I decided that it would be fun to go to the Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) biennial convention in San Diego.  It is the 100 year anniversary of WRJ, and the convention was being done jointly with the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) so the convention promised to be extra special.  My Sisterhood paid my registration, so that gave me the responsibility of reporting back on what happens.  So I decided to blog about it.

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Wednesday, Dec 11, 2013 - Day 1

Looking at the traffic report, I was concerned that 3 hours would not be enough time to get to San Diego, but my worries were not born out and I made it down in just over 2 ½ hours (whoo hoo!)  When I arrived, I found that parking was $28/day at the hotel, so I took the time to look around and found a garage for $15/day.  That started the trip on a high note!

I picked up my registration and went to find the afternoon workshops.  It took me a while to figure out where they were being held, because you had to walk through the exhibit hall (which was not set up yet) to get to them.  I had brought my lunch from home, which meant I didn’t have to scramble to find something to eat.  So I could go directly to the workshops, which had already started.  I was really glad I had brought lunch. 

I went to the workshop on baby boomers (and found Rabbi Lutz there).  The workshop was all about how the needs and priorities of Jews differ (or don’t) by generation, and how congregations need to change to stay vibrant.  I found the ideas to be a little somewhat abstract (e.g. give your membership a “tapas” menu rather than a “grand prix” menu.)   

Next was the WRJ plenary session, Rabbi Rick Jacobs (URJ president) told a great story about his daughter Sarah, who attended a school assembly where religious leaders from four religions came to speak to the kids about religion in the 21st century.  Sarah asked the question, “What can four *men* have to say to us about religion in the present day?”  What a firebrand! 

Steve Sacks (URJ Chairman of the Board) spoke next, telling of his granddaughter, (also a Sarah,) who, in reference to praying at the Western Wall, asked him, “It’s just not fair that girls can’t pray like boys.  What are *you* going to do about it?”  Another spitfire!

The other speakers were also good, but didn’t have any stories about Sarahs.  Lynn Magid Lazar (WRJ President) amused us by quoting from Dr. Seuss’s Oh the places you’ll go.  She reminded us of what WRJ has done over the years, but fortunately didn’t list everything or we’d still be there.

There was a panel on philanthropy, which discussed the following questions: 

What are the characteristics of a good women’s philanthropist?  Answers: One who makes sure the money goes where it should go and does what it should do.  One who knows how to listen and can ask questions.  Advice: Figure out your passions and don’t spread yourself too thin.

In what way are Jewish women unique as philanthropists?   Answers: American Jews are incredibly generous to charity – more so than your average American.  They give a little less to congregations than average – which may be because they attend services less than average.  Advice: We need to make sure that Jewish women’s voices are heard in planned giving. 

How has the increased impact of Jewish women changed the philanthropic world?  Answers:

How as an organization should WRJ think about approaching donors?  Answers:  The number one tool is the internet and technology.  WRJ needs to find out what your donors’ interests are.  Advice: The number one predictor of whether someone gives to a Jewish charity or a non-Jewish charity is whether they feel connected.

I went out to dinner with friends who live in San Diego, and didn’t get back in time for the beginning of the URJ plenary.  I did hear the speakers at the end, but didn’t have my netbook, so I didn’t capture what they said.

I went to the late night Michelle Citron and Julie Silver concert, because I love Julie Silver’s songs, and as good as Julie Silver is, I thought Michelle was even better – although it’s hard to compare, because they have very different styles.


Thursday, Dec 12, 2013 - Day 2

Thursday started with a WRJ Pacific District meeting.  We sat at pre-assigned tables, and after the introductions and praise for Sisterhoods that had won awards, we had a discussion that was supposed to be on what works and what Pacific District could do to help local Sisterhoods.  In the half hour we had, our table didn’t get very far past the “what works”.  But we heard some interesting ideas.

Programs that worked:

1.     Centennial Shabbat (on a Friday night) honoring Sisterhood Presidents

2.     Program on Brundibár (Theresienstadt opera)

3.     Activity groups - $25 to join ($35 if not Sisterhood member) and costs (lunch, movie, etc.) are extra.  Each group does four events a year.  They ask a clergy member to lead a group. They have about ~20 groups.

