“Calling Ourselves Forth” – Creating a Culture of Jewish Women’s Leadership

by Pamela S. Ovshinsky

Photo: L’Dor v’Dor Northern Michigan Jewish Women’s Rural Leadership Consortium, Oct. 13, 2012 in St. Ignace, MI.

This past October, 15 women leaders from six small, lay-led congregations (four Reform) established in rural areas in the Lower Northern and Upper Peninsulas of Michigan sought to change a dynamic of isolation. With the help of a grant from the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Detroit, these women leaders met in St. Ignace, MI for an overnight retreat to receive training and facilitation about forming a sustainable regional consortium that would nurture and support leadership development in small rural congregations by creating a network for women.

As a result of this process, the group decided to form L’Dor v’Dor Northern Michigan Jewish Women’s Rural Leadership Consortium, a sustainable network designed to increase connection among women leaders in our region to leverage resources and enhance leadership for the benefit of our synagogues and communities.

However, we need the support of larger networks such as WRJ and URJ to use their strength to leverage resources that we can benefit from on the local and regional level, and we are encouraged by the Reform Movement’s coordinated effort in this direction.

We also recognize that as a sustainable consortium, we must be a model for incorporating a culture of leadership within our congregations and communities. Our consortium is just beginning to imagine what this might look like.

I therefore ask that we challenge ourselves, as members of WRJ and leaders in our congregations, to speak up within our communities and the larger Jewish communal and philanthropic world to make leadership a conscious choice.

This means no longer viewing leadership narrowly as a program or a project, or something to be addressed at a one-time event or conference. (That’s not to say they aren’t very important!) Leadership must be ingrained in the culture of your organization.

That further means our synagogues must make it a priority to allocate time and resources for designing leadership development programs for the long-term, as well as prioritizing conferences, workshops, and other activities that will help develop women leaders in our congregations, Jewish organizations, and communities.

We must see leadership costs and activities as an investment in Jewish women and in our congregation’s future. We must also seek out our own mentors, as well as become mentors ourselves.

Also, how might we reach toward goals that we previously believed were out of our reach? And how might we apply this thinking to our own personal and community leadership development.

In doing so, we must continue to honor the mission and vision we have in common and know that we are here for each another for the long-run. We must make it a priority to care for and nurture each other, and ourselves, as we embark on this challenge.

I think this is what our Jewish values and traditions require from us and truly reflects what L’Dor v’Dor is all about. I hope you will be inspired to join the journey my female cohorts from our six small but mighty congregations in Northern Michigan have begun, as we “call ourselves forth,” to incorporate a new culture of leadership in our synagogues and communities for the next generation and beyond.

Pamela S. Ovshinsky is project coordinator for L’Dor v’Dor Northern Michigan Jewish Women’s Rural Leadership Consortium and serves on the URJ Central District Council. For more information, contact Pam at 231-622-8611 or povsh@yahoo.com, or contact any of the following team leaders: Susan Burack, President, Temple Jacob, Houghton-Hancock, or Carol Krugel Ellstein, Board Member, or Sally Cannon, President, Temple B’nai Israel, Petoskey.