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A New Year, A New Vision

by Rita L. Wertlieb

As we approach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, described by the rabbis as the Days of Awe, we take time to pause and reflect on our lives over the past year. What were we able to accomplish, both personally and as Jews? What did we hope for that did not materialize? What more could we have done to make our goals into reality? In other words, we take stock of ourselves, hoping to make the new year better than the last.

Women's League for Conservative Judaism has done just that by putting enormous effort into addressing how we can improve what we offer our sisterhoods and members. Although we have maintained the same mission since we were established almost 100 years ago, that does not mean that we have not taken periodic stock of ourselves and initiated change when necessary.

Change is inevitable and, in fact, has been integral to our history. In our early years, when our membership was comprised of mostly uneducated immigrants or first generation Americans, meetings were conducted in Yiddish. Today, not only is the language English (or Hebrew or French or Spanish, depending on where you are) the de rigueur hats and gloves have been exchanged for kippot, tallitot and tefillin. We have become enlightened, educated and liturgically skilled women who contribute to our synagogues and communities alike. Even our name has changed, more than once.

It wasn't long ago that women did not count in a minyan, read Torah, or ascend the bimah for any reason. Look at us now! In most Conservative synagogues, women are not only counted in the minyan, but in many cases they lead it. Our members ascend the bimah regularly as shlichot tzibbur (prayer leaders), baalot kriah (Torah readers) and gabbaiot (Torah service coordinators). Since the early 1990s and the establishment of our elite Kolot Bik'dushah Society, nearly one thousand of our members have acquired these significant liturgical skills.

Although change can be intimidating, we have overcome our trepidations and accepted the challenges before us. Change has always strengthened us, as individuals and as an organization, but it will never undermine our identity as Conservative Jewish women. As women we have always understood the power, the wisdom and the energy that come from sisterhood. Women have always bonded together to learn, instruct, nurture, and give and/or receive support. As Jewish women, we remain committed to a history, culture and religious tradition reflecting back thousands of years to our matriarchs. And as Conservative Jewish women, we are members of the movement whose leaders always have maintained that Jewish religious tradition should be tempered by contemporary realities.

And so, as the women of Women's League for Conservative Judaism, we are ready to embrace change once again. Our new strategic plan will move us forward with a vision that will provide value to all Conservative Jewish women, enticing them to become affiliated with the many thousands of women who already identify with our organization. We will introduce changes in our structure that will open the doors for new leadership and multiple ports of entry to involve members and potential members, whether through sisterhoods or through individual memberships. We will offer all those who join us a compelling statement of who we are and where we're going. Yet, despite any strategic changes, Women's League is committed to the observance of Jewish rituals and traditions, which are as fulfilling and relevant for today's women as they were to generations past.

The identity of Women's League continues intact, as we remain what we always have been: the network of Conservative Jewish women. And like those who went before us, we keep one foot planted firmly in tradition while moving the other forward to a more rewarding future.

Nearly a year of study and deliberation has resulted in a strategic plan that will be unveiled at the Women's League biennial convention, which will be held December 2-5, 2012, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Be part of the excitement and join us in Vegas to help implement the changes that will maintain our mission and vision while moving forward. When change is embraced and intentional, it means progress.

Le'shana tova umetukah.

Rita L. Wertlieb is the international president of Women's League for Conservative Judaism.

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