In the early 1980’s, Janet Tobin served as the Branch Conference registration chair for the North Shore Long Island conference. As part of her responsibility, a few days before the conference she visited the synagogue at which the conference was to be held to review all the logistics. It was at that time that the ritual chair informed her that this synagogue was not egalitarian and no woman was allowed to read from the Torah. As a result, Janet moved the conference to another synagogue that was egalitarian (not an easy task just days before the conference). That experience made such a deep impression with Janet that she promised herself that it would never happen again.
Over the years Janet increased her involvement and responsibilities in Women’s League and from 1998-2002 served as Women’s League’s international president. In March of 1999, the Executive Committee of Women’s League passed a motion to allocate $65,000 000 over a period of three years to fund the Torah Project. The money would be used to hire a scribe to write the Torah, for publicity, and programmatic educational materials.
The campaign officially began just prior to the holiday of Shavuot when each member received information and was urged to fulfill the 613th commandment, “to write for yourselves this song and teach it to the children of Israel.” Naming opportunities were available for the 5 books, each parsha, each haftorah, a verse, a word or a letter. On December 11, 2000, during the Women’s League convention in Philadelphia, the scribe came and the women were able to use him as their shaliach to write in the Torah.
The new Sefer Torah was completed and used for the first time at the Women’s League convention on November 18, 2002. On January 22, 2003, the Torah was presented to the Jewish Theological Seminary to be used and reside in the ark of the Women’s League Seminary Synagogue. Women’s League removes the Torah and uses it for conventions and other celebrations. Never again, will they be barred from reading a Torah.
During the Mitzvat Torah campaign almost $250,000 was raised. Besides the Torah, a mantle and ark suitable for travel were purchased. The remaining funds were invested. The annual income from those investments is used for educational and/or leadership activities.
Women’s League Convention (November 2000)
Women’s League Convention (November 2002)
Procession of Sefer Torah: Marcia Toppall, Co-chair holds the Sefer Torah.
Bernice Balter, Executive Director (Left), Rhonda Kahn, Public Relations Director (right), and Lila Frost, Co-chair (back) hold the Huppah poles
Presentation of Sefer Torah to the Jewish Theological Seminary (January 2003)
Janet Tobin, Women’s League International President presents the Sefer Torah followed by Audrey Citak, Past International President
Janet Tobin (right) and former International President Helen Goldstein