A High Holiday Message from Sara B. Charney

September 23, 2022Sara B. Charney

In preparation for the High Holy Days, during the month of Elul, we take stock, reflect, and engage in an accounting of the soul, cheshbon hanefesh. Other customs during Elul include the daily recitation of Psalm 27, making amends with others, the sounding of the shofar, and giving tzedakah.

WRJ plays a critical role as a Reform Movement partner: co-leading the Reform Pay Equity Initiative with the Women’s Rabbinic Network (WRN), participating in the Reform Leadership Council, joining together in educational programs with other affiliates, representing WRJ on the Union for Reform Judaism North American Board (NAB), the Commission on Social Action (CSA), the Board of Governors of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and the Conference of Presidents, to name a few.

Over the course of this past year, the Reform Movement as a whole has spent a great deal of energy reflecting and accounting for past transgressions. Last year, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), acknowledged that institutions must also engage in t’shuvah, repentance. The URJ retained outside counsel to conduct an independent investigation of past sexual harassment, abuse, and misconduct within URJ workplaces and programs. Subsequently, the URJ  Ethics Report was released in February 2022, and a URJ Ethics Accountability Task Force was created to implement a plan to foster a culture of accountability, respect, and safety within our Reform institutions. Shelley Niceley Groff, a vice chair of the URJ and a member of WRJ’s Executive Committee, is chairing this effort, and I have the honour of working with her on various aspects of this work. As president of WRJ, it is a privilege to work collaboratively with the URJ in this work of ethics accountability to ensure that we all move forward on the road of awareness, accountability, and recovery together. Please inform yourselves of the important and ongoing work regarding URJ Ethics Accountability.

As we consider WRJ’s unique role in these efforts, WRJ has launched WRJ says STOP, a webinar series on sexual harassment and assault with action strategies to empower women to be self-advocates, informed upstanders, and changemakers who will create safer environments and communities. You may view the recording of the initial webinar WRJ says STOP: How to Build a Safe and Transparent Synagogue Community with Nicole Nevarez, CEO of Ta’amod. The second webinar in the WRJ says STOP series, featuring Keshet, will be presented on Tuesday, February 7, 2023, at 7:30 pm ET. Registration information will follow.

Inspired by the clarion call of the shofar, WRJ empowers women around the globe to stand up for justice, take on increased leadership roles, and use their platforms and voices to make a difference.  Please have a look at our October program guide and join one of these events—our range of programs are designed to cultivate sisterhood, inspire spiritual growth, and mobilize collective action. 

Renewing our commitment to tzedakah in 5783, WRJ turns support into action through grants from our YES (Youth, Education, and Special Projects) Fund, providing $300,500 in grants across North America, in Israel, and elsewhere. Here is a selection of the projects and people that we support. For our youth, WRJ continues its support of the URJ NFTY Kol Koleinu Teen Feminism Fellowship. Jewish feminists of all genders and gender identities learn about feminism and women’s history, learn to advocate, and serve as change agents in their communities on behalf of women and girls and those who identify as female.

WRJ fosters the development of Jewish clergy and other Jewish professionals in Reform and Progressive institutions and communities globally. As an example, we provide scholarship support for women rabbinical students at the Instituto Iberoamericano de Formacion Rabinica Reformista, which trains community leaders for Reform congregations in Latin America, Spain, and Portugal. Increasing the number of women clergy in these communities makes a clear statement about the importance of gender equality. This is a WRJ value.

As one of our special projects, WRJ is proud to support the Women’s Rabbinic Network’s (WRN) Paid Family and Medical Leave Project. WRN wants to educate Reform Movement employees and employers about the Jewish imperative for providing high-quality, equitable paid family and medical leave. This includes building policies, raising awareness, and providing successful implementation models.

For the past two years, WRJ has made grant allocations to communities working in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) space. A new grantee is the Reform Jewish Community of Canada (RJCC). For the past decade, Canada’s Reform Jewish congregations have expressed their commitment to justice, truth, and peace by advancing the work of reconciliation with Indigenous communities across Canada. The WRJ DEI grant is supporting “Shabbatons of Reconciliation” in partnership with RJCC synagogues, NFTY groups, URJ Camp George, and local college and university Hillels. This will be a national initiative with planning done in collaboration with local Indigenous representatives and groups.

As we begin the New Year of 5783, I invite you to engage with WRJ as often as possible. There is a lot going on, and you always have a home with your WRJ sisters.

From my family to yours, my very best wishes to each one of you, your families and friends, for a sweet New Year full of wonderful potential, much camaraderie, and good health! L’Shana Tovah u’metuka!