By Cady Schulman / firstname.lastname@example.org
Women who become involved with their synagogue’s Women of Reform Judaism chapter do it as a way to give back and help the synagogue grow, not for recognition, said Blair Marks, a Temple Kol Emeth member who is the national WRJ president.
But it is nice when a synagogue recognizes the importance of the sisterhood, said Marks, who will be honored with a dozen Kol Emeth WRJ presidents, past and present, at the East Cobb synagogue’s Avodah Evening of Honor on April 25.
“I think many congregations truly value their women’s organizations, and Kol Emeth goes a step further,” Marks said. “It’s not just this event. The rabbi and the board are very aware of what the Kol Emeth sisterhood does for the congregation and has done.”
The WRJ helps strengthen the congregation through training, programming and other activities.
“That’s everything from making sure there’s leadership development to helping with fundraising and programming,” Marks said. “Everything a sisterhood would need to function well and to do whatever it is they want to do, we help with that.”
The organization also has funded the education of rabbis, cantors and other Jewish educators, built a dorm at Hebrew Union College, supported colleges in Germany and England, and lobbied on issues that are important to women.
“You’ll find resolutions from us on everything from human trafficking to equal rights,” Marks said. “This year we’re focusing on pay equity for women.”
WRJ also helps women develop relationships with one another through activities like discussion groups, book clubs and mah jong to keep women engaged with the synagogue as they raise their children and see them through the religious school years.
“Providing that connectivity helps women stay involved,” Marks said. “We have lots of women who don’t have children or who are single, and this is really where their extended relationships are and why they stay connected.”
Since Marks was installed as the national WRJ president in December 2013, she has represented women in places such as the White House, a summit on working families and a congressional hearing. Marks also traveled to Israel and met with 27 Israeli women’s organizations to find out how the American women’s organization can assist them.
“What we find is that many of the Reform congregations are led by women, so they don’t separate the women’s group from the leadership of the congregation, but yet they’re looking for the leadership development and connectivity that we can provide,” Marks said. “It’s so interesting to get a perspective in particular of what’s going on in the Middle East and to talk about how things look from the perspective of an engaged Reform Jewish woman living in Israel as opposed to one living in the United States. It’s really just a reminder that we are one community, and for all the differences, there are a lot of similarities and a lot of things we have in common.”
Marks also got to welcome more than 1,000 teens to Atlanta in mid-February for the international NFTY Convention.
“That was just plain fun,” she said. “The energy is extraordinary that our young people bring when they get together. They’re really just outstanding young leaders. It’s really exciting. It’s touching. When I walked into the hotel, you could feel it. There was a buzz and an energy in the air.”
In the future, Marks said, the WRJ needs to reach out to women who consider themselves Reform Jews but are not affiliated with a synagogue. “How do we connect with some of those women? As important as it is to have a relationship with women of affiliated congregations, how do we connect with women who are not affiliated? I think we see the movement looking at that.”
That issue is getting attention from the Reform movement as a whole and is the topic of many conversations, Marks said.
“I think we’re going to see changes along those lines in the next five to 10 years,” she said. “How do we implement those kinds of changes? We’ll see. It’s a very important focus for us right now.”
What: Avodah Evening of Honor
Who: 12 past and present WRJ chapter presidents
Entertainment: Peri Smilow and Josh Nelson
Where: Temple Kol Emeth, 1415 Old Canton Road, Marietta
When: 6 p.m. Saturday, April 25