Voices of WRJ: Chol Hamoed Sukkot

by Mindy Grinnan

This Shabbat is known as Chol HaMoed Sukkot; we read from Exodus 33:12-34:26.

As an engineer, I constantly question and seek to understand the meaning of our sacred texts. It seems to me that the Torah is a blueprint as to how we should live our lives and is designed to teach people right from wrong, how to eat healthy without refrigeration, how to perpetuate the Jewish people, how to survive, etc.

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One Penny More

by Tracy Wolf

Earlier this month, new data was released by the U.S. Census Bureau announcing that the gender wage gap is the smallest it has ever been. But, hold your excitement, because the age gap has only closed by one penny! The data found that women are now only paid 79 cents to every dollar paid to men. In previous data released in 2014, women were paid 78 cents to every dollar their male counterparts were paid. At this rate, women will not reach full pay equity until the year 2059.

Unfortunately, pay discrimination doesn’t stop at 79 cents, because the wage gap is greater for women of color. African American women are paid only 60 cents and Latinas are paid a mere 55 cents for every dollar paid to white men. Pay equity also varies by state, ranging from 65 cents to every dollar in Louisiana to 90 cents for every dollar in Washington D.C. Here you can see the gender wage gap in your state.

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My Experience with Women of the Wall

by Teresa Quiroz

On my first visit to the Holy Land I wanted it to complete a dream that I had for a long time. Since my sisterhood joined the Women of the Wall (WoW) movement I was impressed by the courage and valor of the founders of the WoW group. I heard that Anat Hoffman had started the group at least 25 years ago. My husband found a newspaper clipping from 1980 when it was international news that WoW was asserting their right to celebrate Rosh Chodesh at the Kotel as a collective Jewry. It was unheard of that women not only wanted to celebrate Rosh Chodesh but wanted to chant from the Torah at the Kotel wearing kippot, tallitot, and t’fillin! Why not; after all Rosh Chodesh has been a holiday reserved for women. Why not? Since when has chanting from the Torah scroll been for men only.

I went to Jerusalem to celebrate and join in with WoW. I wanted to show my support. I was assigned an aliyah and I prepared for the chanting with the help of Rachel Cohen Yeshurun, a WoW Board member. I met Rachel for the first time at the Reform synagogue Kol Ha Neshama. She was “borrowing” the Torah scroll for the Rosh Chodesh service. I learned then that in Israel it is illegal to bring a Torah scroll into the women’s section at the Kotel. I was well aware of the sometimes violent situations the group had endured throughout their relentless fight to be allowed to chant Torah from the scroll but I was not prepared for what ensued the following day.

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Voices of WRJ: Haazinu

Did you know that glossophobia is the fear of public speaking? According to a recent study by the National Institute of Mental Health, about 74% of people have this fear, ranking it as the most common fear in the world. Does your heart start racing when it’s time to present a speech? Do your legs and hands begin trembling prior to approaching a podium? If so, you are not alone in the modern day world, nor in the biblical world.

We all remember when God appears to Moses at the burning bush. There Moses was instructed to lead the Jewish people out of slavery and into the land of freedom. However, Moses persistently responds with, “Please, O my Lord, I have never been a man of words (Lo ish d’varim anochi), either in times past or now that You have spoken to Your servant: I am slow of speech (k’vad peh), and slow of tongue (u’ch’vad lashon)” (Exodus 4:10). Here we have one of our greatest Jewish heroes humbly protesting and replying to God, no, I am sorry, I can not assist you, I am not a good orator, therefore I can not redeem the Jewish people. This is one great example of how strong the fear of public speaking can be for anyone.

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Voices of WRJ: Vayeilech

by Leslie Brier

This weeks parashah is Parashat Vayeilech, from Deuteronomy 31:1-30. Vayeilech translates to “he went.” It recounts the events of Moses last days after he is told that his time is near the end. Leadership will be transferred to Joshua. Moses entreats Joshua to be courageous and be strong. Moses tells Joshua that God will be with him.

