By Blu Greenberg
In the minds of many, Presidents’ weekend had become Orthodox feminist conference time. But, as your “dancing women” magnet reminds you, our next conference will take place February 20-21, 2000. The Board’s decision, to skip over ’99 and concentrate instead on building JOFA, was not an easy one -- especially with memories of organizing conferences 1 and 2 still fresh.
Those were heady times. I often wished I had had a recorder chronicling the planning meetings, for the discussions seemed to me a history in the making. At times I felt as if I were listening in on a conversation that Jews could have had in the 3rd or the 16th or the 19th century as they struggled with the challenge: how to live as rabbinic Jews when encountering new ideologies and societal norms.
No less stirring was the process of creating the program -- every week a new idea would crop up, a new voice would be discovered. And, finally, the conference itself with the spirit and energy of 2,000 participants.
Yet, for all that planning a conference is exhilarating, it ends. Building an organization may be less glamorous, but its steady pace and permanent address enable the real work to get done. A conference can create a movement; an organization sustains it, implements its goals and vision, widens its arc and nourishes new leadership.
Though mine was a minority vote “yes” for ’99, I now appreciate the wisdom of the majority, especially as I consider the many projects we have set for ourselves. Let me share some of them with you:
• Conference 2000, now calling for papers and framing an agenda.
• The newsletter, being published quarterly. • Shabbat T'lamdeini, which will reach deeply into the Orthodox community.
• Agunah tasks, including convening forums for study of various halakhic solutions, organizing grass roots activism and meeting with different leaders working on this issue.
• Networking with other organizations on feminist issues such as domestic violence, trafficking of women and women’s health.
• A statement on pluralism. As we learned much from our sisters without compromising our Orthodox way of life, we wish to articulate a positive model for others.
• Education and gender sensitivity programs: how day schools and other Orthodox institutions can increase their inclusion of women in halakhicly permissible ways.
• A speaker's bureau listing learned women and men who can speak on women’s issues in Orthodoxy.
• A resource center -- linked to other such centers -- which will include a teshuva repository as well as models of halakhic ceremonies for women and girls.
• A web site with recently published articles, annotated bibliographies, and frequently asked questions.
• A hotline to answer questions ranging from how to organize community support to places for a woman to study Talmud in Israel.
I could go on: an intergenerational women’s chevruta, the Niddah Information Center, an Orthodox feminist calendar, a study of innovative Orthodox synagogue architecture. . . .
Yes, an organization is where the tasks multiply even as the work gets done. We welcome your participation and support in this worthy enterprise.