Left to right: Dana Chappellaz, Susan Weidman Schneider and Yelena Maleyev. (photo by Shayla Fink)
The first-ever Winnipeg Jewish Women’s Symposium was held at Rady Jewish Community Centre on April 9 and 10, bringing together women of all ages to explore the different ways in which women can make a difference in the Jewish and general communities.
The event was the inspiration of Rady JCC executive director Gayle Waxman and assistant executive director Tamar Barr.
“Gayle and Tamar approached me to co-chair the symposium on behalf of Rady in the fall of 2015, and it’s been a flurry of activity ever since,” said Lindsay Sawyer, a financial planner and a Rady JCC volunteer, who co-chaired the event with Yelena Maleyev, a product manager at Manitoba Telecom Service and a leader in National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) in Winnipeg.
“We’ve taken great care to ensure that our speakers cover a wide range of topics to appeal to women of all ages in our community – from new volunteers to seasoned community leaders,” she said.
According to Sawyer, although women are talented, dynamic and committed people, they are still too often underrepresented at the board level of the Jewish community – something she and others involved in the symposium are setting out to change.
“If we don’t invite ourselves to shape the direction of the community we live in, we’ll wind up missing too many valuable voices at the table,” said Sawyer. “Our hope is to engage and inspire talented woman of all ages who, due to lack of opportunity, direction or support, may not yet be having their voices heard, while also celebrating the achievements of those who are playing key roles in their organizations.
“We are elated to have had Susan Weidman Schneider join us this year as our keynote speaker. Susan, an expat Winnipegger, is the founder and editor-in-chief of Lilith magazine, an award-winning Jewish women’s quarterly. It was our privilege to celebrate such an accomplished and dynamic talent and to be able to claim Susan as one of our own.”
Maleyev, who is Winnipeg NCJW’s treasurer as well as the creator of its young women professionals branch, also wants more women to get involved.
“We have seen successful events, such as SHE Day, grow over the years, and agreed that we should provide a similar opportunity for women in our community, but approach it from a Jewish perspective,” said Maleyev. “We aim to empower and educate the younger generation, while ensuring all women are involved and encouraged to remain involved. We want to match the energy of the younger generation with the experiences of those who have been in leadership roles for awhile now. Like Sheryl Sandberg mentions in her book Lean In – the more women help one another, the more we help ourselves. Acting like a coalition truly does produce results.
“We want to encourage the power of mentorship and how sharing our experiences at any age can help uplift one another,” she continued. “Women make up over half of the population and yet not even close to half the leadership roles in management or on boards. We need equal representation to ensure our voices are heard. We need mentors, sponsors, role models and supporters to help us achieve our professional goals, as well as balance in our personal lives.”
The symposium kicked off with Havdalah and a performing arts showcase on April 9 and, on April 10, the learning sessions took place. About 150 women attended.
“The performing arts showcase was absolutely exceptional,” said Sawyer. “It was honestly just an absolutely incredible experience to hear the stories of so many very talented and passionate women … about the importance of community and making sure our voices are heard. I left on Sunday with such incredible enthusiasm for both where our community is and where we’ll be going with the next generation of leadership coming into contributing volunteer positions.
“Certainly, at the top of my list, was one of the opening panels, with Dianne Glass, Debbie Hoffman, Laurel Malkin and Baillie Chisick. Their views of being a voice at the table and women in community leadership was so inspiring and uplifting.”
Sawyer also lauded Weidman Schneider’s keynote address about where women have come from and where they still need to make inroads.
“It’s my hope that this event will continue and that we can continue to reach out to our community and inspire others to join us in continuing to make our Winnipeg Jewish community a special and welcoming place,” said Sawyer.
Maleyev, who found the symposium “phenomenal,” said, “The panelists were all incredibly inspiring. They shared many personal and professional stories, and provided varied opinions and experiences…. Susan brought such good perspectives on the topic of feminism and urged us to be allies in our feminist journey. As well, attendees received many opportunities to mingle and network, and meet new people in the community.”
Maleyev is hopeful that, with support from women mentors, more young women will see that there is room for them to grow their skills and get involved with whatever organizations align with their values.
“Our very sincere thanks to the leadership of Gayle Waxman, Tamar Barr, Cindy Lazar [NCJW] and all our tremendously talented and dedicated volunteers in bringing this event to fruition,” said Sawyer.
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.