Nearly 180 women from across North America attended the biennial WRJ Sisterhood Leadership Conference in San Francisco, CA from February 4-6, 2011. The weekend was filled with beautiful worship, creative and topical workshops, and inspirational speakers.
“You represent women in the U.S. and Canada; all eight of our WRJ Districts; every size congregation and sisterhood; and the myriad unique voices and faces of the women of our Reform Movement. I want to thank you for investing in yourself and your sisterhoods, because I am confident that this weekend will be one of the best investments you can make.”
—Lynn Magid Lazar, WRJ President
On Friday, as an adjunct to the conference, many of women toured several important Jewish sights of the city, including the stunning Temple Emanu-El; the former Temple Emanu-El Sisterhood house, originally established to provide employment and vocational training for immigrant women as well as a home for working Jewish women; the Holocaust Memorial; and the Contemporary Jewish Museum.
That night, Rabbi Stacey Friedman of Congregation Rodef Sholom, San Rafael, CA and her band led a rousing Kabbalat Shabbat service. The evening concluded with an outstanding concert and sing-along led by Cantor Leigh Korn of Temple Isaiah, Lafayette, CA along with Cantor Rita Glassman from Sherith Israel, San Francisco, CA. The concert was dedicated to the music of Debbie Friedman, and included new music and old favorites.
Saturday morning, attendees participated in a spiritually uplifting service, prepared by WRJ Northeast District President Abby Fisher that was led by all of the District Presidents. Woven together with WRJ’s traditional prayers were meaningful poems and readings from the WRJ Covenant book series, The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, and other sources. WRJ First Vice President Blair C. Marks delivered an enlightening D’var Torah on Parashat T’rumah, which tells us that the mishkan was built by gifts from those whose hearts were moved to give.
"For my first WRJ event, I was overwhelmed with the warmth and the immediate connections I made with women from all over North America. The beautiful Shabbat services and informative learning sessions provided me with the confidence, resources, and insight to think about one day becoming our sisterhood president. Thank you to my sisterhood for the invitation to attend this wonderful conference and to the WRJ leadership for coordinating a valuable experience."
—Cyndi Solitro, Temple Sholom, Chicago, IL
Following services, each person had the opportunity to attend a “sisterhood schmooze” session according to her congregation’s size. At lunch, the group heard from World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Shai Pinto about the valuable partnership between WRJ and WUPJ. He said that WRJ’s financial support of special projects and rabbinic students is invaluable in maintaining and developing future growth of the Reform/Progressive communities throughout Europe and the Former Soviet Union.
A prime initiative of WRJ’s Strategic Plan focuses on maintaining and developing membership within WRJ sisterhoods. WRJ Vice President of Services to Sisterhoods & Districts Sharon Benoff and WRJ Manager of Services to Sisterhoods & Districts Rachel Jurisz presented many concrete ideas to assist all attendees in creating a successful membership campaign. Suggestions were made on how to target women with younger children and sisterhood programs that may appeal to them. Following the general session, workshops were held on topics such as setting priorities, conflict resolution, marketing, and integrating social action into programming.
After Havdalah, WRJ Executive Director Shelley Lindauer spoke about the achievements of WRJ, and WRJ Immediate Past President and WRJ Centennial Committee Co-Chair Rosanne Selfon gave an entertaining and informative overview WRJ’s plans to celebrate its Centennial in 2013. Every sisterhood will be asked to share artifacts from the annals of their sisterhood’s history that will become a permanent part of the WRJ collection at the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati, OH. Additionally, there will be 100 ways to honor WRJ during 2013, culminating with a fabulous celebration at the WRJ Assembly 2013.
Sunday morning, WRJ Vice Presidents Susan C. Bass, Sharon K. Benoff, Edith Caplan, and Sara B. Charney highlighted how their respective departments serve WRJ sisterhoods. Lindauer led a tutorial of the new WRJ website and the morning program concluded with a helpful and informative question & answer session with WRJ leaders. Rabbi Kim Ettlinger of Temple Beth Israel in Victoria, Australia gave an impassioned speech about her rabbinic journey as well as the financial and moral support she received from WRJ’s YES Fund along the way.
“Without a doubt, if it wasn’t for that money, I’m not sure that I would be standing here today as a Rabbi.”
—Rabbi Kim Ettlinger, Temple Beth Israel, Victoria, Australia
Following Rabbi Ettlinger’s speech, Bass presented an overview of the YES Fund and the WRJ leaders then raised significant funds to continue its mission to support clergy like Rabbi Ettlinger and other important projects. The conference concluded with a very large friendship circle of women from across North America, holding hands and expressing one word about their experience during the weekend at the WRJ Leadership Conference.