4.     Starting a new program this year – Posters: So far have had one poster on what Sisterhood supports, one poster on onegs – got some new oneg sponsorships from it.

Then the table had some suggestions for what to do

5.     Need to reach out to people who aren’t Sisterhood members and find out what their interests are

6.     As Sisterhood president, went to every meeting, so they all knew me.

7.     We are doing a program on raising Jewish children in a secular world and opening it up to non-Sisterhood members.

8.     Could do a joint event with another Sisterhood (if the logistics work out.)


The next event on the agenda was a workshop on using social media.  They talked mostly about Facebook and blogging – a little bit about Twitter too. 

Here’s what they said about Facebook:

1.     What kinds of things go on Facebook: Article links, photos, event pages, tagging other organizations, Likes/Comments/Shares.

2.     Don’t!   beg, use stock photos, curse, ramble, use sarcasm, don’t put someone down or mock someone

3.     Do!  be descriptive (but not wordy!)

4.     They talked about the difference between Facebook profiles (for individuals), groups (only for members of the group) and pages (can reach anyone, member or not)

Here’s what was said about Blogs:

1.     What goes on blogs?  Stories, Opinions, teachings, events, history, personal connections, connections to current events, religion.

2.     Don’t! use blogs to ask for money, promote events.

3.     Do!  Put a byline on each post, photo if possible (even a stock photo), should have a variety of subjects, use one voice, be consistent, link back to main page, brand related with the same image.

4.     They said Sisterhoods can easily create a blog on www.wordpress.com

Here’s what was said about Twitter:

1.       What is twitter for?  Immediate News & Happenings, Promote, Announcements, Retweeting&Favoriting, Hashtags (If you tag a facebook or twitter post with a hashtag, you can search for all posts with that hashtag)

Other advice:

1.     Should have a Facebook page (we do)

2.     Should have a webpage and Facebook should link to it. 

3.     Should have a blog and Facebook should link to it.

4.     Should have a social media chair (or chairs) 

5.     When people respond to a Facebook post or blog entry, should give feedback (“like” the response)

6.     Should put Facebook and Blog links in email signatures, flyers, posters, etc.

7.     Should mention that you are on social media during events


·       www.facebook.com/WomenofReformJudaism

·       blogs.rj.org/wrj

·       www.youtube.com/WomenofReformJudaism

·       www.twitter.com/WRJ1913


After lunch, I attended the workshop on the search for religious equality in Israel.  This was a two person panel - Rabbi Donniel Hartman, President of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem  and Ruth Caldron, a member of the Israeli Knesset.

First, Rabbi Donniel Hartman spoke. He had some great sound bites.  Examples:

·       We need some good assimilation.  We need to assimilate some good ideals.  There are not enough Jews in Israel that are assimilated. 

·       I am a secular Orthodox Jew. 

·       Rabbi Hartman quoted someone else as saying, “I don’t care what congregation you belong to as long as you are embarrassed by it.”

·       North America made democracy into a Jewish value.

·       One of the most bizarre events happened in Israel when we elected a chief Rabbi in Israel.  And the big debate was whether we were going to have the closed-minded Orthodox Rabbi or the closed-minded Haredi Rabbi.

Next, Ruth Calderon spoke.  Here are sound bites from her speech.

·       The longest conversation I’ve had in my life is with God – whether she listens or not.

·       If I want to learn something in a dispute, I have to first learn how my opponent thinks so I can speak from their point of view.

·       The Israeli Declaration of Independence says that Israel is Jewish.  It doesn’t say democratic, but it does say there shall be equality between citizens. 

·       The Israeli Arabs don’t want Israel to be Democratic and Jewish – they’re happy with the Democratic side.

·       The Ultra-Orthodox doesn’t want Israel to be Democratic and Jewish – they’re happy to be Jewish side.

·       The secular Jews don’t want Israel to be Democratic and Jewish – they want it to be secular.

More sound bites from Rabbi Hartman:

·       Why doesn’t Israel have a constitution?  But that’s not quite correct, because they have 88% of a constitution.