In the Talmud it says that the time of a ruler cannot infringe on the time of the next ruler. Recently, many sisterhood boards and WRJ District boards have changed leadership. The lesson of the Talmud is important to remember. It is hard for leaders to transfer leadership when they have worked hard to strengthen their sisterhood or district and made their mark. What if the new leaders take the sisterhood or WRJ Dstrict in another direction and don’t share your vision? This is a time to remember to be like Moses who was the paradigm of leadership: have selfless concern coupled with wise guidance. Fortunately, WRJ and its sisterhoods have resources to help with this transition. From past presidents to the WRJ Chai Society to the WRJ Consultants there are opportunities for both the past leaders and new leaders to grow.

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Voices of WRJ: Nitzavim

by Annice Benamy

“You are standing, all of you, before Adonai your God—your leaders, your tribes, your elders, your officials, every person in Israel; your wives, your children, and the stranger in the midst of your camp, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water—so that you may pass into the covenant of Adonai your God…and not with you alone do I make this covenant and this oath, but with he who is present, standing here with us today before Adonai our God, and with him who is not here with us today.”  Deut. 29:9-11 and 13-14

Parashat Nitzavim (meaning “stand”) lays down a foundation for Judaism in that the Torah is declared valid for all generations and to every member of the community. Women and men, officials and laborers, those standing before Moses and future generations commit to uphold the terms of the covenant. The people are reminded to love God with all their hearts and souls and must fulfill their part of the covenant through their loyalty to God and God’s teachings. God gave each individual and the entire community two clear choices: life and prosperity or death and adversity.

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When Women are Held Back, Humanity Remains Enchained

by Terry Glavin

Against the global scourges of poverty, hunger, war and disease, it would not be quite fair to say that after the unprecedented 15-year global effort undertaken through its Millennium Development Goals, the United Nations is now making a sow’s ear out of a silk purse with the successor strategy that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced.

It’s not that the UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals are unworthy, overly ambitious, unreasonable or unrealistic. It’s not just that the grand design for the world order by the year 2030 is an unwieldy hodgepodge of 17 goals, 69 targets and more than 300 indicators replacing the Millennium Declaration’s more elegant and straightforward eight goals, 16 targets and 48 indicators.

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Improving in the New Year

The Days of Awe bring us the opportunity and obligation to reflect on the past year and recommit ourselves to improvement for the coming year. We recognize those things we wish we had handled differently, in a more positive or appropriate manner, and we celebrate the opportunity to start again.

This can be true not only for individuals, but also for organizations. School is back in session and our routines change to accommodate this—even those without children are affected by different traffic and shopping rhythms. The WRJ office always seems busier in the fall, whether it is gearing up for the WRJ Assembly (this year November 4-8 in Orlando, FL) in odd-numbered years, or for WRJ District Conventions in even-numbered years. And our sisterhoods typically start significant programming around and immediately following the holidays, such as launching a new Chai Mitzvah or Rosh Chodesh group. We’re all starting over in a sense, and we have the opportunity to reinvent ourselves and our organizations for the coming year.
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Voices of WRJ: Ki Tavo

by Susan Pfeffer

This week’s Torah portion is Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8), which means “When you enter.” In this parashah Moses tells the people of Israel that after they have settled in the land that God gave them, they should bring the first fruits of their orchard to the Holy Temple and declare gratitude for all that God has done for them.

The instructions for bringing the First Fruit say that when the Israelite comes to the sanctuary he should identify himself historically, as in this familiar quote: “A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous” (Deuteronomy 26:5).

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Voices of WRJ: Ki Teitzei

by Marilyn Morrison

Parashat Ki Teitzei (“When you go out”) contains a significant portion of the Torah’s laws: no less than 74 mitzvot (out of 613) have been counted as deriving from this parashah.

Building the ideal Israelite society is an overriding concern of this passage. The civil, criminal, and family laws in Deuteronomy address relationships within households, among neighbors, and between the vulnerable in society and those more fortunate. While the laws in Shof’tim, the preceding parashah, address public officials, the laws in this parashah focus on what could be seen as private family matters. The prominence of laws concerning the lesser-loved wife, the punishment of wayward children, and the regulation of sexual behavior indicate that such seemingly private matters concern society as a whole. Public legislation governing these matters demonstrates the concern with building a balanced society in which all individuals are governed by the community and its laws.

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