Voices of WRJ: Tazria-M’tzora

Ten years ago I became a bat mitzvah, and I read from M’tzora. I still give the same summary of the parashah that I gave then: it tells us how to clean lepers of leprosy, how to clean houses of mold, and clean women when they menstruate (a ritual more commonly known as the mikvah). This year, we read Tazria and M’tzora together—Tazria adds how to clean women after childbirth and begins the remarks on leprosy. People’s eyes still widen as I tell them this. “But that’s the worst one of the year!” they exclaim. I cannot disagree.

The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, along with whatever translation I read back then, emphasizes the treatment of lepers, moldy houses, menstruating women, and new mothers as ‘ritual purification.’ Certainly, as presented, that is the tie that binds these acts together. But that was never what struck me about this portion. Reading M’tzora, all I could see was exile. The lepers and the menstruating must leave their homes and molded homes must be left.

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WRJ 2015 Mission to Israel: An Ever-Evolving Landscape

by Rozan Anderson and Lizabeth McOsker

Perhaps you followed our travels on Facebook a few weeks ago as six of us from the WRJ Executive Committee traveled to Israel. Our delegation included WRJ President Blair C. Marks, First Vice President Susan C. Bass, Vice President Abigail S. Fisher, and Executive Director Rabbi Marla J. Feldman. How wonderful it was to meet with our Reform Movement partners in Israel! From the leaders of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) and the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) and Women of the Wall, to young, dynamic rabbis and rabbinical and cantorial students and those creating community in kibbutzim and other kehillot, there is nothing that helps strengthen relationships than being with people in person and in their home environments.

We had a marvelous time, filled with camaraderie and song. And lots of wonderful food, of course! Most importantly, though, we shared ideas and discussed ways in which WRJ might support others in Israel and worldwide. We came home invigorated and bursting with thoughts, too, about our communities in North America.

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A Blessing for My Niece on Her Bat Mitzvah

by Sharon Mann

To my dear niece,

Although I am unable to be with you in person on this special day, I will be with you in spirit, thinking of you as you are called to the Torah for the first time. As I sit at my home in Israel, far from you, I am reviewing your Torah portion and want to share with you my blessing for you on this day.

Over the course of this year, as you prepared for your bat mitzvah, I also studied in a class that meets to discuss the weekly Torah portion. During my classes, I am continually reminded that the Torah, which has guided and united Jews throughout our history, is still relevant to us today. Though at first glance, a Torah portion such as yours may appear extremely challenging, it is possible to find meanings and lessons that relate to our lives.

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Liberation from Violence Against Women

WRJ has long advocated for an end to gender-based violence. To this end, we are proud to announce the second year partnering with Jewish Women International for the Mother’s Day Flower Project: send comfort with flowers and beauty products to battered women’s shelters when you send a Mother’s Day card to a special woman in your life. In honor of the WRJ/JWI Flower Project and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we present this blog on ending violence against women.

by Becky Wasserman

Even though Passover has passed, our opportunity to rise up against sources of oppression has not. As Jews, Americans, and as citizens of the world, now is always the right time to challenge modern forms of slavery and strive for the liberation of all people. I challenge everyone to continue the discussions you started at your Seder table and use April (Sexual Assault Awareness Month) as an opportunity to stand up against the modern injustice of violence against women.

In a recent report, the United Nations revealed ‘alarmingly high’ levels of violence against women around the world. 1 in 3 women will be victims of physical violence in her lifetime. While this statistic is horrific, it is certainly not unbelievable to those of us that work in the field of sexual and domestic violence. What is equally horrific to this percentage is the percentage of people who underestimate abuse in their own communities. Many Jews are guilty of this misunderstanding. The more we dismiss the prevalence of intimate partner violence in the Jewish community, the more women and men will continue to suffer in silence.