·       They couldn’t agree on equality, but they could agree on dignity, which Barak (the Supreme Court Justice) interpreted as equality.

·       The problem with achieving goals through education is that it takes a long time.  It takes a generation.

·       Anytime someone promises you the world for 10 cents, it probably means you are getting something that’s not worth a dime. (Goldi Hawn)

More sound bites from Ruth Calderon:

·       Israeli Jews are Catholic Jews and American Jews are Protestant Jews. 

·       My father had a synagogue he didn’t go to, and it was Orthodox.

·       When you speak in the Knesset, you think nobody will ever watch it because nobody ever does – unless you are every sick.

When asked to address the question “What can North American Jews do?”  Rabbi Hartman’s response contained the following gems:

·       The question implies that you don’t know, but you do.  Every step we’ve taken, we’ve done with your support.  Continue that support.  Double that support.

·       I want you to know that they [Israelis] hear.  That doesn’t mean that they listen.

·       We’ve seen a revolution.  It’s not enough.

·       Israel is a dangerous neighborhood. It’s a crappy neighborhood.

·       “… If not now …”  {Audience chants} WHEN!  [Donniel continues] “See, I told you, you know!”


At the following Plenary session, Rabbi Sharon Brous spoke and told stories of influential, but lesser known women in the Bible and Talmud.  We recognized the Or Ami award winners, and passed all the bylaws changes without controversy.  After a short debate, we passed the resolution on the “pipeline to prison” but ran out of time on the resolution about the voting rights act.


For dinner, I went out to dinner with cousins, and dinner took so long that I completely missed the URJ plenary.  This had the advantage that I went directly to the evening concert with Max Jared and Rick Recht, and I was able to get seats for myself and my friends at a concert where seats were few and far between and most people were sitting on the floor.

Late in the evening, I looked around at the people who were packed into the small room and thought, “Wow! There are a lot of women here.”  During a song where many people were standing with their arms around each other, I counted – of the ~50 people with arms around each other, there were only 5 men.  I didn’t count the people standing in the back, where it did seem like the gender balance, while still tilted female, was not as skewed.  This was definitely late in the evening, and I thought about what impact that might have had on the gender balance (women are passionate about music, and are more likely to stay to the end?)  I also thought about the fact that in the Mitzvah year (the final year) for each of my boys at (Jewish) summer camp, there were two Mitzvah girls’ cabin and one Mitzvah boys’ cabin.  Again, the ratio skewed towards girls.  After the concert, I went up and caught Max Jared, and I asked him, whether he, looking out at the faces, had noticed that the faces were predominately female.  He said that he had more focused on individual faces, and hadn’t noticed whether or not there was a gender bias.  He also said that he would be interested in hearing some statistics on the subject.  He agreed that if what I had observed tonight was indicative of a bigger trend, it was cause for concern.   He gave me his card and asked me to stay in touch. 

I walked back to the hotel, and on the way back, struck up a conversation with another women who was clearly also a convention attendee.  I told her what I had observed, and she said that the gender bias I had observed was not a fluke or an isolated incident, but was an ongoing phenomenon of concern to others.  In fact, she told me, there is an organization devoted to researching the causes of the problem and what can be done about it.

Why does it matter if girls are more connected to Judaism, to Jewish music, to Jewish camps?  I don’t know for sure.  Maybe girls are more spiritual than boys – why is that a problem?  I worry that it means that Judaism is not meeting boys’ needs – and that does not bode well for Judaism’s future.  I also worry that if most of the people in power are women, men will start to assume that Judiasm is not for men. We need both women and men leaders!


Friday, Dec 13, 2013 - Day 3

Friday morning started with the YES fund breakfast.  The YES fund is the Youth, Education, and Special Projects fund. I didn't take notes on what the speakers said, so it has all completely left my head. If I don't write it down, it doesn't stick. (Often when I do write it down, it doesn't stick either!)


