Voices of WRJ: Bo

As a narrative, this week’s Torah portion, Bo, discusses the last three plagues visited upon the Egyptians: locusts, darkness, and the slaying of the first-born son. It covers the beginning of the Exodus as well as ritual preparation for and customary remembrance of the Exodus.

Thematically, this parashah deals with God’s omnipotence, leadership, remembrance and institutionalized memory.

The text reads:

You shall observe this (the Passover ritual) as an institution for all time, for you and for your descendants.  And when you enter the land that Adonai will give you, as promised, you shall observe this rite. When your children ask you, “What do you mean by this rite?” you shall say, it is the Passover sacrifice to Adonai, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when smiting the Egyptians…  (Bo 12:24-27).

It is here that we, as Jews, are instructed to celebrate Passover and to instruct our children, from generation to generation, l’dor vador, through ritual and with explanation. Literally, this pertains to keeping the memory of the Exodus alive, while this symbolically refers to remembering and teaching about all Jewish institutionalized memories—all exoduses, expulsions, annihilations, and holocausts in order to maintain our heritage and Judaism.

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Reform Jewish Movement Marks Roe v. Wade Anniversary; Condemns Dangerous House Bill

Today, we commemorate the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established the constitutionally protected right of a woman to decide whether or not to have an abortion. In an affront to the legacy of Roe v. Wade, the House of Representatives voted this afternoon to pass the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2015, a dangerous bill to restrict abortion access. On the occasion of the Roe anniversary and of the House vote, Rachel Laser, Deputy Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Rabbi Marla J. Feldman, Executive Director of Women of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

Today, as we mark the 42nd anniversary of the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, we take heart that for more than four decades, women have had the right to make their own reproductive health decisions, ensuring control over their bodies and lives. At the same time, we recognize that our work is far from done. Despite Roe, safe, legal and affordable reproductive health care is still not a reality for too many women in the United States. In nearly 90 percent of counties across the United States, there are no abortion providers available. Mandatory waiting periods and other onerous restrictions are the norm in states nationwide.

Today, we are reminded once again of the constant stream of attacks on women’s access to abortion, which particularly harm women struggling to make ends meet. While the House of Representatives wisely reversed its plan to vote on a bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks of gestation, the House instead passed a similarly dangerous bill, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2015 (H.R. 7). This bill, if it becomes law, would reinforce the harrowing reality that a woman’s ability to access reproductive health care – and thus to make private medical decisions based on her faith and her needs – is limited by her economic status.

Judaism teaches that the life and well-being of the woman is of higher value than the potential life of the developing fetus. We will continue to dedicate ourselves to ensuring that all women, regardless of their income level, have access to the health care services they need.

In the spirit of Roe v. Wade and in accordance with our Jewish values, take action today to urge your Senators not to take up H.R. 7. We must work to ensure this dangerous bill does not become law.

On the Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Raising Our Voices for Reproductive Justice

On January 22, we commemorate the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that established the constitutionally protected right of a woman to choose whether or not to have an abortion. The Court held that under the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of due process, the government’s interest in protecting potential life does not always outweigh a woman’s right to privacy in her health decisions. Though this constitutional protection still exists, subsequent court decisions and state and federal laws have slowly chipped away at the decision, establishing significant obstacles to abortion access and leaving our Roe rights at risk.

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Let Us Not Be Silent: The Jewish Quest for Civil Rights, from Selma to Ferguson

by Rabbi Rick Jacobs

Throughout his life, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached sermons, he often turned to the Book of Exodus to build his homilies. On April 7, 1957, at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL, a 28-year-old Dr. King began his sermon with these words:

“I would like to use as a basis for our thinking together a story that has long since been stenciled on the mental sheets of succeeding generations. It is the story of the Exodus, the story of the flight of the Hebrew people from the bondage of Egypt, through the wilderness, and finally to the Promised Land. It’s a beautiful story…. This is something of the story of every people struggling for freedom.”

Each year for the past 2,000 years, we Jews have told this story of the Exodus from Egyptian bondage. It is the story of our struggle for freedom. In Exodus, we read of a great leader who spoke truth to power, a man who wouldn’t take no for an answer, a man who stood his ground against the cruelty of the ancient Pharaoh.

