in fall 2018, all WRJ Districts will hold their Biennial Conventions giving women the opportunity to meet and interact with other women who live and worship within their District. It is here where our women not only can share their sisterhood experiences, programs and knowledge, but also can build long-lasting bonds of friendships across the miles.
Like Moses, we aim to prepare our sisterhoods and our sisterhood leaders as they transition into the future. We have learned from our strong legacy of leadership and we constantly are looking ahead to make our WRJ world better for our sisterhood daughters and granddaughters within the reform Jewish movement. Our support through the YES Fund ensures that our WRJ advocacy and social justice work has a future. Support through scholarships for young girls to attend our movement’s URJ Sci-Tech camp nurtures girls’ interest in STEM (Science, Technology & Mathematics). Support for sisterhoods and women’s groups in Israel and other countries around the world helps fund the WRJ Mother-Daughter Bat Mitzvah project. These few examples are just a few ways that WRJ helps support the Reform (Progressive) movement here and abroad.
Visit WRJ’s website and your own District’s website for leadership training opportunities and tools. You can also learn more about the YES Fund and the work that it supports.
May the lights of your Shabbat candles be a blessing,
Ellen Petracco is a member of the Women of Temple B'nai Israel Sisterhood in Clearwater, FL. She serves as the WRJ Southeast District President and is a WRJ board member.