After the breakfast, we had workshops, and I went to the social media workshop. This workshop had been described as a follow on to yesterday’s workshop.  It turned out not really to be Social Media 201 (where yesterday’s workshop was Social Media 101) but actually be completely orthogonal to yesterday’s class. Thursday’s workshop was how to DO social media; Friday’s was how to USE social media.

My notes on this workshop are somewhat stream-of-consciousness and may make more sense when paired with the slides from the workshop, which are available at www.slideshare.net/darimonline/WRJ

Need to pull the periphery into the center.                                                      

5 new rules of the game,

·       Attention

·       Listen

·       Be real

·       Deepen

·       Add value

On social media, competing with a zillion other messages

Need to understand where your people are at

Need to be a good host: friendly atmosphere, know something about each person, invite people with commonality and connect them to each other, stop talking so much, start listening

Personal connection really important

Litmus test

·       How many people are posting?

·       How many people commenting?

·       What’s the culture of engagement?

·       Are you making statements or asking questions?

Be real – people always more real than organizations

                Example of a more personal/real post: “Ever wonder who the voice of <org>’s Facebook page? Hi! I’m <name> and I’m the <position>.  Thought I would introduce myself”

Talked about differences between Pages and groups

·       Pages have Statistics

·       For Pages, most posts are branded (from admin)

·       For groups, all posts (including admin’s are from individuals)

·       If posts are not getting many likes or comments, Facebook concludes that the information isn’t very important

·       Group comments more likely to show in newsfeed than pages

·       Groups can be closed, open (anyone can see or post), or partially open (need to be approved to join)

Kinds of questions/posts to use to start a conversation

·       Where’s the best place to get challah?

·       What’s the best Chinese restaurant to go to on Christmas?

·       I want to tell you all how important Sisterhood is to me

How to add value

·       Help me be a better person, mom, wife, etc.

·       Venn diagram: A is your audience, B is your mission and goals
If only posting in A, not meeting mission and goals; if only posting in B, not meeting their needs

·       Photos and videos rank well in Facebook algorithm; so does sharing

For every time you self-promote, you should add value 12 times

When marketing an event, may get people to click the link by including a little mystery in post – not giving all info in post

Good to have a policy in the about section, e.g., “no business posts” then can contact them saying “not in policy, so I’m going to delete that post.”

Social media policy workbook available on website at www.darimoline.org/smpw

Content curation: Sorting through content on web and presenting it in a meaningful way, e.g.,

·       Women of the Wall

·       Parenting advice

·       Creating a memorable seder

·       Accomplishments of people in your community

What to do

·       Think of a few (3-5) themes that you might want to curate around

·       Find content

·       Like those pages (personally, so that you get information from those content pages, that you can then put on the Sisterhood pages)

(This is more for the Temple) If include links in constant contact e-newsletter, can measure how many click-throughs you get for each link, tells you what the interests of your readers are

Social Fundraising –

tapping into your network.  Making donations because someone is your friend, and you want to support her.

          Online giving

                      Chipin (processed through paypal – has a thermometer)

                      Razoo, crowdrise

                      Kickstarter, Indigogo

          Dedicate your birthday to a cause – post asking people to donate to celebrate your birthday by donating a cause


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After lunch I went to a workshop on Challenges in the Advancement of Women in Home and around the World with Anat Hoffman, Illyse Hogue, and Ruth Messinger as panelists.

Hogue said that one clear indicator of whether something is working is whether women are part of the discussion.

Messinger said, “When we do panels on the status of Blacks in America, both Blacks and whites come.  But when we do panels on the status of women, only women come.”

Hoffman said, “I am a leader of two organizations.  One is small and has a great name: WOW (Women of the Wall.)  The other is large and has a terrible name: IRAC (Israel Religious Action Center.)  Try traveling the World and telling people you are the Director of IRAC.”

Hogue said that we look to Israel as one of the beacons for reproductive freedom.

Messinger said, “We live in a world where 10 million girls are married against their will every year.  We live in a world where, in 77 countries, homosexuality is against the law.”

Hogue said, “You asked for international examples, so I’m going to use the State of Texas as my example.”

Hoffman said, “You would think that the biggest obstacles was the police station or people who spat at me or called me names, but they were not.  The hardest part was the shifting of roles within my family.”

