By Resa S. Davids
WRJ-Israel came into being in Jerusalem on March 19, 2009. I had arranged a luncheon for women to be held during the WUPJ International Convention in order to strengthen the women’s track of workshops and to encourage more Israeli women to participate in the convention. Previously, I had visited 15 congregations which were affiliated with the Israel Movement for Reform &Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) in order to encourage them to consider establishing women’s groups. Goals and activities for each of these women’s groups were just in the early stages of talking and dreaming. There was no clear definition of what could or would happen as the women’s groups began to meet. I invited the women in these groups, together with women leaders from around the world who were attending the Convention, to come together for this luncheon.
During the event, I welcomed Rosanne Selfon, president of WRJ at the time. Suddenly I heard myself presenting the 40 Israeli women in the room to her as a new Israeli national organization which would be connected with WRJ and would be known as WRJ-Israel. There was no advance planning, no voting by the WRJ Board, no voting by the women in the room. It just seemed like a good idea at the time!
At the WRJ Board meeting in May 2009, the new organization was officially accepted and a decision was made to award WRJ charters and gavels to representatives of each community at the WRJ Assembly in Toronto, Canada in November, 2009. It was time for innovative thinking, very much “out of the box!”
Fifteen Israeli women’s groups became the charter members of WRJ-Israel, adopting a mission statement that reads in part:
Women of Reform Judaism-Israel, part of the global connection of Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ), is a collaborative effort of dedicated individuals who are members of IMPJ (Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism) congregations. We strongly encourage, empower, and support women to realize their potential as community leaders within Israeli society. Our guiding principle is always to be cognizant of women’s issues and perspectives. Irit Zahavi, one of the Israeli delegates to the Toronto Assembly, wrote the following about the impact of attending that International gathering:
“The Assembly was a total surprise to me. The experience was beyond all expectations… I listened to some very stimulating talks, and found myself totally unexpectedly in the most impressive worship services I have ever witnessed. At some of the occasions I felt like when I first came to the U.S in the early 70’s to teach in a Jewish summer camp. The summer camp was the first time I had a meaningful Jewish experience coming from an Austrian atheistic family and a very secular environment.
Above all it suddenly dawned on me that our most important tasks as Israelis is to spread the word of our existence, to explain how important it is to keep the dialog going between the congregations in Israel and North America. This dialog and feeling of solidarity is the only hope for our generation and for the generations to come.”
Since that first meeting in March 2009, followed by the Toronto Assembly with its plenary session devoted entirely to Israel, WRJ-Israel has grown to 25 women’s groups throughout Israel. It is very important to state clearly that we are not trying to imitate the WRJ-North American sisterhoods. We are culturally different. Our communities are not mirrors of North American Reform congregations – we are building an Israeli Movement. WRJ-Israel activities differ from our North American counterparts, such as:
- A women’s Shabbat Service honoring young women entering the military
- A women’s Sukkot party with special guests from surrounding Arab neighborhoods– including a Russian woman who taught belly dancing
- Twinning activities with sisterhoods in North America, including a Shabbat morning service in Tucson, AZ shared simultaneously with a Havdalah service in Nahariya;
- a project of sending Halloween costumes to impoverished Israeli children for Purim celebrations;
- an international classroom project, using Skype to teach sisterhood women in California to read Hebrew.
At the June 2012 IMPJ Biennial WRJ-Israel received the Ot Dor HaHalutzim Award, recognizing our women as being a generation of pioneers. The success of this nascent, innovative organization could not have happened without the ground work of NFTS Past President Dolores Wilkenfeld and her dream of Global Connections for WRJ that preceded WRJ-Israel by. Without a doubt, each one of us stands on the shoulders of those who came before us.
Resa S. Davids is the founding Chair of WRJ-Israel and member of the North American Board of WRJ. She has served on the board of ARZA (Association of Reform Zionists of America).Resa and Rabbi Stanley Davids made aliyah to Israel in February 2004 and currently reside in Jerusalem and Santa Monica, CA