For Jews, For Women, and For Yale

A group of enthusiastic students, including former LILITH intern Sara Meirowitz, created a national student conference on Jewish women’s issues at Yale University this past spring. Student organizer Claire Sufrin, sends in this report:

The First National Student Conference on Women and Judaism, held for four days at Yale University this spring, was just that: the first. And with no precedent to follow, we didn’t know what to expect. Imagine our surprise when more than 250 applications made their way through the Hillel doors.

Avivah Zornberg (in from Jerusalem for this conference!) kicked off the weekend. Quoting from The Little Prince alongside midrash and Talmud, Zornberg showed us the central role of women in the liberation and Exodus from Egypt. Twenty-four seminars on diverse subjects followed: text study, the Women of the Wall, Israel women’s literature, sexuality and body image. This last incorporated movement exercises that invigorated the group and gave us a sense that we might contribute an innovation to the tradition of feminist conferences.

Questions of Jewish factionalism, so recently in the press, were raised gently in a discussion of women and prayer led by female rabbinical candidates and students from the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements. Later that day, feminist writer and activist Naomi Wolf provoked much discussion on the subject with her message about blurring boundaries and welcoming others into the Jewish community.

The entire weekend was punctuated with vigorous dancing and song. Shabbat ended with a beautiful havdalah— more than 200 women singing with their arms around each other. In the words of one of our panelists, ‘To empower yourself is a social responsibility.” It is a responsibility that we felt ready to accept.