High School Leadership Development Program
On June 29, JOFA launched its first online High School Leadership Development Program. Over the course of this virtual three-week program, 26 young women from all over the country participated in skills-building seminars, career fairs, and cohort-bonding exercises. Participants focused on strengthening their critical thinking skills, taking advantage of opportunities for activism, and gaining active listening tools through fun breakout activities. Each Friday featured short conversations with women who are leaders in their fields, including an assemblywoman, a doctor, a Jewish educator, and an author. At the end of each session, the high school students jotted down takeaways from the speakers on a virtual platform to look back on in the future as they become leaders in their communities.
With in-person events limited due to the COVID-19 epidemic, JOFA has ramped up its online programming. Over the past year, JOFA has hosted various webinars focusing on women’s health issues (in partnership with Sharsheret), the quality of the secular education in yeshivot within the New York area, and what self-care means for the modern woman. Approaching the various ḥ̣aggim, JOFA brought in speakers and teachers to discuss the book of Esther, how to make a meaningful seder, and how to apologize before the Yamim Nora’im. JOFA also hosted an online program celebrating Orthodox Jewish women authors, which culminated in a reading list made available to a broader audience. JOFA members were invited to add their favorite Jewish women authors to the list.
Sharing Personal Stories
JOFA cosponsored an online webinar series with the creators of a new book, Monologues from the Makom, an anthology of poems and short essays by women reflecting on Judaism and gender, sexuality, and body image, among other topics. Throughout the four webinars in the series, editors and contributors to the book shared their personal stories. A Monologues from the Makom Book Club was formed on Facebook, offering an online space to continue these discussions after the webinars.
Online Davening and Megillah Reading
One of JOFA’s most successful online programs has been the ongoing Rosh Hodesh women-led virtual davening. After the popularity of the monthly morning gatherings, JOFA expanded into women-led Megillah readings, including a Megillat Ruth reading led entirely by Gen-Zers and a live-streamed Eikhah reading.
To celebrate Lag Ba’Omer, JOFA live-streamed a minḥah service, followed by a concert led by Neshama Carlebach.
All JOFA online programming can be found in the JOFA webinar archive.
On Sunday, January 6, 2020, JOFA held a celebration of women’s learning. The 150 attendees and 14 women scholars—two of whom led the reciting of the Hadran—helped make history by being a part of the first women-led Siyum HaShas in the greater Washington, D.C. area. This event was part of the first international Siyum HaShas for Women, in which some 3,300 women participated worldwide.
On January 28, 2020, JOFA, together with the Sixth Street Synagogue in New York City and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), hosted a panel titled “Building Community: Creating Unity in a Polarized Society—Jewish Responses to the Rise of Antisemitism and Other Forms of Hate.” As a response to rising antisemitism in America, this panel looked at hate as a shared concern for Jews and for people of color. Observing that people of color are also members of the Jewish community, the panel urged that the Jewish world recognize the intersectionality of these two identities.
Looking at Racism in Our Midst
JOFA held a series of online programs focusing on racial justice in the Jewish community. These webinars included “Racist Matters in Our Midst,” in partnership with Skokie Valley Agudath Jacob Synagogue, about uncovering implicit and explicit racial biases in synagogues and day schools, and “From the Playground to the Pulpit: Parental Perspectives,” featuring three parents of school-aged Jews of color. JOFA also featured several blogs about the Black Lives Matter movement on the Jewish Week blog platform, including one written by a participant in the High School Leadership Development Program.
JOFA Gala Dinner
On November 3, 2019, JOFA hosted its gala dinner honoring Ann and Jeremy Pava and Judy Heicklen. The evening featured live music, speakers, and the announcement of the Devorah Scholars initiative, an innovative program that offers seven $20,000 grants to communities that are committed to hiring women in spiritual leadership positions. This initiative was made possible thanks to a generous gift from Ann and Jeremy Pava.
On November 24, 2019, JOFA partnered with the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA) for a New York City event discussing get refusal. “Happily Never After: Jewish Divorce in the U.S. and Israel” featured a panel of three expert speakers who explained how to move the Orthodox Jewish community forward on this critical issue.
Memorial Tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg
On October 26, 2020, JOFA paid tribute to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first female Jewish Supreme Court justice, on the occasion of her shloshim (thirty days after her death), with an online program that combined a siyyum Mishnayot in her memory and personal recollections from two whose lives connected with hers. Rabba Wendy Amsellem recalled how touched she had felt when she received a letter from RBG as a new law student at Harvard. Rachel Wainer-Apter, who clerked for Justice Ginsburg, described what a role model she was, in her precision with words, in her work ethic, and in her pursuit of justice for the litigants in every case.