Voices of WRJ: Parashat D’varim

by Laurel Fisher

The bush is aflame, I hear the call

Like Moses, I hesitate

But through the journey, I find my voice

Yes, I am a leader

As this week’s Torah portion opens, I am struck by the power of words to develop and define a leader. Before we dive into D’varim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22), let’s first reflect back on Moses’ early conversations with God.

While out tending his flock in Midian, Moses comes across a bush burning unconsumed and he is given the instructions to return to Egypt and confront Pharaoh. Like many of us, Moses questions his ability to lead, partially out of modesty and partially out of fear of how he will be received and whether he will be successful. He has many concerns, most of which center around the ability to communicate: Why me? What should I say? What if they don’t listen to me? Moses’ final objection is voiced in Exodus 4:10: “Please, O Lord, I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now… I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” Read more…

Reflections on the National Leadership Assembly for Israel

by Rosanne M. Selfon with Sharon K. Benoff, Jeanne W. Kahn, Rachel Maryn, and Helene H. Waranch

Inspiring, exciting, honored and distinguished… these words describe how our five WRJ representatives to Monday’s National Leadership Assembly for Israel felt as they joined several hundred Jewish leaders from across North America at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to demonstrate solidarity for Israel. With just a few days to organize, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, of which WRJ is a member, put together an impressive array of speakers, from both sides of the political aisle. Cameras were flashing, interviews and sidebar conversations took place, and warm greetings between colleagues filled the room to overflowing.

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Voices of WRJ: Parashat Matot

by Rozan Anderson

This week’s parashah, Matot (Numbers 30:2-32:42), continues the story of Moses and the people as they near the end of 40 years in the desert, on the “eve” of entering the Promised Land from the east side of the Jordan River.

The central themes revolve around the making, keeping, breaking, annulment, and alteration of vows or obligations to God, ourselves, and others.
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An Evening with Female Legends in Berlin

This evening I was privileged to see history in the making, attending a forum honoring the first woman rabbi, Germany’s Regina Jonas. Jonas was ordained by Rabbi Max Dienemann in 1935, but her memory had been largely lost to history until some of her papers were discovered in 1991. Co-sponsored by the American Jewish Archives and Jewish Women’s Archive, the forum was held at Centrum Judaicum in what was once the women’s section of the New Synagogue in Berlin and featured a panel discussion among modern “firsts:”

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Thoughts from Israel as “Operation Protective Edge” Continues

by Rabbi Stanley M. Davids

As the tragedy in Gaza and throughout Israel continues to unfold, it might be helpful to share some of our personal experiences and feelings.  You certainty don’t need our letters to get the latest facts on the ground, though it is obvious to us that much of what is being reported as facts by multiple sources throughout the world may fall short of reaching the status of objective truth.

Wherever we go, public buildings have little signs pointing out where the nearest bomb shelters are to be found. This is comforting, of course. It’s also quite disturbing for those of us who are trying to pretend that we are really continuing to live a normal life. We were shocked to discover that that are many housing units throughout Israel that do not have bomb shelters near at hand. Some of our kibbutz cousins in the Negev, well within reach of missiles, have only an entrance hall which is somewhat secure.

By the way, denial is an effective defense against reality for only a limited amount of time. We have pretty much passed that limit.

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Voices of WRJ: Parashat Masei

“Birth is a beginning and death a destination; But life is a journey, a sacred pilgrimage.” So goes the poem written by Alvin Fine. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it is part of our Yizkor liturgy.

This week’s parashah is called “Masei” which means “journeys.” This is of course associated with the segments of the journey of the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land.

The parashah, however, tells us not so much of the “journeying” but rather of the stops they made along the way–42 in all.  Egypt was called “Mitzrayim” by the Israelites, meaning “a narrow place, or a place of confinement.” Thinking in personal terms, these steps or stages can be said to mirror our own lives as we journey on our own personal “exodus from Egypt” toward our destination, which would be the spiritual counterpart of the Land of Israel.

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Under Siege: Jerusalem

by Resa and Rabbi Stanley Davids

We made Aliyah on February 22, 2004. We were sitting in our taxi happily chatting about our decision to center our lives in Israel when we approached our new home. As we slowed to make a turn, we looked right and saw a destroyed bus stop. Earlier that day, a suicide bomber had blown up a bus with school children there.

A memorial is now affixed to a wall near that bus stop, a memorial for murdered Jewish children. For us, that memorial is a touchstone connecting us to our arrival home. We often walk past that spot; we never fail to discuss how our souls are connected to it. And now fast forwarding many years…

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An Account of Life in Israel

by Janet Toar

How can I write an account of what it is like to live through alerts, sirens, constant worry… to be so immersed in minute-by-minute reporting; thoughts of soldiers, political and military decision makers, children’s reactions, world opinion, and the effect on tourism, economy, quality of life, our personal and national security, and our future here. While I could not represent anyone other than myself, in my story there may be a common thread with others who are psychologically and physically swept up with the dangers literally on our front steps.

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Voices of WRJ: Parashat Pinchas

This week we celebrate our foremothers Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah, the daughters of Zelophehad, whose model of advocacy for social justice still stands thousands of years later.

Zelophehad has died in the wilderness, leaving no son to inherit. Traditionally, land was inherited through the male line but Zelophehad had died leaving five daughters and no sons. When the allocations were being made to the tribe of Manasseh, the Torah says that the daughters of Zelophehad came forward and, “stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the chieftains, and the whole assembly, at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting,” and they said in part, “Our father died in the wilderness…he has left no sons. Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen (Numbers 27:2-4)!”

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From Suffrage to Hobby Lobby: Jewish Women’s Advocacy

[Adapted from ‘Why Advocacy is Central to Reform Judaism’ published by the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, 2007]

“We are a fellowship of women, religiously motivated… dedicated to the service of Jewish and humanitarian causes through the centrality of Judaism, the religion through which we translate our beliefs into deed for the benefit of K’lal Israel (the whole of the household of Israel) and mankind.”

So wrote Dr. Jane Evans, first Executive Director of the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods (NFTS, now WRJ) in a 1949 statement on the philosophy of our organization. For Dr. Evans, the two bedrock principles of WRJ were, first, the centrality of our Jewish faith, and, second, our devotion to social justice. For her, a belief in Judaism inevitably led to a passion for justice–and the demand that we act collectively to make the dream of a better world a reality.

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