In so many ways, Dr. King was like our teacher, Moses.

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Voices of WRJ: Va-eira

by Judith Shor Ning

This portion relates the covenant that God offered the people of Israel, Moses’ demands to Pharoah, and the first of the plagues. In spite of the participation of the “People Of Israel” in this process, women are not really mentioned (although lines of descent do name four women in 6:14-24). We know our foremothers were there, and included in that covenant—“I will take you to be My people, and I will be your God”—and we certainly know how central they have always been in maintaining our relationship with Adonai, but they remain unacknowledged.

Lately I have been mulling and kvelling over WRJ’s support of NFTY’s 75th birthday. In our own “covenant” with them, and like the unnamed women, we birthed a “people” (NFTY itself) and have supported this part of our family through its life.

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Voices of WRJ: Sh’mot

by Lindie Henderson

Parashat Sh’mot begins the Book of Exodus and the story of Moses as he becomes the somewhat-reluctant leader of the Israelites. Pharaoh has enslaved the increasingly-large population of Hebrews whom he believes will rebel against him and he begins a campaign to slay new-born male babies.

While exploring the commentaries and poetry in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary and discussions online, I was reminded of two topics that have resonated for me for years.

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Left Out: News from the Western Wall

by Jonathan Edelman

When I had the chance go to the Kotel, or the Western Wall, I was able to walk up to the men’s section, find an open section of wall, and run my hands over the coarse, grey stone that I’d heard about ever since I learned the letter aleph. I had an unexpectedly intense connection with my Jewish identity, the kind of clichéd connection I thought only existed in the stories of Birthright trip promoters. I treasure that experience, but I know that part of the reason I was able to have that experience was because I’m fortunate. As a man, I could wear a tallit at the Kotel without being arrested, and I could go to the spacious men’s section instead of the crowded, smaller, women’s section. Because of these things, I was able to have a much better experience than my female counterparts.

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WRJ Fried Leadership Conference: Jewish Ladies’ Camp

Time is running out to register for WRJ Fried Leadership Conference 2015, taking place Jan. 30 – Feb. 1, 2015, “deep in the heart” of Austin, TX—the deadline is Friday, Jan. 16! Read about Andrea’s experience attending WRJ FLC 2013 and her excitement for the upcoming conference. 

by Andrea Gingold

Imagine yourself in a room with 240 Jewish women from all over the country singing and praying in Hebrew, and decorated in colorful pins and ribbons. I call it “Jewish Ladies’ Camp” and that was my introduction to the WRJ at the WRJ Fried Leadership Conference (FLC) in 2013 in Cincinnati, OH. For a moment I was a little concerned that I didn’t sing, didn’t know the prayers, and didn’t have the appropriate bling. That all changed the moment I was given my name tag: my WRJ District leaders spotted me, adorned me with our colors, and welcomed me to the conference. I was in, and armed with the right accessories I felt sure I could tackle the songs and prayers, eventually. Seriously, the warmth I experienced from all the attendees was reassuring that I was in the right place and that the conference was going to be a wonderful weekend.

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Voices of WRJ: Va-y’chi

by Carol S. LeBovidge

This week’s parashah is Va-y’chi. As I was reading the portion, I began to wonder how this would fit into our lives today. Va-y’chi starts by telling us the length of Jacob’s life, 147 years, 17 of which were spent in Egypt. The story almost appears as the last will and testament of Jacob. He instructs Joseph, his favorite son, to bury him in Canaan with his ancestors.

We next learn of the blessings that Jacob makes on his grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh. They are Joseph’s sons who Jacob adopts so that they will be counted among the tribes with Jacob’s other sons. Then Jacob blesses them, first the younger son, Ephraim, and then Menasseh. This reminded me of Isaac blessing Jacob, the younger, first and then Esau. Of course, that involved a little treachery on Rebekkah’s behalf.

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Voices of WRJ: Vayigash

by Renee Roth

The highlight of Parashat Vayigash is when Joseph shows his true identity to his brothers. Joseph is so excited to see his brothers that he reveals who he is, and sends his brothers to get their father, Jacob. Jacob is thrilled to know that his favorite son Joseph is alive, and he and his whole family move to Egypt.

A true reconciliation and family reunion, complete with forgiveness of past sins.

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