With Enormous Heart & Soul, Women’s League’s Convention 2008 Is a Success

The more than 500 delegates who traveled to Detroit (actually, Dearborn) weren’t quite sure what to expect from the first Women’s League biennial convention in several decades to be held outside the Northeast. What they found was four days filled with exciting speakers, inspiring programming, and the camaraderie found at any Women’s League event.

“The programming is almost incidental,” said one delegate. “It’s the energy, discussions and exchanges in the hallways that are really important.”

A far-reaching bylaws amendment that passed overwhelmingly in the first days of convention will open membership in affiliated sisterhoods to any woman who supports the Women’s League mission, as long as the congregation’s rabbi approves. Women’s League, which is committed to the preservation and vitality of the Jewish people, understands the urgency of reaching out to non-Jews married to Jews in the hope that they will move closer to Judaism and ultimately choose to convert. Sisterhoods — both by design and by practice–provide the knowledge, skills and experiences necessary to foster a Jewish home and lifestyle; they should be a warm and welcoming gateway into Jewish life for all women. By passing this bylaw change, those already contemplating conversion or in the process of conversion, as well as those married to Jews, and/or raising Jewish children can benefit from the unique support and encouragement that sisterhoods provide.

Reflecting members’ commitment to tikkun olam—repairing the world—more than 15,000 handmade scarves and hats were brought to convention to be donated to Jewish Family Services of Detroit, which will distribute them to the poor and needy of the area. According to one of the delegates, who also volunteers at JFS, Women’s League is “the talk of the town.” What began as an idea for utilitarian convention centerpieces soon involved thousands of women across the continent. Bins and bags at the Hyatt Regency Dearborn were overflowing with the beautiful work of their hands. In addition, over 50 fleece blankets were made for Project Linus by women who participated in the convention’s open studio.

Another highlight of convention was the introduction of Women’s League’s newest publication, With Strength & Splendor: Jewish Women as Agents of Change, by Education Director Lisa Kogen. A native Detroiter, Kogen has brought to life 47 North American Jewish women who made lasting contributions to our world, from Nobel laureates to authors and athletes, from jurors and educators to fashion mavens and beauty experts, from doctors and nurses to singers and dancers. Kogen brought the hall to its feet as she described two of her favorite women from the book: Frances Slanger, who was the first female casualty of the D-Day invasion forces, and Ida Cohen Rosenthal, who revolutionized women’s lives with the Maidenform bra, releasing thankful generations of women from the tyranny of densely constructed corsets. The theme of the book reverberated throughout convention as several speakers also described the biblical matriarchs as agents of change.

Plenary sessions highlighted the “soul” of Women’s League’s new initiative of Mitzvah Yomit–A Mitzvah A Day, with presentations by chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary Dr. Arnold Eisen and dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson. Both men stressed Women’s League’s role in preserving a strong and healthy Conservative movement. Dr. Eisen said that by observing the mizvot we grow into being the Jews that God wants us to be and that the Conservative movement is becoming more innovative in its outreach as women have established more leadership roles. He expounded on his mitzvah initiative for the whole movement explaining that as covenanted partners with God, mitzvot are actions that we undertake together with God. According to Rabbi Artson, “Women’s League is the backbone of the movement. It shows us how rich and beautiful a life of mitzvot is.” Delegates received Mitzvah Yomit cards with blessings for special occasions and lists of potential mitzvot that they can perform every day. Listen to Rabbi Bradley Artson’s presentation to the convention.

On Tuesday evening, Women’s League honored the 15 women chosen from the hundreds who had been nominated by their sisterhoods for the new Baalat Mitzvah Award. The award, designed to acknowledge the “mitzvah” work being done by members across the Women’s League network, acknowledged mitzvot as diverse as building a playground for the disabled to thousands of hours of pro bono legal work.

At the plenary session on the heart of the matter—women’s health—Drs. Ruth Lerman, Barbara Levin, and Rhoda Pomerantz—all Women’s League members—discussed cancer, geriatrics, health insurance, medical care, and their own personal journeys through sisterhood. A theme of all three was the importance of exercise and the need to maintain a healthy weight.

Israel at 60 was another theme that carried through several sessions of convention beginning with presentations by Rabbi Danny Nevins, dean of the JTS rabbinical school, and Cantor Meir Finkelstein of Congregation Shaarey Zedek, Southfield, Michigan, and culminating with a performance by the Women’s League choral group, under the direction of Florence Belfer whose singers took time out of their precious free to time to rehearse a musical review of the history of Israel.

