Temple Sholom Sisterhood’s social action committee invited members of the community to broaden their understanding of who is Jewish and consider how expansive the community could be in the first of its Tikkun Atzmi Series: Healing Ourselves to Heal the World. The Feb. 4 Zoom event featured panelists Carmel Tanaka, a community engagement professional, and poet Angelica Poversky.
Tikkun atzmi, to repair oneself, is considered the first step on the path towards tikkun olam, repair of the world. Along the way, there are also tikkun bayit, strengthening the family, and tikkun kahal, healing the community.
Tikkun atzmi implies looking inwards and reflecting on what should be taking place within the Jewish community, particularly as it pertains to marginalized groups, such as people of colour, LGBTQ+ individuals and others who consider themselves distanced from the tribe. The past year, the organizers said, has highlighted “so many of the inequities that persist in our world.”
“Not only am I deeply invested in making our Judaism grounded in social justice any opportunity I get, I know and love many Jews who feel as though they didn’t have a home in the community and I am invested in changing that,” moderator Dalya Israel began.
Tanaka spoke about coming to terms with the descriptions that derive from being the child of a multi-racial marriage. Often, she would refer to herself as half-Jewish and half-Japanese. “It wasn’t until years later that I realized I am not half of anything – I am fully Jewish and fully Japanese-Canadian. I can be all of these things and celebrate all of these things,” she told the Zoom audience.
Tanaka recalled experiences of her time as director of the University of Victoria Hillel, where she encountered several students who felt alienated from the community because they were not halachically Jewish. Realizing that it can be traumatic for someone to be told they don’t belong in a group, she endeavoured to create a safe space at UVic for anyone who may be Jewish, Jew-ish or Jew-curious.
Poversky referenced the exclusion that some Jews within the LGBTQ+ community have endured. “It is horrible that people are not fully accepted,” they said. “What is our goal if not to uplift everyone? Why create barriers? Those feelings of persecution can be very painful, so why place them on others?”
The discussion touched on the causes for the limited presence of younger and/or marginalized people in synagogues and other areas of Jewish life. Tanaka recounted a story about her mother who, years ago, was told by a synagogue that she was welcome to come to services but was asked to leave her husband at home.
While attitudes may have improved since then, there is still much more room available for inclusion and diversity, said Tanaka. “I feel, in order for the term Jewish to be more expansive, it needs to expand far enough to be a safe space for anyone who wants to identify as Jewish,” she said.
Israel, citing Sarah Hurwitz’s 2019 book Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality and a Deeper Connection to Life – in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There), put forward the notion that, instead of thinking of themselves as the “Chosen People,” Jews could be the “choosing people.”
“Every day, we wake and choose to be Jews, and the way we live our life,” Israel said.
“Community happens when we complete ourselves,” Poversky added. They spoke about moving away from “action-based” assumptions about Judaism or sexual identity and attaching more importance to the declaration of one’s identity. That is, one can say they are Jewish without the acts of celebrating Chanukah or reading Torah. Implicit in Poversky’s statement was the “restrictive construct” within institutions that defines or even “polices” the identity of another individual because that person belongs to a marginalized group.
Tanaka shared experiences of visiting synagogues and being asked about her name, her lineage and her proficiency in Hebrew. This line of questioning to Jews of colour and others, she believes, is what has caused people to distance themselves from the Jewish community.
“It is the dance of having to prove who you are through actions,” Tanaka explained. “It is what we call microaggressions. When you have this happen over and over again, it can be emotionally exhausting.”
Tanaka, a queer Jewpanese woman of colour, is founder of JQT Vancouver (pronounced “J-Cutie”), Vancouver’s Jewish queer trans nonprofit. She also leads a monthly Zoom call for Jewpanese and their families from all over the world.
Poversky is a queer non-binary Russian-Jewish poet who has more than seven years of facilitation experience. They’ve taught poetry workshops in schools, in libraries, with youth groups, in community centres, and at dozens of festivals across North America. Much of their activism has been devoted to queer and trans celebration.
The Sisterhood’s three Tikkun Atzmi panels are designed to fuel the action committee’s dedication to social justice. Future panels will invite participants to elucidate on ways of bringing awareness to systemic inequity and its impacts on the Jewish community. They will also delve into their Judaism and explore sacred teachings for guidance in caring for and making space for one another.
