Voices of WRJ: Tzav



by Becky Markowitz

Our Torah portion this week, Tzav from Leviticus, presents challenges to our modern-day thinking as it discusses ritual rules, offerings, and sacrifices; but, I see it as a very simple and profound lesson. Instead of sacrifices or goods, we are to bring or offer the very best of ourselves to God and in doing so we make the world better. Rituals offer us a way to bring meaning to our lives and carry on traditions that have been passed to us and create ones to pass onto future generations. It also reminds us to be thankful and not take for granted many things in our daily lives. Not only does this make sense, but it makes us responsible for our actions and reminds us that we control more than we sometimes think.

Women have always been leaders and were key and vital members in the biblical community – even though the Torah did not recognize them by name. Today WRJ stands proudly as women leaders in North America, Israel, and all around the world. We lead the way in prayer, support of community, civil rights, gay rights, youth, and so much more. Women get things done. They enhance the home, the bimah, the board room, and every room. We need to proudly and enthusiastically ask women to become part of our WRJ family so they can continue the work that we are doing. As our tagline states – ‘Stronger Together!’

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This is the Bread of Affliction



This is the Bread of Affliction our foremothers baked as they fled the land of slavery. Gathering their children and their possessions, they embarked upon a journey in the wilderness, leading us to freedom.

This is the Bread of Affliction eaten by Hannah, a courageous mother who gave faith and comfort to her seven sons as they were tortured by Antiochus, a mother martyred along with her children, a heroine of the Maccabbean revolt against oppressors.

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Voices of WRJ: Vayikra



by Ann Fishkin

This week’s Torah portion, Vayikra, is from the third book of the Torah: Leviticus. Vayikra, which is the first word in the book, is Hebrew for “and God called.”

In this Torah portion, God calls Moses into the tent and explains the different sacrifices that atone for guilt or sins, and distinguishes between sins committed inadvertently and sins committed on purpose. For many crimes, animal sacrifice was a way to gain forgiveness from God.

These sacrifices ceased to be practiced when the Temple was destroyed and are completely foreign to our lives today. But, we still need to atone for our sins, especially if we want to live with integrity and at peace with ourselves and with our God.

Let me back up a minute: I always like to define my terms before I start speaking about them. This helps keep us on the same page.

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The Right to Wear a Kippah in Israel



by Liya Rechtman

I don’t remember the first time I skimmed my skull with a bobby pin and pushed a circle of knitted white cloth and strands of hair into its metal clasp. Wearing a kippah felt like a natural extension of the Jewish history I was learning and the Hebrew grammar and vocabulary that was quickly becoming the primary language through which I understood my surroundings. I was 15 years old, and I had chosen to study on Kibbutz Tzuba with Eisendrath International Exchange as a return to both my symbolic, spiritual home as diaspora Jew, and to my familial home, only miles away from the kibbutz where my father grew up and his parents and siblings still lived. I wanted to know, as I began to plan out my college career, if Israel would be my future home, if the army would be my intermediary step and if I would, perhaps, studying at Hebrew University  instead of an American university.

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Voices of WRJ: Vayak’heil-P’kudei



by Sandi Firsel

This week is a double parashah: Exodus 35:1-38:20, Vayak’heil and Exodus 38:21- 40:38, P’kudei. Vayak’heil deals with laborious and detailed instructions explaining the building of the Tent, the Tabenacle, and the Courtyard. The Israelites now feel sure that God will be with them, so long as they do not disobey God’s word. They are ready and eager to make a physical place for God to dwell. Moses calls upon everyone to participate in this task saying, “Everyone whose heart is moved shall bring gifts to God.” People brought the finest metals, gems, skins, linens, and other costly items to contribute. It is believed that the women were significant contributors of the materials which were integral to building the sacred place. Females were capable artisans who could turn raw materials of textile into exquisite fabric. Also, it appeared that women owned valuables and could make decisions, independently of their fathers and husbands, about their donations. This assumption is demonstrated clearly when the “Golden Calf” was constructed and the women withheld their gold, rings, and jewelry to something they did not believe in, but were committed donors to God’s dwelling place.

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“At Sci-Tech You Build A Family.” An Interview With Jules, A Pioneer Camper



This week we are thrilled to announce and celebrate a second year of WRJ-funded scholarships for girls to attend the URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy. Moreover, we are doubling last year’s $5,000 commitment to women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), providing $10,000 in scholarships for this summer. In honor of this important contribution, we will be featuring blogs this week on the importance of supporting and mentoring young women and girls in STEM. Read last year’s blog series.

Today, we hear from Jules, a returning Sci-Tech camper and past WRJ scholarship recipient.

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Women of Reform Judaism, AND of STEM



This week we are thrilled to announce and celebrate a second year of WRJ-funded scholarships for girls to attend the URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy. Moreover, we are doubling last year’s $5,000 commitment to women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), providing $10,000 in scholarships for this summer. In honor of this important contribution, we will be featuring blogs this week on the importance of supporting and mentoring young women and girls in STEM. Read last year’s blog series.

Today, a WRJ Staff member writes about leaving mathematics, only to find that her interest in STEM is reflected throughout WRJ.


After I graduated college, I decided that I wasn’t going to pursue mathematics. I had spent four years obsessed with analysis and group theory, but after two summers of research and two national conferences, I wasn’t sure it was the world for me. I wanted to do something more than sit in front of a chalkboard for days on end, to come up with a proof that would only have practical applications hundreds of years later, if I was lucky. Don’t get me wrong—pure mathematics is an incredible field with many inspired individuals and teams; I just realized that I wanted to work for an organization that did good in the world, worked with people, and gave back to the community.