Messinger said that the biggest obstacle is the glass ceiling.

Hoffman said (in reference to the tallit that Women of the Wall sell to raise money) “I really only masquerade as an activist.  I’m really just a schmatta saleswomen

Hoffman said that Israel only developed the world for accountability (Achayutiut) 9 months ago.  She asked what it means that the word was only developed 9 months ago.  She said it means that we have a long way to go.

Ideas on engaging men and youth – Stop telling them they don’t care. (Hogue)   Phrase the issue about improving the country, and not improving the status of women (Messinger

The incubators for leadership in Israel are the Military and the Rabbinate for men and the NGOs for women (Hoffman)

One country has over half its leadership female - Rwanda

“To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains but to live in a way that respects the rights of others” Nelson Mandela


Friday Shabbat Services were lovely – you don’t get many opportunities to say Sh’ma along with 5000 voices!  At dinner afterwards, I wondered about how in the world you do dinner for 5000 people all at once, and I was very impressed  with how well the logistics were handled. 

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After dinner, we had a good old-fashioned camp song session – except I had never before been to a song session with several thousand people in attendance!  I was in heaven.  Plus, the people leading the song session were some of the biggest names in Jewish music! It was truly an awesome experience.

Saturday, Dec 14, 2013 - Day 4

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Saturday morning services were also amazing.  They set up 13 Torahs around the room, and for the four aliyot, the members of groups called up to bless the Torah could go to any of the 13 Torahs to say the blessing.  Each Torah had its own Torah reader.  Only the reader for the Torah on the stage had a microphone, and the Torah readers made no attempt to chant in unison.  It made for an interesting and pleasing effect.  The Torah portion was the last portion of Genesis, where Jacob dies and blesses his sons.  After each Torah reading, the Rabbi spoke about what had just been read, and at the end a women came forward and said that she was Dina (Jacob’s daughter, who is not mentioned when the sons are blessed.) She talked about the blessing that Jacob gave his daughter.  I, of course, was not taking notes, so I can’t give more details of what she said, except to say it was incredible.   It was the longest Reform service I have ever attended, but I didn’t notice how long it was taking until after two and a half hours had passed.  I found that to be quite remarkable.



Services ran over the scheduled time, which was the only thing (that I noticed) that ran over all weekend long.  So the lunchtime workshops were somewhat pressed for time. Engineer that I am, I went to the "Weird Jewish Science" workshop, which was really just a pitch for the brand new Jewish Science camp that is opening this summer, but it was fun.

First, they talked about building - "what was the first thing built in the Bible?" they asked. "Noah's ark" "Tower of Babel" "The earth and everything in it!" Next, we broke into four groups. They had each group pour milk (homogenized milk - this will not work with skim milk!) onto a paper plate so that the milk covered the bottom of the plate. Then we dropped 10 drops of food coloring (two colors!) into the milk (not next to each other) and did not stir or mix the food coloring. Lastly, we put a single drop of dishwasher soap in the middle. (try this - it is very cool!) It was fun to hear the reactions of each group as the soap hit the water.

Now we moved on to building. We were given marshmellows, uncooked spaghetti and tape and told to build the tallest tower we could. We had 3 minutes to plan and 10 minutes to build. Not nearly long enough! This a lot of fun, but frustrating - my group did not do a good job of time management and ended up with a stable tower, but not as high as others. The tallest tower was not stable, and toppled over soon after the time ran out. So they declared us all winners. I celebrated by eating some of the leftover marshmellows!

The workshops ended with them requesting ideas and suggestions for the summer camp (http://scitech.urjcamps.org/). I took some advertising for the camp and ran off to the next workshop.

Next I went to Israeli dance. When I arrived, they were setting up the sound system and using the dance "Adama v'Shamayim" to test the system. I was very excited, because I want to learn that dance. But she said she was going to start with some easy stuff, and I needed to leave before they got it. Dancing was fun - mostly dances I knew, but I learned some new ones too.

