NEW YORK (Feb. 21)
More than 450 Jewish women gathered here this past weekend in an historical first for the American Jewish community. The women from all over the United States and Canada, and Israel who met to share their ideas and experiences concerning the role of women in Jewish life, represented the entire spectrum of the Jewish community–from committed Orthodox to Socialist-Zionist, according to Sheryl Baron, conference coordinator. The conference was under the auspices of the North American Jewish Students’ Network, the service and umbrella organization for all Jewish student groups in-the United States and Canada.
What was extraordinary about this conference, Ms. Baron noted, was that it brought together Jewish women of various lifestyles and commitments to focus as a group on an issue of immediate and central importance to all, including representatives of several national Jewish women’s organizations, hundreds of veterans of the various Jewish students’ groups based all over the country and women of all ages who have not been affiliated with any Jewish organizations or student groups. Many of the women considered themselves feminists.
The program offered opportunities to analyze and discuss many aspects of the role of Jewish women–the historical perspective, the quest for spiritual Judaism, the problems posed for women in halacha, what it is like to grow up Jewish; what are the experiences of Jewish women in politics and Jewish communal services and education. The delegates grappled with issues that included feminine theology, marriage and divorce, alternative lifestyles, and the Jewish poor.
Not all the experience was on the intellectual level, Ms. Baron said. One of the most extraordinary events of the conference was the Sabbath services led by women reading from the Torah. This was the first experience of its kind for most of the women, and led to an understanding of the necessity for more active participation by women in Jewish religious services.
A commitment by the delegates to “work hard culminated in community projects such as a Jewish Women’s Speakers Bureau, a national Jewish Women’s Newsletter and Literary Journal, a regional follow up conference developing regional study groups dealing with Jewish sources, and a group dealing with changing the symbols, idioms and conceptual terms of Judaism for more human and less exclusively male terms.