More than 650 attendees traveled from around the world to attend WRJ’s 49th Assembly & Centennial Celebration in San Diego, CA. The week would mark the release of many milestone WRJ products, including: the Centennial CD, which featured WRJ anthem Limdu Heiteiv as recorded at the WRJ Fried Leadership Conference earlier that year; the Centennial Journal, a celebration of WRJ’s first 100 years; and Sisterhood: A Centennial History of Women of Reform Judaism, a book written by numerous Jewish scholars (and edited in part by Dr. Jonathan D. Sarna, who would be a keynote speaker at Assembly!) on the thoroughly-researched history of WRJ.
The conference officially opened on Wednesday afternoon with a joint WRJ/URJ workshop block on a variety of topics, ranging from women’s rights around the world to an exploration of women’s spirituality through music and prayer to welcoming LGBTQ Jews and being part of the “sandwich” generation. This was followed by WRJ’s first plenary session, featuring greetings from URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs and Board Chairman Steve Sacks and welcome remarks from the WRJ 49th Assembly Program Chair, Abigail S. Fisher and Co-Chairs, Marla Goldberg and Renee Roth, and Local Arrangements Chair Julia C. Weinstein and Co-Chairs, Phyllis Bigelson and Lauren Shapiro-Milana.
“This Centennial year has taught us that in each generation–from NFTS’s inception until WRJ’s 100th year–every leader realized that TODAY is the day.... I realize that TODAY is the day to culminate our Centennial celebration… to learn and share our history with one another and with members of our Movement from across the globe… even as the next group of leaders begins to plan for the many DAYS of the future.”
—Lynn Magid Lazar, outgoing President, Women of Reform Judaism
A roundtable discussion with Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills President and Entrepreneur, Philanthropist, and Investor Lisa Zola Greer; Jumpstart Co-Founder, CEO, and Director of Research Shawn Landres; and URJ Faculty and American Jewish World Service (AJWS) President Ruth W. Messinger focused on the role of women in philanthropy. It was at this plenary that outgoing WRJ President Lynn Magid Lazar gave her President’s Address, recalling the achievements of WRJ’s first 100 years and toward 100 more years and beyond of women’s leadership and social action in the Reform Movement. Sisterhoods were honored for their increases in membership and the new WRJ Board was officially elected.
After the Exhibit Hall opened and WRJ’s booth hosted a Covenant of the Generations author signing, WRJ and URJ held a joint plenary session where the URJ Maruice N. Eisendrath Bearer of Light Award was given to the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation Founder and CEO Jay Feinberg and a tribute was made to Rabbi David Hartman, z’’l, and Jews currently serving or who had served in the U.S. Armed Forces were honored. That night, WRJ participants enjoyed the first-ever WRJ Game Night, complete with Mah Jongg, Scrabble, cards, and more.
Thursday began early with a rousing Shacharit service co-led by WRJ and the Women’s Rabbinic Network (WRN) and featuring music from Julie Silver. After all eight WRJ Districts held their meetings and attended another block of workshops, the day continued with joint WRJ/URJ Forums that included an address from Joseph H. & Bella R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University Dr. Jonathan D. Sarna on the significance of women in the history of the Reform Movement and WRJ’s importance as we move towards the next 100 years. Later in the day, IKAR Founding Rabbi Sharon Brous delivered the keynote address, followed by WRJ Executive Director Rabbi Marla J. Feldman’s report. The WRJ Constitution was revised, new sisterhoods were presented with their charters and gavels, and the WRJ Board of Directors passed resolutions on the School-to-Prison Pipeline and Voting Rights. Additionally, we recognized the sisterhoods and WRJ Districts who had earned Or Ami “Light of My People” awards for special achievement in programming.
“Looking back over a century of service, we can see that sisterhoods empowered Jewish women and gave them a greater voice in Jewish life. They encouraged and incubated innovations. They articulated for women a broad and capacious mission that focused upon unmet needs. American Jews, whether they know it or not, have all been strengthened by sisterhoods’ heroic efforts.”
—Dr. Jonathan D. Sarna, Professor, Brandeis University
Thursday night saw another joint plenary with a keynote address from URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs, which featured Nothing But Nets Founder Rick Reilly and introduced URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy—to which WRJ would later provide scholarships for girls interested in attending in order to promote women in science and technology fields. That night, there was a music festival in San Diego’s Gaslamp District, featuring a variety of new and favorite musical acts in different local venues.
Friday morning saw the always-popular YES Fund Breakfast, which honored retiring Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) President Rabbi David Ellenson and allowed WRJ women to learn about the impact of the YES Fund and what they can do to support its efforts. Those sisterhoods with noteworthy YES Fund contributions received awards for their work. After a hearty breakfast and time spent raising money for the YES Fund, attendees participated in more workshops and then chose from a variety of Forums and workshops to attend, including a WRJ-sponsored session with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism on women’s rights and legislative issues, moderated by Rabbi Feldman and featuring Israel Religious Action Center Executive Director and Women of the Wall Chairwoman Anat Hoffman, NARAL Pro-Choice President President Ilyse Hogue, and AJWS President Ruth W. Messinger. Before Shabbat began, WRJ major donor attended a reception with Rabbi Gilad Kariv and music from Rabbi Joe Black. The evening continued with Shabbat services and a warm Shabbat dinner for thousands of Reform Jews, followed by a spirited song session.
“It is my hope that Women of Reform Judaism always continues to enable our women to connect, to become better Jews and better people, striving together on behalf of our movement, our communities and our congregations.”
—Blair C. Marks, incoming President, Women of Reform Judaism
On Saturday morning, WRJ women gathered with all Biennial and Assembly attendees to worship and be honored by reading from the WRJ Torah on one of thirteen bimot during services. In the afternoon, WRJ hosted a “Lunch and Learn” session entitled: “Women of the Book: Best-Selling Authors Share Their Secrets,” which featured authors Maggie Anton, Anita Diamant, and Rabbi Zoe Klein. That afternoon, WRJ celebrated the Installation of its new Board of Directors, including incoming President Blair C. Marks, who gave a speech and helped lead the service with her temple leaders, Rabbis Steven Lebow and Erin Boxt of Temple Kol Emeth, Marietta, GA, and WRJ Past Presidents. Music was provided by the first-ever WRJ Choir, directed by Julie Silver.
That night, the WRJ Jane Evans “Pursuit of Justice” Award was given to Hoffman for her incredible work towards religious and gender equality in Israel, and URJ awarded WRJ with the Maurice N. Eisendrath Bearer of Light Award. The evening’s theme was “extraordinary women shaping Reform Judaism” and served as a reminder of the innumerable contributions WRJ has made to the Reform Movement and around the world during its first 100 years. In addition to the award presentations, there were a variety of female musical numbers, including a performance from the URJ & WRJ choirs. The evening concluded with Havdalah and an exciting kick-off to NFTY’s 75th anniversary celebration, noting that WRJ had founded NFTY 75 years ago.
Sunday wrapped up the conference with a plenary session that included special remarks from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by video feed from Israel, followed by a WRJ Town Hall Meeting. We took to heart the WRJ Centennial motto, “Inspired by the past, committed to the future” and finished our Centennial Celebration by looking ahead with excitement to Assembly 2015 in Orlando, FL!