And there was more. There were the sessions devoted to sisterhoods and their needs; sessions directed to the leadership of the 13 Women’s League regions; daily services with exciting guest teachers Rabbi David Golinkin (president of the Schechter Institute), Dr. Vanessa Ochs (associate professor at the University of Virginia), and Rabbi Eric Yanoff (Congregation Shaarey Zedek); author’s workshops with Maggie Anton (Rashi’s Daughters), Debra Band (The Book of Psalms), and Karen Tintori (Book of Names); creative Judaic arts sessions, yoga, special sessions for Z’havah women under 45ish, and resolutions.

Women’s League convention is always full of camaraderie and excitement. This year was no exception. As one delegate wrote, “Convention is a fabulous experience! There is so much positive energy—I only hope that I can channel some of it and bring it home. Rabbi Artson’s talk made me cry; Chancellor Eisen also moved me, but in a different way. His was a call to action and I intend to follow up.”

Plan to be with Women’s League in 2010 when we reconvene in Baltimore, Maryland.

Women’s League presented the first ever Baalot Mitzvah Awards to exemplary doers of mitzvot. Chairs Ziza Pallia and Myra Promisel join President Cory Schneider in presenting a copy of With Strength & Splendor to winner Silvia Weitzman of Tampa, Florida. Baalat Mitzvah winner Elisa Leavitt of Boca Raton, Florida. Delegate Roz Citronowicz, of Clearwater, Florida, distributes WLCJNet buttons at convention.
Women’s League celebrated its 90th anniversary in style. Paula Coplon, Creative Arts Chair, designed an extensive program for convention, including a first-ever open studio each evening. Convention Chair Carol Simon and President Cory Schneider
Former Presidents Gloria Cohen and Evelyn Seelig congratulate Cory Schneider during Sunday evening’s installation. THE HEART OF THE MATTER: CONVERSATIONS ON WOMEN’S HEALTH was an enlightening plenary session on Monday afternoon. From left: Heddy Belman, chair of the health education fair; Faye Laveson, presiding officer; Ruth Bergman, moderator; Dr. Rhoda Pomerantz, chief of geriatric medicine at Saint Joseph Hospital in Chicago; Dr. Ruth Lerman, specialist in breast disease; Dr. Barbara Levin, family physician in Monroe County, Tennessee; Cory Schneider and Carol Simon. MITZVAH WITH ALL OUR HEARTS: WALKING THE PATH OF CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM was the title of Monday’s Torah Fund morning. Professor Arnold Eisen, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary was the guest speaker.
Torah Fund executive Director Carolyn Baron, Bea Reynolds, Chancellor Eisen, Rita Wertlieb, Torah Fund chair, and Carol Simon The 2008-2010 Administration (clockwise from left, standing): Phyllis Goldberg (vice president), Tobie Rosenberg (vice president), Cheryl Patt (recording secretary), Carol Gopman (vice president), Sue Press (vice president), Randy Schwartz (vice president), Janet Kirschner (treasurer), Jaclyn Stevens (vice president), Lynne Weiss Marshall (vice president), Lauren Wishnew (vice president), Harriet Merkowitz (vice president), Sherry Lynn Rubin (vice president), Cory Schneider (president), Sandra Eliaser (vice president), Sandy Myers (vice president). Missing Heddy Belman (financial secretary) The BMCR Gospel Choir of Detroit had everyone out of their seats and dancing in the aisles at Sunday night’s installation concert.
Several authors spent time at convention to speak and teach. From left: Cory Schneider, artist and author Debra Band, Scholar-in-Residence Vanessa Ochs, author of Inventing Jewish Ritual, Carol Simon, and Maggie Anton, author of Rashi’s Daughters. Women’s League director of education Lisa Kogen signs copies of her new book, With Strength & Splendor: Jewish Women as Agents of Change. Joyce Weingarten reunites with her former congregation rabbi, Rabbi Danny Nevins, dean of the rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary.
Region presidents the 13 newly aligned regions. Genie Blaher is from Florida Region and Meryl Balaban from the Garden State Region. Over 15,000 handmade scarves, hats and mittens were donated to the Jewish Family Services of Detroit. Eytan Kenter, a fifth-year JTS rabbinical student, shows how to put on tefillin.
Z’havah women (45ish and younger) enjoyed several sessions designed just for them.