“You helped draft the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. You helped liberate Soviet Jews.... You have brought to life your faith and your values, and the world is a better place for it.... The text is telling us that while Joseph does not know what lies ahead, he is ready to answer the call…At this moment every American, of every background, has the opportunity to stand up and say, ‘Here I am, Hineni.’”
—President Barack Obama
More than 520 attendees came to Washington, D.C. for WRJ’s 48th Assembly. At the opening plenary session on Wednesday, WRJ President Lynn Magid Lazar reviewed the challenges and success since WRJ’s last Assembly and spoke about the dreams of WRJ women throughout the years and urged them to keep pushing forward. URJ President Rabbi Eric Yoffie addressed the importance of the work of WRJ and the role of women in the history of the Reform Movement.
“This was the most incredible Jewish experience of my life. I am so blessed my sisterhood sent me to experience this and bring back tons of information and ideas to continue growing our sisterhood. I cannot put into words what a wonderful experience this was and how grateful I am to be a part of WRJ.”
—Jennifer Daley, President, Beth Shalom Sisterhood, New Orleans, LA
Together, the Assembly delegates accepted the slate of the new WRJ Board of Directors, and celebrated the recognition of sisterhoods observing their Centennial year and those receiving Membership awards. Additionally, proclamations were offered by local and regional dignitaries, including state and district senators and congressmen along with Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who declared December 14-18, 2011, “days to celebrate and honor the women of Reform Judaism.”
The keynote address was delivered by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards, who applauded the past social action work of WRJ and reviewed recent developments in the fight to secure healthcare for women, urging those assembled to remember that, “whatever you get, you don’t get it without a fight… But, remember that, no matter how opposing our opponents seem, they cannot keep us down.”
“I greatly admire what you have done and I cherish the partnership that we have had. We are about to experience the largest gathering in Reform Jewish history and one of the largest Jewish gatherings ever in North America. We believe that the future lies with us.”
—Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President, Union for Reform Judaism
Later, at WRJ’s invitation-only Endower and Lifeline Reception, YES Fund Co-Chair Ellen B. Wagner said, “Ladies, we change people’s lives” as WRJ’s most significant contributors were honored with the music of pianist Jon Simon and remarks from incoming URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs who said, “I look around and all I see are Judiths. I see her spirit in all of you. I see her leadership. You support all the right things.”
Attendees of WRJ’s second plenary session were greeted by incoming URJ Board Chairman Steve Sachs and Israel Religious Action Center Executive Director Anat Hoffman, who invited WRJ women to join IRAC as they fight “for freedom from religion, and freedom of religion.”
Other plenary highlights included: a unanimous vote to pass a resolution on sustainability, the presentation of the Or Ami “Light of My People” awards for special achievement in programming, and National Women’s Law Center Co-Founder and President Marcia Greenberger being named the 2011 recipient of the WRJ Jane Evans “Pursuit of Justice” Award. In an inspirational and educational address, Greenberger discussed the on-going fight for women’s equality, particularly in the realm of health and contraception.
“I think you can already sense that it is going to be an enlightening, educational, transformative, fabulous experience. I truly believe that we will bear witness to Divine goodness and we will certainly pursue justice during our five days together.”
—Lynn Magid Lazar, President, Women of Reform Judaism
At WRJ’s third plenary, newly-elected WUPJ President Rabbi Stephen Fuchs spoke of the courage of biblical women.
ARZA Executive Director Rabbi Daniel Allen spoke about the relationship between American Jews and the State of Israel and applauded WRJ Board member Resa Davids for the work that she’s done to include Israeli women’s groups in WRJ’s family.
New IMPJ Executive Director Rabbi Galid Kariv continued the conversation about Israel by urging attendees to take the time to put forth the effort towards action. Assembly delegates heard a statement on Israel passed by the WRJ Executive Committee which advocates a two-state solution as a way to support peace in the Middle East. A dues increase “to ensure the future of WRJ for our children and grandchildren” was also passed during the plenary.
“What we owe to the women of Reform Judaism is the direct legacy of what we owe to the women of the bible... There would not be a WUPJ if it weren’t for the Women of Reform Judaism.”
—Rabbi Stephen Fuchs, President, World Union for Progressive Judaism
WRJ Vice President of Development & Special Projects Susan C. Bass and YES Fund Chair Wendy Adamson opened the first-ever YES Fund brunch by announcing that $5,600 had been raised before the start of the event. NFTY President Forrest Yesnes talked about the role of NFTY in changing the lives of Reform Jewish kids.
URJ President Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the event’s honoree, spoke of his great respect for WRJ and recounted hearing about the demise of sisterhoods when he first took office in 1996. “My gut told me they were really wrong….They were missing the simple reality that whatever the changes in our culture, Jewish women are still going to want to come together as women.” And finally, HUC-JIR/Jerusalem Dean Rabbi Nahmah Kelman, the first woman ordained in the State of Israel, spoke of the founding of the first Progressive pre-school on the campus of the college 25 years ago. Now, one of their first students is entering the rabbinic school as one of 80 Israeli students.
“[Through the YES Fund, w]e are able to contribute to the future of our Movement in a way that an individual woman, family, or sisterhood cannot do alone. The millions of dollars that we have together raised over the years have made a profound, lasting, and continuing difference to the Reform and Progressive Movements. And that is cause for celebration.”
—Blair C. Marks, First Vice President, Women of Reform Judaism
Later, in a plenary session celebrating 50 years of the RAC, President Barack Obama wished the attendees a Shabbat Shalom and noted it was an “immense honor” to address the huge URJ & WRJ audience.
Ultimately, the Assembly was filled with learning, connecting, reconnecting, and making history. Our women learned, as they have in the past and will continue in the future, that as Women of Reform Judaism, we are truly ‘stronger together.’