In March 2018, WRJ kicked off its largest Fried Leadership Conference (FLC) yet with a bang and lots of fun as over 325 women from all over North America came together in Nashville, Tennessee to learn, connect, laugh, and grow alongside one another. Those in attendance included many sisterhood presidents and leaders, WRJ North American Board members, WRJ District leaders, and those interested in building upon their skills and growing their Judaism. The attendees were nearly evenly divided between first-time and repeat attendees, and all were excited to meet friends old and new!
For those who arrived early, the WRJ District Presidents and First Vice Presidents organized a rambunctious and riveting Purim Spiel, retelling the Purim story with costumes and creativity. Another opportunity for those who had a bit of extra time in Nashville was a trip to the Country Music Hall of Fame for a unique program called “Legends, Lunch & Lyrics.” This event, which raised funds for WRJ, included a private lunch and performance by award-winning songwriter Richard Leigh. Mr. Leigh’s charm and stories entertained the WRJ group, who then had time to tour the museum galleries and interactive exhibits. It was a lovely afternoon for the more than 140 women who attended.
FLC officially started on Thursday afternoon with a block of workshops that covered topics as varied as Israel, social media, listening skills, social justice, women’s empowerment, and programming to appeal to all ages. These were just some of the nearly 40 different workshops spread throughout the conference, catering to those looking to improve their sisterhoods, leave with take-away programming ideas and best practices, expand their Jewish horizons, connect with other like-minded women, and grow their leadership skills and feel empowered. WRJ was lucky enough to be joined by several URJ staff members, including six female URJ Camp Directors, URJ VP of Audacious Hospitality, April Baskin, and URJ VP of Youth, Miriam Chilton. Many of these female Movement leaders taught workshops, sharing their expertise with WRJ and showing that Reform Jewish women truly are “stronger together.”
Later Thursday evening, women took seats at affinity group tables for targeted discussions at the opening dinner, which featured welcome remarks from WRJ’s outgoing President, Blair Marks, and WRJ FLC 2018 Co-Chairs, Resa Davids and Deb Radin (and, in absentia/cardboard form, Sandy Adland). The evening also featured the presentation of the WRJ Jane Evans Pursuit of Justice Award, given to Marian Wright Edelman, President and Founder of the Children’s Defense Fund. Ms. Edelman inspired the crowd with her remarks about women’s leadership and standing up against the gun violence plaguing today’s youth. For those who weren’t too tired, several late-night programs offered more time to socialize and learn creatively through needlecraft, games/mahjong, and other activities.
Several women began their Friday bright and early with a high-energy Zumba session, led by Luisa Narins (which was held again on Sunday morning, by popular demand)! Over breakfast, all FLC attendees divided up by WRJ District for meetings where they connected with other women from their geographic area and learned more about their District’s activities. Afterward, WRJ held its legislative body business plenary, with the President’s Report from Blair Marks, a vote on the WRJ Slate, and discussion and voting on Resolutions and Constitutional Revisions. Switching to something a bit lighter, WRJ’s “glampers” made their way to Camp WRJ for the YES (Youth, Education, & Special Projects) Fund lunch. Decked out with red and white checkerboard tablecloths, all the camp swag you could ask for, and a family-style camp lunch (including tater tots and s’mores bars!), the women heard from WRJ VP of Youth, Miriam Chilton, and immediate past NFTY President Kathryn Fleisher, about the important partnership between WRJ and Youth and how WRJ can continue to support the next generation of Reform leaders.
After departing from “camp,” there were two more workshop blocks that included choir rehearsal, a social justice “intensive” session, and workshops for rising and veteran leaders alike. Later that evening, all attended Kabbalat Shabbat services led by musician-in-residence Michelle Citrin and WRJ’s Robin Sobol, accompanied by the WRJ Choir (led by Stacy Beyer). April Baskin gave an inspiring D’var Torah, and the women danced with their FLC timbrels (tambourines) throughout the halls when Michelle played Miriam’s Song. One attendee said: “Services were enlightening, spiritual, and emotionally charging” – a definite highlight of the weekend! Continuing the tradition of hearing from strong women leaders, over dinner, WRJ Executive Director Rabbi Marla J. Feldman gave an update on WRJ’s recent activities. Once again, there were late-night opportunities as varied as a whiskey tasting, Purim origami paper chain making, and a movie screening and discussion.
On Saturday morning, early risers were able to center themselves with a Torah yoga session, while others attended Torah Study sessions over breakfast that were taught by several URJ Camp Directors and other special guests. Afterward, all attended spiritually moving Shabbat services led by URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs with Michelle Citrin and Robin Sobol plus Stacy Beyer and the WRJ Choir. Services included the Installation of WRJ’s new Officers, Executive Committee, and Board Members. It was wonderful to see the WRJ Torah passed between the WRJ Past Presidents, from strength to strength, before Blair Marks handed it to new WRJ President, Susan C. Bass. FLC attendees heard from Susan at the lunch that followed services, and where she encouraged them to further their leadership journeys via WRJ.
That afternoon, following even more opportunities to learn in workshops, WRJ handed the reins over to URJ leaders: Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who gave an enlightening keynote address about the Reform Movement in the 21st century, and the URJ female Camp Directors, who led a beautiful Havdalah service. With some downtime to change into their Purim finest, the group reconvened later that night for WRJ’s PurimPalooza. The women admired the creative, hysterical, and impressive array of costumes on parade and then enjoyed a variety show featuring “homegrown” WRJ talent. Acts varied from songs to dances to skits and even a Purim Spiel. The Choir performed Limdu Heiteiv (the WRJ Centennial anthem), Stacy Beyer sang She Has the Right, and Michelle Citrin got the crowd on their feet and brought down the house with Shake Your Grogger. WRJ’s Purim party was one you did not want to miss!
Sunday morning ended on an equally passionate but more serious note, with a final round of workshops and the closing plenary session. The legislative body finalized one last resolution – with a lively and thoughtful debate process – and then heard from one of the weekend’s most inspiring speakers. Abby Brafman, a former NFTYite from Parkland, Florida who graduated in 2017 from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School and now attends Vanderbilt University in Nashville, joined WRJ for its closing session. Abby spoke about her call to action to organize March for Our Lives Nashville, and how she and her peers are leading the way for change, with the support of groups like WRJ. Several FLC attendees said they were “blown away” by Abby, and that having her speak to the FLC group “was one of the most powerful parts of the whole” conference. Following this emotional and moving address, WRJ announced its next gathering – the inaugural WRJ Social Justice Conference on May 18-19, 2019 in Washington, D.C.! There is much buzz about this women’s advocacy opportunity for next year.
When reflecting upon their time in Nashville at FLC 2018, many women said it was an inspiring, empowering, fun, eye-opening, and transformative experience:
Plan to join hundreds of other WRJ women in May 2019 in Washington D.C., and at the next FLC, so that you too can be part of this fantastic experience!