Speaking with Rabbi Marla Feldman ‘85
on behalf of Women of Reform Judaism
Please tell us about the Women of Reform Judaism.
Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) was founded in 1913 as the women’s affiliate of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). Formerly known as the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods (NFTS), WRJ serves as the umbrella organization for thousands of women and hundreds of women’s groups, sisterhoods, and auxiliaries that operate in Reform congregations. Galvanizing the collective power of progressive Jewish women, WRJ has several major pillars:
Advocacy: WRJ mobilizes women and raises women’s voices and priorities in the public arena. From voting rights to civil rights, LGBTQ rights, reproductive rights, and pay equity, WRJ has tackled hundreds of challenging issues and brought its unique religious and progressive voice to issues of the day.
Philanthropy: Since its inception, WRJ has facilitated the collective giving of women to raise millions of dollars to support the Reform Movement and strengthen the Jewish world. Major capital gifts have included the dormitory at HUC, the URJ headquarters in New York, the World Union for Progressive Judaism Conference Center in Jerusalem, and support for numerous congregations and kibbutzim in Israel. Today, WRJ continues its philanthropic work through the YES (Youth, Education, Special Projects) Fund, supporting student scholarships at HUC-JIR and other Reform/Progressive seminaries as well as the Religious Action Center, camp and youth programs, and our Reform partners around the world. Our pioneering philanthropy seeds new and innovative projects to enrich our communities with hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. Most recently, WRJ has established a grant specifically to assist organizations committed to promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in creative ways within the Jewish community.
Leadership Development: WRJ provides a path to leadership for women in religious life, offering education, training, and skills to hundreds of women annually through programs at the local, district, North American, and global levels.
Sisterhood: WRJ and its affiliates provide a platform for Progressive Jewish women to find their voice and gather for meaningful educational, spiritual, and social purposes.
Why does WRJ support HUC-JIR?
WRJ’s primary mission is to organize the power of women to strengthen the Reform Movement. There is no better way to do that than by investing in the future leadership of our community. Hence, WRJ has provided annual scholarships for students at HUC-JIR since its founding, providing millions of dollars in support over the years. WRJ’s commitment to these future leaders led the women to build the Sisterhood Dormitory at HUC in Cincinnati in the 1920’s. When the College faced a financial crisis during the Depression, WRJ provided additional support to assure that this crucial Reform institution would not falter. Deepening its commitment during WWII, WRJ partnered with HUC to rescue numerous European scholars from Nazi Germany, including such notables as Abraham Joshua Heschel, W. Gunther Plaut, and Hermann Schaalman. WRJ believes that the work of HUC-JIR is essential, not only to train Reform professionals but also to provide thought leadership to the Jewish community writ large. A resilient and vibrant HUC-JIR will lead to a resilient and vibrant Jewish community.
What would you like to share about WRJ’s relationship with HUC-JIR?
In addition to financially supporting HUC-JIR throughout its history, WRJ advocated for equality for women in congregational life, including the ordination of women. WRJ’s efforts to train and engage women in governance and ritual matters laid the foundation for women’s leadership and presence in the spiritual life of the community, providing the cultural shift that would set the stage for the ordination of women. However, without HUC-JIR’s ground-breaking decision to recruit and ordain women for the rabbinate, this goal would not have been achieved. WRJ and HUC continue to share a commitment to the advancement of women in Jewish life, partnering in efforts such as the Reform Pay Equity Initiative to assure equality for the Reform Movement’s lay and professional women.
How does your support to HUC-JIR ensure the future of Reform Jewish leadership?
Support of HUC-JIR is essential for Jewish professionals to thrive and be empowered to lead our communities boldly into the future. As such, WRJ provides student scholarships and grants at each campus of HUC-JIR in addition to offering student and faculty awards. In addition, WRJ gifts a copy of The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, or its new Hebrew translation Dabri Torah, to each student. This landmark WRJ publication would not have been possible without the HUC-JIR faculty members who edited the volume and filled its pages with insight and wisdom from our tradition. The women of WRJ, together with the empowered Jewish professionals trained and nurtured by HUC-JIR, will continue to advance our shared vision of a strong and vital Reform Jewish community.