Voices of WRJ: Vayishlach

by Hilda R. Glazer

This parashah is full of family and of life-changing events: Jacob becomes the last individual to receive a personal covenant with God. Meeting God face-to-face is a life-changing event. Jacob’s name is changed to Israel. Jacob and Esau meet and reunite. At the end, Rachel dies in childbirth. The midwife attempts to comfort Rachel with the statement that while she is dying, her healthy son lives. Another significant event is story of the rape of Dinah and the subsequent destruction of Shechem’s city by Dinah’s brothers.

This portion considers what it means to be a family. How do brothers who fought for most of their lives reconcile and reconnect? What is the relationship between them? What is the relationship between the men of Jacob’s family and the community in which they live? We can apply this to our lives by looking at the relationships between siblings and think about how we can enhance or improve those relationships. Do you talk to or email your siblings frequently or do long periods go by without contact? What is behind the way that you treat each other? In the greater scheme of things, what is important? The ties of the families throughout the parashah are strong no matter what the obstacles.

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Voices of WRJ: Vayeitzei

by Linda O. Ferguson

This story is well known and core to our history and background. It begins with Jacob leaving Beersheba and setting out to Haran. His story lays the groundwork for the future of the Jewish people. Jacob sleeps and dreams of a ladder of God’s angels. God stands beside it and blesses him. Jacob also commits to God and makes a vow to God to accept God as his God. Thus Jacob makes a commitment for the future of the Jewish people.

Jacob meets Rachel and Leah, two of the foremothers of our people. Jacob falls in love with Rachel. He makes a commitment to her father Laban to work for him for seven years in order to wed her. Laban deceives Jacob and, as we know, Jacob is wedded to Laban’s older daughter, Leah. Despite being deceived by Laban, Jacob again commits to work another seven years in order to wed Rachel. In those seven years, Jacob fathers 11 children with Leah: 10 sons and one daughter.

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Vice President Joe Biden’s Message to Reform Jews

by Aron Hirt-Manheimer

“You didn’t just lobby me, you educated me,” Vice President Joe Biden told more than 5,000 Jewish leaders gathered in Orlando, FL, for the Union for Reform Judaism’s Biennial convention.

“You reinforced everything I learned at my father’s table,” he said, thanking the Reform Jewish community for leading the way on social justice issues such as civil rights, women’s rights, gun violence prevention, marriage equality, economic inequality, and more.

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Women Deserve More Than Faux Fair Pay

A new piece of legislation positioned to solve the problem of unequal pay that women face in the workplace was introduced at the end of October. At first glance, you might think: isn’t this a good thing? Unfortunately, some bills would do a better job adequately addressing the problem of unequal pay in the workplace than others.

Earlier this fall, new Census data was released about women’s pay equity and the gender pay gap that exists in the United States. On average, women make 79 cents to every dollar that white non-Hispanic men make. This startling statistic has brought the issue of pay equity to the forefront of workplace social justice issues, particularly in Congress, as there are now several bills that all seemingly set out to do the same thing. On a positive note, it is exciting that Members of Congress with a wide range of political beliefs are supporting the passage of legislation that seeks to fix the gender pay gap. On the other hand, not all of the proposed legislation goes far enough to address the problems of unequal pay that working women face.

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Voices of WRJ: Tol’dot

by Amy Konig Wulfe

“A blessing on your head…mazel tov, mazel tov.” Even though Grandma Tzeitel credits Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick for their words in Fiddler on the Roof, we have to give Patriarch Isaac the honor for creating “the philosophy of blessings.”

This week’s parashah, Tol’dot (Genesis 25:19-28:9), reads like a Broadway play. Synopsis: the young beauty, Rebekah marries a much older Isaac. Many years of infertility are rewarded when Rebekah becomes pregnant. During this difficult time, she is gifted with the knowledge that “there are two nations in your womb,” and that the younger will prevail over the elder. Esau emerges first and matures into a womanizing hunk who excels at the hunt, followed, quite literally, on the heel with tiny Jacob, the mild manner homebody. During one scene, Esau returns tired and hungry, stumbling into his brother’s abode looking for food, for which Jacob graciously barters for Esau’s birthright.

