1) How did you come to be a WRJ leader?
We joined a temple in South Bend. From the beginning, the sisterhood welcomed me with open arms. It took a while, but I converted to Judaism eight years later. After being active in my sisterhood, I became the president in 2008. Then, I thought - what’s next for me? My rabbi encouraged me to apply for a position on the WRJ board. As a sisterhood president, you support what WRJ does, and I fell in love with everything WRJ was doing, and it coincided with everything I thought needed fixing in the world. Being a new Jew, it was remarkable that WRJ was interested in what I was interested in. I have a master’s degree in U.S. women’s history, so I am aware of the power women of faith have in making change. I got on the board and found out we had districts. I became involved in the Midwest district, and after six years, I decided to apply for the job of District President, and I got it.
2) What has been one highlight during your presidency so far?
Usually, every year we gather together in person for a special event. Due to COVID-19, we had to get creative. Two women I work with were able to arrange for us to visit, via Zoom, places we could never go in real life. We had one program where we went to Australia (virtually) and spoke with several historians of its Jewish communities and their members. We met progressive Jewish women from a place we would never dream of going to normally. We also “went” to Latin America, including Brazil and Argentina, and connected with amazing women we met through the Wilkenfeld International Women's Leadership Seminars. They led our Havdalah service with cantors from all over Latin America. It was the closest thing we had that allowed us to meet people and use the Zoom translater to communicate with these women.
3) One challenge?
Survival! This is an unusual presidency; it’s quite difficult. All of the fun things on the job aren’t happening. We can’t get together, travel, or visit other sisterhoods. Thankfully, I can meet women from sisterhoods on Zoom, which I have learned a lot about. I learned that you could make connections from a distance, but it isn’t the same as meeting in person. Despite the challenges, I have met incredible women; my fellow District Presidents are fantastic. WRJ’s leadership is outstanding and so inspiring.
Another challenge is not knowing what’s next. I was prepared for the job under certain assumptions, none of which have come to pass. So those challenges, reinventing a convention online and what it means to get together, are quite challenging.
4) What do you love most about WRJ?
The feeling that I make a difference even as an individual. My donations to the YES Fund help, the advocacy work done through the RAC makes our voices heard and the women I meet.
5) What advice do you have for future WRJ leaders?
I think leaders should get to know as much as they can about the organization because the more you know, the more you can find ways to be a part of WRJ in a meaningful way. Also, be flexible. Lynn Magid Lazar, Past President of WRJ, nailed it when she said, “flexible people don’t get bent out of shape.” And it’s important to know that the way things are now might change in a minute.
Zabe Williams is the WRJ Midwest District President and a member of Temple Beth-El in South Bend, IN.