Voices of WRJ: Mishpatim

by Robin Sobol

Rules! Rules! Rules! In last week’s Torah portion, God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai. This week, in Parashat Mishpatim, God legislates a series of laws for the people of Israel. There are 613 commandments in the Torah and this week’s portion contains 53 mitzvot: 23 imperative commandments and 30 prohibitions.

What are these laws that God legislates? They include penalties for murder, kidnapping, assault, and theft; civil laws pertaining to redress of damages, the granting of loans; and the rules governing the conduct of justice by courts of law. There are also laws warning against mistreatment of foreigners; the observance of the seasonal festivals, including the agricultural gifts that are to be brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem; the prohibition against cooking meat with milk; and the mitzvah of prayer.

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The Israel/Syria Story No One is Talking About

by Sharon Mann

Having followed news about Israel for most of my adult life, it seems to me that the common expression “bad news travels fast” especially applies to stories about Israel in the foreign press. The flip side of that expression seems to hold true as well: Positive news about Israel seems to travel slowly.

I’ve been thinking more about this recently as I welcome groups and individuals from all over the world—Jews from all streams of Judaism, as well as non-Jews—to the Galilee Medical Center (GMC). I am a liaison in its International Affairs Department.

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Voices of WRJ: Yitro

by Karen Goldberg

The focus of this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, is the revelation at Sinai: a defining moment in the foundation of the Jewish people. According to midrash, all of Israel was present at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given, and thousands of years later, the commandments given at Sinai still inform how we live today—teaching us to be moral and just in a world filled with immorality and violence, to be kind and compassionate while so many others are unkind and indifferent.

We may ask, why was the Torah given to the Israelites at this particular point in time? And how do we as modern Reform Jews continue to stand ready to receive Torah as if we were at Sinai ourselves? How do we keep ourselves open to spiritual growth?

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On the Anniversary of the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the Fight for Fair Pay Continues

At the 2015 Assembly in Orlando, Florida, WRJ reaffirmed its commitment to achieving pay equity by passing a new resolution, and awarded Lilly Ledbetter the WRJ Jane Evans “Pursuit of Justice” Award. For more information on how you can integrate the new resolution on Pay Equity into your sisterhood programming, read our Programming and Advocacy Guide. Also, be sure to watch this video of Lilly’s keynote address from Assembly.

January 29 marks the seventh anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. A major victory in the fight for women’s pay equity, the Ledbetter Act was the very first bill that President Barack Obama signed into law. Read more…

Today, The World Takes a Moment to Remember

by Jacob Kraus

For the past 10 years, the United Nations has commemorated the annual International Day of Commemoration, to honor the memories of the victims of the Holocaust. The day, observed by countries around the world, always takes place on January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945. The U.N. holds events all week long, this year under the theme of “The Holocaust and Human Dignity.”

On Monday, Germany began its observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day with a performance by 90-year old Eva Fahidi, who survived Auschwitz and shared her experience there through dance. Berlin’s Parliament held a ceremony honoring non-Jews who helped to preserve the Jewish history of their towns and cities on Monday, as well. President Obama will be speaking at the Israeli Embassy’s Holocaust Remembrance event in Washington, D.C. The ceremony, which is being organized by Yad Vashem, will recognize four members of the Righteous Among the Nations – non-Jews who took brave actions to help Jews survive the Holocaust.

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Voices of WRJ: B’shalach

by Sherri Feuer

B’shalach, Exodus 13:17-17:16, recounts the Israelite’s crossing of the Sea of Reeds, the culmination of their departure from Egypt. Once the Israelites cross the sea, their sojourn from Egypt is truly a reality. The Israelites rejoice in their new freedom. Miriam leads the women in the song.

We celebrate the Israelite’s trek to freedom every Pesach. The story has drama, suspense and celebration—it’s a wonderful story to retell. We now know, however, that the crossing of the sea was not the end of the struggles for the Jewish people. The Israelites would endure food shortages and military threats before they ultimately reached the Promised Land.

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Protect Stalking Victims from Gun Violence

WRJ has robust policy around gun violence prevention and gender-based violence. In 1991, WRJ passed a resolution on Crimes Against Women, calling upon its members to educate about and advocate against domestic abuse in order to protect the life, well-being and health-both physical and emotional-of all. In 2013, WRJ’s Board of Directors passed a statement on gun violence prevention, calling upon all its American sisterhoods to urge the immediate enactment of legislation that would serve to prevent gun violence and to educate communities to become knowledgeable advocates for strong gun violence prevention measures. 

A few months ago for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I wrote about the unlikely connection between domestic violence and gun violence, and how the intersection of these two issues has resulted in continuous threats to women’s safety in the United States. Of U.S. women killed by intimate partners, 55% were killed with guns and 76% experienced stalking in the year prior to their murder. As January is National Stalking Awareness Month, it is important that we also explore the connection between gun violence and stalking. Read more…

Voices of WRJ: Bo

by Lynne Merriam

The Exodus story is one of the most recognizable stories in the Torah. Even very young children in preschool learn about Moses, the plagues, and the rituals of Pesach. What is often not taught is that an underlying theme of the story is that Moses began a partnership with God that has been passed down to us today.

As Women of Reform Judaism, we take our partnership with God and Reform Judaism very seriously. Although we are faced with new “plagues” in the form of anti-Semitism, terror threats, the ongoing crises faced by Israel, and the growth of ISIS, we feel that our commitment to WRJ enables us to develop a positive partnership with life and to honor God through our commitment to tikkun olam, our heritage, and our bonds with our Jewish sisters.

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Engage Around Issues of Human Trafficking During January

Women of Reform Judaism has passed many resolutions focusing on human rights issues including the trafficking of women and children, displaying its commitment to combating this injustice that impacts too many. 

January marks Human Trafficking Awareness Month, which is meant to underscore the need to destigmatize important discussions about human trafficking and call attention to key facts and realities about modern-day slavery.

Human trafficking, also known as trafficking in persons, is the illegal trade of people for exploitation or commercial gain. It is a form of modern-day slavery that impacts at least 20 to 30 million men, women and children each year. This modern-day slavery occurs in countries throughout the world and in communities across the United States. Though there are many types of human trafficking, perhaps the most devastating is the trafficking and forced labor and servitude of children. At least five million victims of trafficking are children, and at least 17,000 of those are from the United States. Read more…

Voices of WRJ: Va-eira

You are very familiar with this week’s Torah portion, because we retell the story every year at Pesach! Nonetheless, this Shabbat, we read the second portion in the Book of Exodus. Exodus, by the way, from the Greek word meaning “departure from Egypt,” is called Sh’mot in Hebrew, meaning “names.” There are so many names—including women’s names—in both last week’s portion and in Va-eira. This is notable, since the names of our female Biblical predecessors are often not mentioned in Torah. But here, we have many specific names and specific explanations of their personality traits and their relationships.

LET MY PEOPLE GO! This is the refrain from the familiar story we read in Parashat Va-eira (“I appeared”). Moses and Aaron are dispatched to Pharaoh to prevail upon him to let the Israelites leave slavery in Egypt. The first seven of the 10 plagues occur in this portion.

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