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Voices of WRJ: Sh’mini II

by Connie Kreshtool

This week’s parashah, Sh’mini (“eighth”) opens with a description of the ritual occurring the day after the seven-day ordination ceremony of Aaron as High Priest. Moses instructs Aaron and his sons with specific directions for bringing offerings to the sanctuary to atone for sins that they or the people may have committed. After completing the purgation offering, the burnt offering and the offering of well-being Moses and Aaron bless the people. When fire erupts on the altar burning everything the people interpret this as a sign that God has accepted the priesthood.

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A Reflection on Yom HaShoah: What My Mother Taught Me About Spiritual Resistance

by Aron Hirt-Manheimer

Holocaust Remembrance and Heroism Day (Yom HaShoah v’tag’vurah, commonly called Yom HaShoah) not only memorializes the six million Jews murdered but honors those Jews who took up arms against the Nazis. That is why the date chosen for this annual commemoration, the 27th of the Hebrew month of Nissan (April 16 this year), coincides with the onset of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

In Warsaw, a grand monument celebrates the heroism of these Jewish fighters. At its center we see one of the young commanders, Mordechai Anielewicz, who died in the revolt. He is holding a hand grenade.

In the small Czech town of Volary, a sculptured bronze female figure rises above the marked graves of 95 Jewish women who withstood a Nazi death march for more than three months during the coldest winter on record.

My mother would have been buried with them had a miracle not intervened.

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Pay Equity: What Can YOU Do?

Yesterday we recognized Equal Pay Day and advocated vocally for pay equity. We also announced that this year, the WRJ Jane Evans Pursuit of Justice Award Winner is Lilly Ledbetter, pay equity advocate and namesake of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Unfortunately, pay discrimination continues to be a prominent issue. We encourage you to act with your sisterhood, congregation, or community to demand equal pay for equal work, until it becomes a reality.

Lilly Ledbetter is not the first, and unfortunately will not be the last woman to face discrimination in the work place. Although there exists specific legislation to combat wage discrimination, the persistent gap between men’s and women’s salaries indicates that we must continue to fight for fair wages. One key way to continue this fight is through policy advocacy, to progress legislation like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to provide additional protections for women in our society. Read more…

Equal work deserves equal pay

On Equal Pay Day, the March for Women’s Equality Continues On

Today, on Equal Pay Day, we mark how far into this year women would have to work to earn what men did last year.

The road to equal pay has been long. Within the Reform Movement, as in secular society, this fight began with the fight for equal participation. In the years following the foundational Pittsburgh Platform of 1885, this struggle for equal participation centered on women’s role in synagogue life. Women sought, and slowly won, the right to serve on their synagogue’s board of trustees, seeking to bring their dedication and leadership within the synagogue community onto its governing body. On a national level, the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, now Women of Reform Judaism, fought for representation on the Board of Trustees of the Union for American Hebrew Congregations.

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Gearing Up for Equal Pay Day

On April 14, we celebrate Equal Pay Day, the symbolic day in the new year until which women would have to work to earn what their male counterparts earned in the previous year. In the United States today, women on average earn 78 cents for every dollar their male counterparts make. Women of color face an even greater disparity, with African American and Latina women earning an average of 64 and 54 cents on the dollar, respectively. The gender wage gap persists at all levels of education, within occupations and across industries. The pervasiveness of this disparity indicates that deeply embedded pay discrimination, rather than women’s occupational decisions, is responsible for the injustice of pay inequity.

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Voices of WRJ: Sh’mini I

by Marcy Frost

Over the years, I have heard many sermons and read various discussions regarding the deaths of Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu. Until I opened my The Torah: A Women’s Commentary to Parashat Sh’mini to read it for myself, I thought that the story of the divine combustion of Nadab and Abihu for creating “alien fire” on the altar filled the entire parashah. As is often the case, the familiar story consumes only three verses in a parashah of more than 90 verses.

An entire chapter of Sh’mini is dedicated to “the instructions concerning animals, birds, all living creatures that move in water, and all creatures that swarm on earth, for distinguishing between the impure and the pure, between the living things that may be eaten and the living things that may not be eaten”  (Leviticus, 11:46-47).  Parashat Sh’mini contains the explanation of what kinds of animals, including fish and birds, can be eaten and which are, as we say, t’reif.

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