A record-breaking 160 women from across North America attended the biennial Sisterhood Leadership Conference in New Orleans, LA from January 23-25, 2009. The weekend was filled with exciting programs, new friendships, and inspirational speakers.
On Friday, local leaders Marilyn Lake Neumann and Joanne B. Fried helped organize off-site activities. Twenty-five women participated in an optional hands-on mitzvah project. Following breakfast at New Orleans’ well-known Café Du Monde, the group spent the day at the Lafayette Academy Charter School. The women read Corduroy to a group of second-graders in the morning and a group of kindergartners after lunch. Then, each child created an art project based on themes in the book. That evening, Selfon opened the conference with warm words of welcome, followed by Conference Chairs Jill Neuman and Debra Faye and WRJ Vice President Sharon K. Benoff leading the icebreaker, “Have you ever?”
“Regardless of where they began their journey to New Orleans, all the women found common ground: successes to share, challenges to discuss, information to learn about WRJ, and additional skills to facilitate their leadership.”
—Rosanne M. Selfon, WRJ President
Later that evening, Cantor Joel Colman from Temple Sinai, New Orleans, LA led a soulful Shabbat service, accompanied by pianist Dr. Marcus St. Julien. The evening continued with a dinner during which three local women who lived in the New Orleans area during Hurricane Katrina told their personal stories. Each speaker offered a different perspective but still, their messages were all the same in that they were able to move on constructively after the storm by doing things such as volunteering at a public school and helping their synagogue “come back to life.” The evening concluded with an array of show tunes performed by Cantor Coleman, including a rendition of “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof.
Saturday morning, Cantor Tory May from Congregation Gates of Prayer, Metairie, LA led a spiritually uplifting service. At one point, many of the women got up and danced in a circle to “Miriam’s Song” by Debbie Friedman. WRJ First Vice President Lynn Magid Lazar gave a beautiful D’var Torah about the meaning of names and bringing God into your everyday life.
As one participant said so eloquently, – SLC 2009 Participant
Following the service, there were two guest speakers. Dr. Benjamin Sachs, Senior Vice President of Tulane University and Dean of the School of Medicine, gave a fascinating presentation about Hurricane Katrina and its impact on the healthcare system in New Orleans. He described the revitalization of the system through neighborhood health centers. Next was Jonathan “J.C.” Cohen, Director of the URJ Henry S. Jacobs Camp in Utica, MS who spoke about many who, during Hurricane Katrina, fled to his camp, which welcomes people in times of crisis. J.C. also told the group about the camp leadership’s role in the establishment of the Jacob’s Ladder Project, which provided food and supplies to neighboring communities.
“Thank you for holding this conference. It has invigorated me and gave me the tools and resources to go back to my sisterhood and make positive changes.”
—SLC 2009 Participant
Saturday afternoon was filled with a multitude of learning opportunities. There were several workshops, including how to run an effective meeting, membership, advocacy, and sisterhood finances. Later in the day, each person had the opportunity to attend a “sisterhood schmooze” session according to their congregation’s size. Here, the participants shared their questions and concerns within their group, which was facilitated by a WRJ Vice President.
Saturday evening, everyone departed the hotel on buses for a fun-filled riverboat cruise on the Mississippi River. Bus captains Rosanne M. Selfon, Lynn Magid Lazar, and Susan C. Bass led the participants in a creative Havdalah service where each woman received her own WRJ flashlight (Havdalah candle) and scratch n’ sniff stickers (grape for wine and cinnamon for b’samim or spices).
On Sunday morning, WRJ Executive Director Shelley Lindauer led a tutorial of the WRJ website. Later, the WRJ Vice Presidents Susan C. Bass, Karen S. Sim, Sharon K. Benoff, and Katie M. Roeper participated in a “Meet the Facts” panel discussion, moderated by Lazar. Each Vice President gave a brief presentation, followed by a question & answer session with the audience.
The day continued with a delicious buffet brunch and an exciting YES Fund program which raised more than $10,000! The conference concluded with a large friendship circle of women holding hands and exchanging one word about their experience during the weekend at the WRJ Leadership Conference, which included words such as “inspirational,” “spiritual,” “revitalizing,” and “fun.”
Not only were sisterhood leaders inspired by the conference, but it gave them the opportunity to network and get to know each other. They exchanged ideas, insights, and stories. They gained valuable information about WRJ and learned about the wide array of resources that WRJ has available for their sisterhoods.