San Diego Jewish Women’s Institute

The Women’s Institute for Continuing Jewish Education and Growth and Teshuvah in San Diego, which offers Jewish women in that city a program of classes, workshops, lectures and vocational counseling, enters its third year this September.

The Institute works toward goals in four areas: developing programs of Jewish study; enabling women to be creative within Judaism and to assume leadership roles; providing a forum for discussion of the issues women face today; and providing life-direction planning through vocational counseling and other projects. The Institute gives Jewish women the opportunity to develop their individuality as women and to connect with their Jewish roots, as symbolized by the use of the word teshuvah, meaning return, in the Institute’s name.

Irene Fine, a doctoral candidate in Jewish studies, is co-founder and co-director of the Institute. In a recent interview, she recalled her frustration with the position of women in Judaism.

Her protest and determination took shape in the idea of an educational institute especially for Jewish women. Fine received support for the project from the Jewish Community Center, and its staff members became involved with the Institute. The Institute is now an independent, non-profit organization supporting itself from tuition fees, ticket sales and private donations.

Among the courses taught at the Institute have been “World of our Mothers,” which emphasized female family history; “A Women’s Eye View of Jewish Fairy Tales,” during which women wrote modern versions of midrashim (legends) which Fine compiled; and Jewish history. A class entitled “Mothers, Daughters, Sisters and Jewish Rites of Passage” led to the writing and celebration of a new women’s ceremony marking the mid-life rite of passage.

A widely acclaimed highlight of the Institute’s Jewish Studies program has been its Shabbat Afternoon series of study sessions, each led by a prominent scholar and concluding with Havdallah and refreshments.

The Institute’s co-director is Bonnie Feinman, who is the director of its Personal Growth and Life Directions Program. Feinman, who has an M.A. in Counseling Education, offers individualized vocational counseling on a sliding scale fee and teaches classes in peer counseling, decision making, problem solving, and other aspects of creative life planning.

The Jewish Woman’s Network organized at the beginning of the Institute’s second year is a resource group for the Institute and has been instrumental in creating a larger support group. The goal is a growing network of woman power in the San Diego Jewish community— potentially a model for other communities.