At 3:28, I got a text - "are you coming to the installation?" Oops, yes, save me a seat! WRJ installation started before the dancing ended, and I was having so much fun, I lost track of the time. The installation was good - not boring at all - but again, I didn't take notes, so I can't tell you what anyone said.



For dinner that night almost all of the TAS people there went out to dinner together, and the restaurant did an excellent job of bringing out all the food in a timely fashion.

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After dinner, we had the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Women of Reform Judaism. Anat Hoffman (executive director, Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), chairwomen, Women of the Wall (WOW) and a truely amazing woman) was given the WRJ Jane Evans Pursuit of Justice Award. Anat Hoffman is incredible! But she had lost her voice, so she had to have someone else give her speech. Humorously, she ended it by saying that recieving this awared has left her literally speechless! Other events that were part of the evening were that the URJ Eisendrath Bearer of Light Award was presented to Women of Reform Judaism and NFTY, the National Federation of Temple Youth, (which WRJ started) kicked off its 75th anniversary year. Also there were musical performances by some of the biggest names in Jewish music, including Michelle Citrin, Peri Smilow, Naomi Less, Elana Jagoda, and Julie Silver. And, of course, it was Saturday night, so we did Havdallah.

After the celebration ended, Erika and I went to the Josh Nelson and Neshama Carlebach concert. Man, he's good! And they handed out free CDs with four songs by the two of them.

Sunday, Dec 15, 2013 - Day 5

Sunday, after a very funny skit encouraging us to go the next biennial (which will be in Florida,) we voted to pass the resolution (on voting rights) on which we had deferred voting on Friday.  The naysayers seemed to have opted out of attending this plenary, and there were no speakers against the resolution.

Netenyahu spoke at 9:40 via video feed from Israel.  He spoke of the snow currently blanketing Jerusalem.  He thanked us for URJ’s efforts to strength Israel and Jewry worldwide.  He gave a specific shout out to the WRJ, which we very much appreciated.  He asked for our assistance in stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons capability.  He pointed out that domestic uranium enrichment is unnecessary for nuclear power.  He said that he agrees with President Obama that we should resolve the issue peacefully.  A nuclear-armed Iran is a danger not only to Israel, but to the entire region.  We should not have any illusions about the leadership of Iran.  It oppresses the opposition, its own people, and calls for the extermination of Israel.  It talks the talk of all other nations, but it walks the walk of death.  The Iranian regime is not going to give up its nuclear program as an expression of good will.  It will only do it under the pressure of extreme sanctions.  We must keep the pressure on Iran.  You don’t want a nuclear tinderbox in the Middle East.  Iran can be stopped; must be stopped.   

Achieving peace is a strategic goal of his administration.  He believes a goal of two states for two people is the only way to achieve lasting peace.  But this can only succeed if the Palestinians are demilitarized, and if they end their demands for Israel to be returned to the Palestinians.  They cannot use the Palestinian state as a platform to continue to attack the existence of Israel. He is ready to make hard decisions (and has made hard decisions already) but the Palestinians have to make hard decisions too.  They must be ready to recognize the legitimacy of a State for the Jewish people.    This is the core of the conflict.  The conflict is not about settlements.  It’s not about borders.  It’s about recognizing a Jewish state.  The Palestinians are not fighting to liberate the West bank.  They are fighting to liberate Tel Aviv.  Kerry said that an agreement must recognize Israel’s legitimate security concerns.  Israel must be able to protect the peace, because there is no guarantee that it will hold.  A lasting peace requires two things: Mutual national recognition and very strong security.

Netenyahu's third mission is to achieve peace among ourselves.  Israel must continue to be the homeland of the entire people.  He talked about the Kotel and said that all Jews must receive audacious hospitality (a reference to one of the Wednesday night speeches that I missed.)  His administration has announced a new initiative in this regard.

I was impressed by how well he spoke and coherently his message was organized and presented. If only everyone could have the same reaction!

After Netanyhu spoke, there was just a few more speeches and then the day and the convention ended. I headed home with my head swimming with all I had seen and heard, the new songs I had learned playing on my CD player, and me singing at the top of my lungs, despite having almost no voice left!