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Voices of WRJ: Chayei Sarah

by Lindie Henderson

The life of Sarah is reflected in this parashah, although it follows her death. Hers is the first Jewish burial. She and Abraham, despite many challenges, built a life in the land and are our first matriarch and patriarch, respectively.

We learn that Abraham dispatches his servant, Eliezer, along with ten camels to the home of his family in Haran to find a bride for Isaac among his own people. Upon approaching the city, Eliezer, who has prayed to God regarding his assignment, comes upon a lovely young woman who readily agrees to fetch water for this stranger and for his ten camels. This was no easy effort, but Rebekah manages to provide water for all and agrees to take the stranger and his animals to her home for hospitality.

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Why I Want to be a WRJ Individual Member

by Rachel Shapiro-Wicks

Every year, my sisters, our mom, and I take a trip: a long weekend in a new city to spend some quality time together. It’s a new tradition I’ve come to look forward to each year. We don’t see much of one another during the year, living our lives in different cities with varying schedules and priorities. So our time together, while short, has become precious.

It’s not just those trips; time has become much more precious as I age. Spending quality time with friends and loved ones has become a greater priority for me in recent years. I turned 40 the year our weekend getaways began, a major milestone year to assess and reprioritize my career, my relationships, and what I can contribute to my community, to the world.

One realization became apparent, not only did I want to spend more time with my sisters but I was longing to connect with other women as well. Other Jewish women.

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How a “Girls Night Out” is Enhancing My Shabbat Celebrations

by Sharon Mann

Hafrashat challah (separating the challah) is a practice popular in Orthodox circles, as it is one of three mitzvot (commandments) considered special for women. The practice also offers opportunities for women to gather to say special prayers, often for people in need.

Although such get-togethers are sometimes viewed negatively by non-Orthodox and hiloni (secular) women in Israel, where I live, I thought a hafrashat challah program to explore this mitzvah would engage, teach, and inspire members of the women’s group at my congregation. It would also help build an inclusive community from the multi-lingual and multicultural women within our egalitarian and pluralistic synagogue.

With that, A Different Kind of Girls’ Night Out was born.

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Voices of WRJ: Vayeira

by Zabe Williams

This week’s parashah, Vayeira (“he appeared”), presents us with a non-stop drama, “rich in the complexities, passions, and challenges of family and communal life” (Rabbi Kim Geringer, The Torah: A Women’s Commentary Study Guide). Most of these stories are familiar ones: Sarah learns she will finally produce a son, despite her and her husband Abraham’s advanced age; Abraham challenges the morality of the complete destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah to no avail, as the fire and brimstone rain down to obliterate the area; Lot, Abraham’s nephew, and two of his daughters are saved from destruction at the last minute by supernatural messengers though his wife is not; Sarah and Abraham celebrate the birth of their son, Isaac, who will inherit the covenant with Abraham’s God; Sarah then demands that Abraham “cast out” Hagar and Ishmael to protect her son’s inheritance; Hagar and Ishmael face death in the desert and are saved by an angel; Abraham negotiates a treaty with Abimelech, king of Gerar, and settles in Beersheba; and finally, one of the most infamous of Torah stories, the testing of Abraham and the “binding of Isaac” that culminates with Isaac’s (and Abraham’s) last minute salvation. These are only the highlights!

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Thanks, WRJ! Fighting for Egalitarian Values in Israel

by Ronit Zemel and Liya Rechtman

Last week, we had the privilege of serving as Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) delegates to the 37th World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem. During the course of the week, we met leaders dedicated to the growth of the Reform movement in Israel, learned from African refugees and asylum seekers in Israel, joined with students from the Abdullah Ibn Al-Hussain Secondary girls’ school in East Jerusalem, and heard Knesset leaders share their vision for Israel’s future.

All these experiences came together in our final two days of the trip, when ARZA joined the other delegates of the World Zionist Congress to fight for our Zionist ideals through resolutions, votes, and (perhaps most importantly) cross-cultural dialogue.

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