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Lines of Communication

Dear LILITH:
Regarding your article on “Power Plays” (#14): while it is true that the women’s affiliate of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, has its own Board of Trustees (all women of course), the main Board — the UAHC Boad of Trustees — is not as stated, a “men’s board with the women’s auxiliary generally having one slot on it.” Currently 34 of the 180 members of the UAHC Board of Trustees are women. That is approximately 19 percent of the total, an improvement over the 12 percent that existed about five years ago. Moreover, 15 percent of those serving on the UAHC Executive Committee are women, nine out of 60.

There is, however, only one woman Vice Chair of the UAHC, a figure that has remained static over the years. Several women now hold positions as Vice Chair of various Commissions. While only one woman has so far chaired a Commission, we can reasonably expect that more women will be moving into these positions in the next few years. While greater strides are needed, progress has taken place in slow, gradual increments.

Women have made the greatest strides in positions of power as Regional Presidents of the UAHC. Since each Region has its own Board of organizational structure, these are positions of considerable authority which automatically entitle each Regional President to a seat on the National UAHC Board of Trustees. Until about five years ago there was not a single woman serving as Regional President. Today there are seven women Regional Presidents and 10 men. This is a vast improvement in a relatively short period of time.

At the last UAHC Biennial, November 1985, a Resolution was passed by the General Assembly endorsing the concept of equal pay for comparable work within the Jewish community, as well as in society-at-large. While much more remains to be done, the picture, at least as far as Reform Judaism is concerned, is by no means as bleak as portrayed.

by Annette Daum Associate Director, Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism New York, NY

CORRECTION

The article “Riding High: Annie Oakley’s Jewish Contemporaries” (#14) should have read “By 1855 (not 1885) an estimated 6,000 Jews had reached California.”

Dear LILITH:
I have been the first woman president of the Jewish National Fund, an umbrella organization with a majority of men on its board. Nevertheless, I received whole-hearted cooperation during my four-year term office, and at no time felt any restraints because of my sex.

I would like to point out, too, that the Chairmanship of the American Section of the World Zionist Organization for the last 120 years has been held by women. The present Chairman is Bernice Tannenbaum, and I was her immediate predecessor succeeding Rose Halprin. Here again, there was no difficulty in assuming leadership.

On another level, I find it hard to understand your omission of Hadassah which is the largest Jewish Women’s Organization in the world which carries a tremendous responsibility. In fact, I know of no other organization which has assumed the full responsibility of building medical centers in Israel, equipping them and maintaining them. All decisions are made by the National Board of Hadassah.

by Charlotte Jacobson, President Jewish National Fund New York, NY

Dear LILITH:
I was disappointed at the inclusion of your career survey in Issue a 13. I would not have expected LILITH editors to jump on the narrowly conceived career bandwagon. The fact that the survey states its special interest in women with careers in business is even more dismaying. While I wholeheartedly support women’s efforts to advance themselves professionally as a way of living up to their potential, the current emphasis on “career” and “success” disregards other kinds of potential—and very Jewish potential at that—that people may be striving towards. I am speaking of non-material success: caring for the needy in one’s neighborhood; learning to treat each person as a being created in God’s image; feeding the hungry; furthering one’s own Jewish and secular education; creating art; learning to love; in short, becoming the best person one can be. Many men have shunned or forgotten these aspirations in pursuit of the reward of money, status, power. Is this really what we want for ourselves?

by Ruth Mason New York, NY
Dear LILITH:
Australian Jewish history was made in April 1986, when what is believed to be the first women’s minyan (quorom of worshippers) was held on the shores of Lake Macquarie, a scenic resort north of Sydney. This was not a pre-arranged event, but a spontaneous response to there being too few men for a conventional minyan.
The group was attending a weekend university orientation camp conducted by the Australian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS). As Shabbat was falling it became clear that there were still only a few men and quite a number of women. Two women closed the door separating the men from the women, and began the service rather tentatively, but the feeling in the room was very warm and encouraging.
As a matter of fact, in Melbourne, the city with the largest Jewish population — about 35,000—the Jewish student body made an unsuccessful attempt to have a regular women’s minyan last year.
Probably the most significant factor here is the small number of Jews—about 70,000 spread over five cities and scattered in several suburbs. Of these, it seems that only the Orthodox are interested in any form of worship at all. Even male minyanim have trouble collecting up a minimum of ten on weekdays.
In Australia there are no Conservative synagogues, so unless one joins a Reform congregation, of which there are only a handful in the whole country, there is no opportunity for female participation.
Orthodox women who would be capable of conducting a minyan seem to be imbued with the doctrines of the obligations of the men and the exemptions of the women, and they seem to enjoy the freedom of not having to go to synagogue. They are prepared to suffer the proportional lessening of rights and respect that comes with avoiding responsibility.
Non-religious women appear uninterested and avoid religion. Most would prefer to turn their energies into becoming doctors or lawyers, or follow more profitable and conventual pursuits.
It seemed a shame that men had to default before the women rose in their unused strength and knowledge to contribute their part to the enriching religious experience.
by Viva Hammer Education Officer-Regional! Australian Union of Jewish Students