At WRJ’s 46th Assembly, the 592 attendees represented 197 sisterhoods from four countries: the U.S., Canada, Australia, and South Africa. Registrants had opportunities for study, conversation, entertainment, and bonding, and found the WRJ tagline to be very apt as WRJ women are truly ’stronger together.’
The opening plenary, which included the presentation of awards for the establishment of four new endowment funds, was highlighted by Just Congregations Director Rabbi Jonah D. Pesner’s keynote address. A tireless advocate of social justice, Rabbi Pesner echoed WRJ's own mission by asserting, "The fundamental principle of community organizing is being ‘stronger together.’"
"I continue to be amazed by the leadership you provide, not only for WRJ but for the whole Reform Movement."
—Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President, Union for Reform Judaism
Wednesday night, following WRJ District dinners, registrants had the opportunity to participate in a hands-on demonstration with world-renowned artist Gary Rosenthal and create glass to be used in personal Judaica or for Judaica for WRJ to sell to benefit the YES Fund. The event also included the presentation of the YES Fund awards.
The second plenary, held on Thursday, included the presentation of the WRJ Jane Evans Pursuit of Justice Award by Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) Associate Director Mark Pelavin. In an ardent speech about the current political climate, he said, “I come to speak to women of passion... women who have the power, the ability, and yes, the passion, to really make a difference.” Pelavin presented the Evans Award to Senator Barbara Boxer for her devotion to children and women’s issues and her national leadership on environmental protection causes. Although Senator Boxer could not be there in person, she accepted her award by video.
“The Jewish community has always drawn its strength from its women leaders.”
—Barbara Boxer, U.S. Senator
Following the Endower and Lifeline Dinner for WRJ major donors was the debut of the long-awaited, groundbreaking publication, The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, where delegates were treated to a dessert reception and a concert by Danny Maseng. WRJ women jubilantly danced around the ballroom knowing that this historic volume, the first comprehensive commentary authored only by women on the Five Books of Moses, was accomplished through their efforts. Additional speakers included HUC-JIR President Rabbi David Ellenson and RAC Director Rabbi David Saperstein, who described the Torah Commentary as “a book that challenges us all to hear voices we haven’t heard before.”
The third plenary of the Assembly, held on Friday, included a message from WUPJ’s Nani Beutel and a report from WRJ Executive Director Shelley Lindauer, who urged sisterhoods to take stock of their membership’s demographics and needs and reminded them, “It is your job as leaders to empower all of our women and enrich their lives through sisterhood.” Additionally. to demonstrate one of WRJ’s most popular new programs, a mock WRJ/Lilith Salon was held with editors and writers from Lilith magazine participating in discussions about relevant articles from the publication.
“My commitment to WRJ and my sense of the importance of the work that WRJ does has only grown and grown."
—Rabbi Hara Person, Managing Editor, URJ Press
Friday's impactful YES Fund luncheon raised money for the fund and included the gift of a Torah from Congregation Shaarai Shomayim in Lancaster, PA to Abraham Geiger Kolleg Rector Rabbi Dr. Walter Homolka, which will be used in the new WRJ Music Library at the School of Cantorial Arts at Abraham Geiger in Germany. Guest speakers Rabbi Mark Winer of West London Synagogue, London, UK and Rabbi Homolka, who leads the Progressive Movement in Central Europe, both credited WRJ’s YES Fund with supporting their rabbinic callings.
Friday night, the new The Torah: A Women's Commentary was the basis for a “Preparing for Shabbat” program, which featured selected poems read by the book’s editors and a musical performance by Julie Silver. After a spiritually-moving Shabbat with the thousands of URJ delegates, WRJ’s Saturday Havdalah service was fittingly led by Cantor Sarah Sager, who first challenged WRJ to produce a women's Torah commentary. Along with Cantor Ross Wolman, Sager brought Shabbat to a close before the installation of WRJ's new Board.
“I am here because you cared.”
—Rabbi Dr. Walter Homolka, Rector, Abraham Geiger Kolleg
Sunday, the Assembly’s closing day and the final plenary session opened with a rousing presentation from the Local Arrangements committee of WRJ's 47th Assembly, to be held in November 2009 in Toronto. WRJ also celebrated Israel's 60th birthday and ARZA's 30th birthday with guest speakers, HUC-JIR Associate Dean and Year-in-Israel Program Director Rabbi Naamah Kelman, and ARZA President Rabbi Stanley Davids.
Over the course of the five-day Assembly, women sang together, laughed together, ate together, studied together, prayed together, and participated in workshops on such diverse topics as increasing sisterhood brand recognition, surviving as a member of the sandwich generation, and making poverty history. From sisterhoods of a variety of sizes and demographics, the women came together and bonded, shared, and learned that in whatever they are doing, they are truly ‘stronger together.’