“We are here to affirm our faith in ourselves and each other and our belief that we are, indeed, stronger together."
—Dolores Wilkenfeld, Past President, Women of Reform Judaism
With these words, WRJ’s 47th Assembly opened in Toronto, ON, Canada, an event that brought together sisterhood women to learn, pray, laugh, and bond. The remainder of Wednesday’s opening plenary session also brought the Assembly together to hear URJ President Eric Yoffie who said, “Much of what we know as ‘Reform Judaism’ today comes from you.” The session’s keynote speaker, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian doctor and peace advocate who tragically lost three daughters and a niece to an Israeli bombing in January 2009, moved everyone with his words when he said: Change is up to the women of the world. This message was then echoed in the address of outgoing WRJ President Rosanne M. Selfon, who adamantly affirmed the need for congregations to have sisterhoods.
Later on Wednesday, the WRJ Endower and Lifeline reception honored WRJ’s most significant contributors, and attendees heard again from Dr. Abuelaish and listened to the music of Dan Nichols.
“As an organized collective we have a mission: sustaining liberal Judaism worldwide while engaging our members to live ‘Jewishly’ and sustain meaningful relationships with like-minded women. In sisterhood, our work and play both make a difference, because we, literally, change lives… Challenge yourselves every day and engage every woman in discovering what you know is true… sisterhood promises an awesome adventure!”
—Rosanne M. Selfon, Outgoing President, Women of Reform Judaism
Thursday began with joint worship with the URJ, followed by a joint plenary session featuring Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, who spoke about the connection between Israel and the Jewish people. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair then spoke by video from Yale University about encouraging “dialogue, understanding, and action” between people of diverse faiths. Finally, RAC Director and General Counsel Rabbi David Saperstein also facilitated a question-and-answer session with WRJ Vice President Blair C. Marks, using questions submitted through the URJ’s social media sites.
Following two workshop blocks and WRJ District lunches, WRJ women came together again for a plenary session honoring those who make a difference in the world. The WRJ Jane Evans Pursuit of Justice Award, given to “a women of strength and action,” was presented to Judy Feld Carr who negotiated the release of more than 3,000 Syrian Jews over a span of 28 years. WRJ Vice President Katie Roeper also presented the WRJ Or Ami “Light of My People” awards for special achievement in programming and WRJ Executive Director Shelley Lindauer addressed the growing concern about the increasingly disproportionate role of women in our congregations. The evening ended on a lighter note with WRJ’s first-ever film festival.
“There is nowhere I go in the world that I don’t meet leaders who were supported by the YES Fund. There is no organization in the Reform world that does better work… than the Women of Reform Judaism.”
—Rabbi David Saperstein, Director and General Counsel, Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism
Friday’s plenary session celebrated WRJ’s Israeli women’s groups (15 of whom affiliated with WRJ in the past year) and Israel’s growing Progressive Movement, along with the new and growing WRJ-Israel Twinning program. The new Israeli women’s groups received charters and gavels, and WRJ Board member Resa Davids read a WRJ statement on Israel and received anaward for her tireless work and passionate commitment to developing and growing WRJ-Israel. The session ended with WRJ receiving two donated Torahs — Rabbi James A. Gibson of Temple Sinai, Pittsburgh, PA presented a Torah to the first Israeli-born woman Rabbi Maya Leibovich, who accepted it on behalf of Women of the Wall in honor of incoming WRJ President Lynn Magid Lazar, and Rabbi Glenn Jacob and WRJ Board member Barbara Stern, both from Temple Am Echad, Lynbrook, NY, also presented a Torah to Rabbi Ayala Miron from the new Progressive congregation Rosh HaAyin in Bavat Ayin, Israel.
Later, the YES Fund lunch featured Saperstein, URJ Director of Youth Rabbi Michael Mellen, NFTY President Aliza Gazek, Abraham Geiger College Executive Director Rabbi Walter Holmoka, and acclaimed author and Mayyim Hayyim Board President Anita Diamant. Each speaker talked about the valuable work of the YES Fund and the impact that contributions from the Fund have had on their lives, and presented one of WRJ’s YES Fund awards.
Saturday's Havdalah and Installation service, led by Rabbi Gibson, brought Shabbat to a close and turned over the leadership of WRJ to a new Board under the direction of WRJ President Lynn Magid Lazar.
“Today, and moving forward in this very challenging and confusing time in our history, we need each other more than ever. We need community because living in isolation in an imperfect world is just way too challenging. Our collective power — the power of women together — the power of sisterhood… is unstoppable.”
—Lynn Magid Lazar, Incoming President, Women of Reform Judaism
Sunday’s final plenary session introduced a new format, the Town Hall Meeting, where attendees were given the opportunity to ask questions to the WRJ leadership.
Throughout the five-day Assembly, resolutions were passed by the WRJ delegates on immigration, elder abuse, and food production and distribution. Together, sisterhood women sang together, laughed together, ate together, studied together, and participated in workshops on topics, including the cultivating bond between sisterhood women and synagogue youth, nurturing leadership in their sisterhoods, increasing membership, and creating effective women’s retreats. From sisterhoods of differing sizes and demographics, WRJ women came together and bonded, shared, and learned that whatever they are doing, they are truly ‘stronger together.’