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Three Moments from NFTY Convention



This week we are thrilled to announce and celebrate a second year of WRJ-funded scholarships for girls to attend the URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy. Moreover, we are doubling last year’s $5,000 commitment to women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), providing $10,000 in scholarships for this summer. In honor of this important contribution, we will be featuring blogs this week on the importance of supporting and mentoring young women and girls in STEM. Read last year’s blog series.

Today, we learn about the impact URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy had at NFTY Convention this year, including at a special workshop featuring WRJ President and woman-in-STEM Blair Marks.


by Greg Kellner

Exhilarating and Inspiring! These two words describe NFTY Convention, where 1,000 teens and more than 200 youth professionals gather every other year to learn, to celebrate, and to live in a wholly and holy Jewish world for five days. I want to share some personal highlights that made the convention uniquely special for me.

The Science Service
Two months prior to the conference, Robbie (our Assistant Director) and I were asked to lead a weekday service with the theme of science. While we had one summer of practice under our belt, this was just for teens and we wanted it to relate. Many of our prayers relate directly to science and we shared this with the teens. Asher Yatzar, sometimes referred to as the “bathroom prayer”, thanks God for ensuring our body’s openings are working properly. Another morning blessing thanks God for opening the eyes of the blind, and is relevant in a time when transplanting an eye is within the realm of possibility. One attendee shared with his fellow teens that prior to this service he had never felt connected with worship but he left this service having felt a connection to prayer in a new way.

Sci-Tech at NFTY Convention

Greg, Robbie and some of our Sci-Tech Staff at NFTY Convention and Youth Summit

Mentoring Teens in Non-traditional Fields
I had the pleasure of planning and leading a session for youth professionals in partnership with Blair Marks, President of Women of Reform Judaism. We joined together with eight other committed youth professionals to discuss how mentoring could change the face of how we engage kids in our synagogues. What if we found mentors in our temples that were engineers and scientists, and helped to guide them toward life choices that embrace Jewish values? How would this change the way teens grow up in our synagogues, forming relationships with professionals in not just science and engineering, but in other professions as well? Both Blair and I have an interest and commitment to more women involved in STEM, so this was our approach to mentoring, but it became apparent during the workshop that there were so many more possibilities for how we can guide and inspire our youth by capitalizing on the resources right in our own congregations. 80% of the girls who attended last summer at 6 Points Sci-Tech are returning, and one reason is because these campers had incredible mentors in their counselors who took an interest in their campers, and who campers viewed as strong female role models.

Understanding and Overcoming Disabilities
I watched our teens at they were mesmerized by Matan Koch, a fellow Eisner Alum and friend, who has lived his life with CP. I recall Matan as a kid, using his motorized wheelchair to get around the hills and roads of camp. I watched as Matan described his journey and how he thrived in the face of adversity, and ultimately was appointed by President Obama to be on the President’s Council on Disabilities. It was clear that Matan was an inspiring figure for teens to go home and start or continue their work of inclusivity to ensure that all teens could experience full participation in NFTY or programs at their synagogues.

Every other year when I attend NFTY Convention, I am re-energized by the work going on in our movement, in particular by our teen leaders.  From the moment I landed in Los Angeles for my first NFTY Convention in 1999, I felt an incredible connection to the community by which I was surrounded. I am grateful that I can continue to experience these moments as an adult and facilitate these memorable moments for others.

Originally posted on the URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy Blog.

Greg Kellner is the URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy Director.

‘Make it Happen’ on International Women’s Day and Bloody Sunday



Today is the commemoration of Bloody Sunday – that day in Selma, AL 50 years ago that is seared into our visual memory, even for those who were not there or not even alive at that time. Hundreds of civil rights activists standing toe to toe with hostile state troopers wielding billy clubs and an angry mob ready to attack. Like Moses standing before Pharoah, they choked down their fears and dared to ‘speak truth to power.’

Many heroes joined Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Edmund Pettus Bridge that day and throughout the struggle for civil rights. Our nation’s soul owes them a debt of gratitude: the freedom riders who risked their lives in the cause of justice; the students who faced gauntlets of hatred for the right to go to school; the men and women who sat together at lunch counters; the lawyers who defended them and challenged unjust laws; the clergy who spoke truth from the pulpits of churches and synagogues despite bomb threats and arson; and the politicians who, finally, heard their pleas and changed their hearts.

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Voices of WRJ: Ki Tisa



by Dr. Sharon Z. Draznin

Parashat Ki Tisa, in the book of Exodus, begins with Moses taking a census of the Israelites (men over the age of 20) and collecting a half-shekel from each person to be used for the construction and upkeep of the Tabernacle. Taking a census involves counting, to determine the total number or to have merit, importance, or value, as in, “Your contribution really counts.”

When I look at the more literal meaning of counting, I can see a direct relationship to WRJ and sisterhood in terms of membership. It is vitally important to the health of our cherished organizations that we encourage and nurture membership. Even though this portion refers to adult Israelite men, we can, in these modern times, and in a more inclusive and participatory society, understand that the example stated above is one that creates a positive and healthy model for us today. I encourage you to think about ways you can involve yourself and others in becoming active members of your local sisterhood and of WRJ in a larger and broader sense.

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