By Rabbi Joan Glazer Farber
“A worthy woman who can find? Her value is far beyond that of pearls of coral.” (Kravitz and Olitsky, Mishlei: A Modern Commentary, UAHC Press, NY, 2002, p. 310)
Frequently translated as “a woman of valor,” this verse from Proverbs 31 and those that follow have come to signify the respect and importance of women to the family and the Jewish community. In some homes it is recited as part of the Erev Shabbat ritual and is often included among the scriptural readings during a woman’s funeral.
Yet as liberal Jews, we have struggled with this text. We are uncomfortable with its one-sided view of women, placing them within the limited sphere of the home, performing tasks that maintain family stability. The author of Proverbs could not have envisioned the world we live in today and the varied lives women lead. We believe in and work for the equality and shared responsibility of men and women: in the home, in the workplace, in the synagogue and in the community.
The Reform Movement has been a leader in the struggle for human rights, equal pay for equal work, and personal choice. One group in particular has set the standard for raising the banner of equality and justice– Women of Reform Judaism. As an organization, WRJ has redefined and reclaimed the meaning of N’shei Chayil–women of valor and worth who are involved in all aspects of communal life and in the greater community.
This year, 2013, marks the Centennial of the founding of National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods (NFTS), now known as Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ). In its first 100 years, WRJ has left its imprint on our congregations, our youth, and our communities.
Have you ever…
- Prayed in a Reform congregation
- Attended a URJ camp or Israel program
- Studied with a rabbi, cantor or educator who studied at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
- Attended a NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) Kallah, Convention, Conclave
- Visited a Liberal/Progressive Congregation outside of North America
- Used a prayer book written in Braille or other text from the Jewish Braille Institute
- Participated in Cradle Roll either as a child or parent
- Shopped in a congregational Judaica shop
- Attended an Oneg after services
- Studied the weekly Torah portion using The Torah: A Woman’s Commentary
- Looked up the Reform Torah portion in the WRJ Art Calendar
- Advocated for women’s health on the basis of Reform Jewish values
- Attended a women’s Seder at your congregation
If you answered yes to any of these items, then you have been touched by Women of Reform Judaism. Since its founding, WRJ has been involved in the life of our congregations and Reform Movement institutions. Whether supporting youth scholarships for camp and Israel programs, working through the United Nations to advance women’s health and education globally, or providing Jewish lifelong learning for the women of Reform congregations, WRJ has withstood the challenges of time to make a lasting imprint on Reform Jewish life.
Throughout 2013, the Tuesday posting of 10 Minutes of Torah will highlight the history and current work of Women of Reform Judaism. These essays will be written by scholars and leaders of the Reform Movement explaining how WRJ has impacted the Movement, the greater Jewish community and the world. Women, who are involved with WRJ on the local and national levels, will share their personal journeys and how being a part of this network of women has enhanced their lives. The essays will examine the spiritual, political and educational agendas of Women of Reform Judaism and the many projects that have strengthened Reform Judaism and women everywhere.
The members of WRJ are our N’shei Chayil–our women of valor. As they celebrate their Centennial, we wish them Chazak Chazak V’Nitchazeik–may WRJ continue to be strong, may Reform womenbe strengthened on their journey and may they continue to strengthen our congregations and our Reform Movement.
Rabbi Joan Glazer Farber is project manager for WRJ’s Centennial 10 Minutes of Torah. Rabbi Farber is also a consultant specializing in adult Jewish learning with a focus on teacher education.