“Sexism is a sin. Shana Tova.” With these words, an anonymous groups of women offered its first challenge to the Jewish community. Calling themselves “Jewish Women Watching,” the group carried out its first kamikaze mission in September with a mock Rosh Hashanah card (also published as an advertisement in several Jewish newspapers), sent out to an impressive 1,500 Jewish leaders. The card, quoted above, issued the following directives: “Choose a woman keynote speaker…nominate women to your board…support working parents…recognize that women’s issues are community issues.”
The following month, JWW raised its voice outside a New York Jewish Community Relations Council conference on “Changing Realities: The New York Community in the 21st Century” when the organizers failed—initially—to include any women. Vocal community objection from philanthropist Barbara Dobkin, writer Letty Cottin Pogrebin and others before the conference forced four women onto the schedule. But seven JWW members were outside the UJA-Federation building, where the conference was taking place, registering their frustration.
Wearing black robes and masks with mouths symbolically taped shut, the women passed out neon stickers that read “JCRC: GET REAL” and “REALITY CHECK.” Flyers featured a photo of a crowded room of men studying with the caption, “Is this the Jewish community of the 21st Century?”
Calls by LILITH to leaders of some major Jewish organizations elicited no comment. But John Ruskay, the newly chosen head of New York’s UJA-Federation responded from a trip to Jerusalem to offer his support: “It serves as another way to raise awareness and consciousness of a continuing challenge in the Jewish community: how to more effectively create a more inclusive community that can be strengthened by the more extensive engagement of women in all levels of lay and professional leadership. While efforts have been undertaken, the agenda remains urgent.”