WRJ kicked off its Centennial Year in the birthplace of WRJ and Reform Judaism — Cincinnati, OH — with its renamed, biennial Fried Leadership Conference (FLC), made possible by a generous naming endowment from WRJ Board member Joanne B. Fried. WRJ was founded in Cincinnati in 1913, and nearly 250 North American women from 120 WRJ women’s groups, including current and rising sisterhood leaders, WRJ Board members, WRJ Chai Society, and WRJ Centennial Ambassadors, returned to this meaningful location to revisit their roots during a weekend of worship, workshops, connecting, sharing, and learning at The Westin hotel and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) local campus.
“Everything I learned at the conference will be valuable to me as a leader. I will take everything I learned… to [help] refresh our sisterhood and grow it.”
—Leslye Adelman, Women of Temple Beth Hillel, Valley Village, CA
Women who arrived early on Friday participated in a guided group tour of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Later on, WRJ Chai Society members reconnected and planned their upcoming activities at a special reception. All attendees convened on Friday evening for a welcome from WRJ President Lynn Magid Lazar, who introduced and presented an award to WRJ Board member and naming endower of the conference Joanne B. Fried. WRJ Executive Director Rabbi Marla J. Feldman offered opening remarks, and then WRJ FLC Co-Chairs Liz McOsker and Rozan Anderson led the group in a fun icebreaker activity.
Shabbat began with joyful worship, created and led by WRJ District Presidents. Wexner Foundation President Rabbi B. Elka Abrahamson keynoted the evening, challenging the women to build upon WRJ’s legacy. Rabbi Abrahamson commented that moving forward often involves loss in any organization’s evolution but she believes that, with the determination and commitment to the future that Reform Jewish women possess, change will be an ally to organizations like WRJ.
“I really enjoyed meeting so many wonderful women and took a lot of knowledge back with [me] that [I] will share with [my] sisterhood. It truly was an informative, warm, welcoming, and fun weekend!”
- Jami Chaban, Temple Beit HaYam Sisterhood, Stuart, FL
The evening’s highlight and, for many, the highlight of the entire weekend, was recording the chorus of the commissioned WRJ Centennial Anthem, Limdu Heiteiv, composed by Beth Schafer. Schafer and musical partner/accompanist John Marsden directed a choir of 250 delegates, creating a treasured recording to be used at future WRJ events and cherished by all WRJ members as part of the WRJ Centennial CD, which was released at the WRJ 49th Assembly. Schafer shared that the gift of the women’s voices made her time with WRJ more than she had ever imagined. Everyone present went to sleep Friday night on a spiritual high (and a sugar high from the Graeter’s Ice Cream, a delicious local treat!).
At Saturday morning Shabbat services, HUC-JIR students and faculty from the Cincinnati campus crafted and led worship and study, while Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Chief Operating Officer Barbara Saidel shared words of Torah. After services, Rabbi Dr. Gary P. Zola, Executive Director of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives (AJA) and an HUC-JIR professor, gave an overview of the AJA’s 350 years of preserving American Jewish history. Dr. Zola spoke later on Saturday night as well, teaching about founding WRJ President Carrie O. Simon’s groundbreaking work. After lunch, the group headed to Plum Street Synagogue to view the magnificently-restored Moorish sanctuary where Rabbi Isaac Meyer Wise once preached and hear its history from Rabbi Lewis Kamrass. The group then headed to HUC-JIR and the AJA.
“The workshops were very interesting and gave me the tools to help make my sisterhood more successful.”
- Marlene Spolane, Congregation Beth Israel Sisterhood, Houston, TX
Once at HUC-JIR, WRJ women had the opportunity to learn and hone their leadership skills in a setting fit for it! Workshops were taught by WRJ Board members and HUC-JIR and AJA faculty and staff, with topics including: running an effective meeting, leadership succession planning, fundraising, conflict resolution, social justice advocacy, finance/budgeting, marketing, membership, women and prayer, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and leading in turbulent times. All women had a chance to tour the campus and visit the AJA, where posters created by the AJA in partnership with WRJ were on display in honor of WRJ’s Centennial. While on campus, attendees met with students, saw the YES Fund in action, and visited the Sisterhood Dorm, dedicated in 1925 and built with more than $350,000 collected from WRJ sisterhoods. Decades later, the Dorm remains the center of the campus. After a Tu BiSh’vat reception and Havdalah service led by students, WRJ President Lynn Magid Lazar presented HUC-JIR Cincinnati Dean Dr. Jonathan Cohen with a new mezuzah for the Sisterhood Dorm.
The buses then headed to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center for a dinner amongst interesting exhibits. Back at the hotel, WRJ Centennial Chair Rosanne M. Selfon and Co-Chair Diane L. Kaplan led a Centennial fundraiser. The night finished with the Chair and Co-Chair of the newest WRJ Covenant book, Sherri Feuer and Betty Weiner, respectively, revealing Covenant of the Generations, WRJ’s newest volume of prayers, poems, and meditations in the WRJ Covenant book series.
“[My fellow sisterhood leaders] need to come to these events! I can make a report and share information, but the first-hand experience cannot be adequately explained.”
- Doreen Hawbecker, The Sisterhood of Temple Beth Ami, Newhall, CA
On Sunday morning, more workshops were available to those who chose to wake up early. WRJ Centennial Ambassadors and WRJ Chai Society members met, and then everyone convened for a Town Hall-style question & answer session where WRJ Officers and attendees discussed big-picture issues.
The weekend concluded with the always-popular YES Fund Brunch, where Barbara Weinstein, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) in Washington, D.C., spoke about the importance of WRJ’s support for and partnership with the RAC, including the sponsorship of a joint WRJ/RAC Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. Barbara also urged WRJ women to use their voices to make a difference in local and state governments, supporting issues important to the Reform Movement and to WRJ. As always, with the generous support of its members, WRJ raised money at the brunch to continue doing this important work via the YES Fund.
“Thank you so much for having me at the conference. I learned so much and gained a lot of knowledge. Meeting everyone was the highlight of my [weekend]. All the experiences each women shared and delivered to me through a casual chat or speech were amazing. I was inspired and overjoyed at the power women can have when they unite and come together. Thank you!”
- Marsha Daman Rubinstein, Temple Sholom Sisterhood, Cincinnati, OH
After only three days together, the inaugural WRJ Fried Leadership Conference attendees had truly experienced something magical. They left Cincinnati feeling that they’d learned new skills and bonded with their sisters. They saw firsthand not only the meaning of “stronger together,” but also the amazing work that WRJ has done for the past 100 years, and realized that WRJ truly is “inspired by the past, committed to the future.”