On April 9, 2022, WRJ's Southeast District held its first in-person event in over two years, and it was GLORIOUS! It was so wonderful to be in the same room with 24 of my WRJ sisters and on Zoom with another nine, sharing a meal and conversation, catching up on two years of events, and learning together from amazing speakers. Our event included women from 15 sisterhoods, a visiting board member from the Mid-Atlantic District, and our Immediate Past President Cheryl Raskind-Hood. This was also the first hybrid event in any of the eight WRJ districts, and we were able to pull it off without a hitch! I will admit I was pretty worried about the technical aspects of hosting a hybrid event, but so far, the feedback has been positive from both the in-person attendees and those who joined us on Zoom. I think that hybrid events are here to stay for the foreseeable future. Not all of us are comfortable returning to in-person meetings. A hybrid event is a viable way to see that all of us are included in ways where we feel safe and yet connected.
How did all of this come about? In February of this year Faith Alexander, the District's First Vice President, was deep into planning for an in-person Kallah scheduled for April 1-3. I received a call from the NY office that Sara Charney would be in Tampa for a sisterhood event on Monday, April 11 and was asked if the District would like to create an event for her to attend. My first thought was “What a great opportunity!” I called Faith, and we talked about a local Area Day. The Tampa Bay area is lucky to have four local sisterhoods: two in Tampa, one in Clearwater, and one in Palm Harbor. I first checked with the Tampa sisterhood president who was hosting Sara for their YES Fund event on Monday to make sure I wouldn’t step on their toes. They needed her for Sunday and Monday so that left Friday and Saturday for the District. I checked with the other three sisterhood presidents, and there were big temple events at three of the four on Saturday. Eventually, we came up with having Sara deliver the D’var Torah at a Sisterhood Shabbat service at Temple B’nai Israel in Clearwater and a Saturday afternoon Area Day at the same synagogue.
We put together a very capable planning committee. Clearwater’s Temple B’nai Israel Sisterhood President Ellen Petracco (and former District President) volunteered to handle the coordination of food for Saturday lunch. She was the liaison with her synagogue for the event’s specific details (room setup, security, kitchen access). Andi Parker played double duty as our District VP of Marketing & Communications and Wild Apricot Administrator. She handled all the publicity and sett up the registration email invitations, confirmations, and reminders. Our wonderful Facebook coordinator, Nancy Cohen, worked her usual magic. Heather Lorgeree in the NY office was in charge of the Zoom on the day of the event. I recruited our District Webmaster, Rosie Wojciulewicz, to be our on-site technical manager. Our Presidents Scholarship Chair, Judith Mish, was on hand to oversee sales of our District tumblers. We created two mitzvah projects that were coordinated by Sisterhood President Barbara Gitomer of Temple Ahavat Shalom in Palm Harbor, District Advocacy Chair Diane Porat, and District Senior Area Director Illyse Scheaffer. One was a donation project for the in-person attendees and the other was a greeting card coloring project with templates available for the Zoom attendees.
Even though she could not attend in person, we were fortunate to have WRJ President Sara Charney as a speaker on Zoom. She had us all share ideas about developing leadership skills and the characteristics of an effective leader. Both the in-person and Zoom attendees were able to break into groups for further discussion and then gather back together to share our conclusions.
We then heard from SE District Board Member Pattie Schreiber about reimagining the ways we measure sisterhood success in a post-COVID world. She encouraged us to stretch our imaginations as well as be gentle with ourselves and our expectations for our sisterhoods.
The event was originally conceived as just an in-person gathering, but once it became clear that Sara would not be able to travel, we pivoted to a hybrid event to both include her as a speaker and make her presentation available for everyone in the Southeast District. At that same time, we made the painful decision to cancel our District Kallah scheduled for the week before. The only positive thing that came from that was that our First VP’s time was freed up to help with the Area Day.
I was concerned about the details of setting this up as a hybrid and had a long conversation with Heather Lorgeree to understand the process. I am a computer-competent person, but I think of technology as similar to driving a car. I want to start the engine and go. I don’t want to know how it works. The District owns a projector and wireless speaker so we decided to synch my laptop with those but use an external camera on a tripod to capture the local presenters and then display the Zoom on a screen. It wouldn’t have worked as well without Rosie Wojciulewicz being on the scene to set it all up. She and I also did some pre-event equipment testing at my home. The one piece of equipment we did not have was a microphone for the local presenters. That will be rectified before our next hybrid event. And yes, we will have more! Now that we know we can do it, the sky is the limit!
All in all, it was a delightful afternoon spent with lovely women under the auspices of an organization that we all love. Please visit our website and click on Events, Past Events, Spring 2022 Area Day to view photos or a recording of the Area Day.