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
Organizer Debbie Rootman, left, and guest speaker Janice Porter at Temple Sholom Sisterhood’s networking event Feb. 28. (photo by Baila Lazarus)
If you’re a decision-maker in business, and especially if you’re a small-business owner or entrepreneur or are looking for a job, LinkedIn should be one of the main tools in your arsenal.
That was the message from LinkedIn trainer Janice Porter, who spoke at a business networking event sponsored by Temple Sholom Sisterhood on Feb. 28.
“LinkedIn is about relationships,” Porter told the group. “It starts with having a fully optimized profile that will have more people see it. But it’s about building connections. Even a good profile won’t be seen if you don’t have any connections.”
Porter said the first step, however, is to determine if the platform is right for you.
“It’s not for everybody,” she said. “If you’re looking for a job, you should be on LinkedIn. But, if you’re in business, if you’re promoting something, you have to know whether your target audience is on LinkedIn.”
LinkedIn, a professional networking platform, was launched in 2003. It has 590 million members in 200 countries. Users create profiles and then reach out to other users to connect online and possibly take the business relationship into the “real” world. Such relationships can lead to direct sales, referral partners, strategic alliances and, if you’re on the job hunt, interviews.
At the Temple Sholom event, Porter outlined five steps that would help users get the most out of the social media platform.
Have an authentic profile. Having a well-done, completed profile allows a user to be seen as an authority. As well, Porter pointed out, if you have a strong LinkedIn profile, it will come up high on Google search results. Be sure to include a good photo. People are 14 times more likely to look at profiles that have a photo.
Create an optimized headline. This is the first line people see when they are searching. The headline should include a benefit positioning statement – what you do and what the result is. For example, Porter’s headline says, “LinkedIn trainer, relationship marketing specialist, networking coach, increasing qualified leads online & nurturing them into sales offline.”
“Most people just say ‘my job at my company,’ which focuses on the company rather than the person,” Porter explained. “Usually people search for the type of job that you do, so putting your company name in is wasting space. So rather than say, ‘Mortgage broker at …,’ say ‘Mortgage broker with specialty in.…”
Be visible. Having a profile is not enough, said Porter. Users need to be active by writing and sharing new content, and commenting on other members’ posts. “The more you engage with other people, the more people will want to connect with you,” she said.
Be personal. When reaching out to connect with other members, customize the connection request. Put in a sentence explaining why you are reaching out to this person.
Make new connections. Porter recommends that users connect with five new people daily.
When asked if it’s worth it to buy a premium account on LinkedIn, Porter suggested starting with a free account because there are enough people you can connect to without the upgrade. However, if you really need to connect directly with certain C-suite employees or you feel a need to follow up on everyone who has looked at your profile, a premium account would make that easier. A third level – Sales Navigator – is particularly useful for those whose focus is selling products or services.
You can try the paid versions on a 30-day free trial, but Porter cautioned that, if you’re not interested in continuing, cancel the trial early. After 30 days, you get a bill for a year, not a month, she said.
Karalee Greer, an independent market partner with Monat Global, attended the event because she wants to be more active on LinkedIn. “Having a more complete and updated professional profile will help people find me on the site,” she said. “Also, by being regularly active and connecting with my target market potential, Linkedin will help me find people more suited for me to build relationships with. I feel my time will be better spent on this platform.”
Mortgage planner Deborah Burnstein said she attended the event not just for the guest speaker but for the networking opportunities. She was already familiar with LinkedIn before attending the event. “Now it’s about finding content to post,” she said.
Baila Lazarus is a Vancouver-based writer and principal media strategist at bailalazarus.com.
Women at the Beth Tikvah Sisterhood
spring conference, which took place at Beth Israel, 2000. Shelley Ail is the
first on the right, but the others are unknown. (photo from JWB fonds, JMABC
If you know someone in this photo, please helpthe JI fill the gaps of its predecessor’s (the Jewish Western Bulletin’s)collection at the Jewish Museum and Archives of B.C. by contacting [email protected] or 604-257-5199. To find out who has been identified in the photos,visit jewishmuseum.ca/blog.
The current Sisterhood of Temple Sholom board at its installation in June 2015. (photo from the Sisterhood)
The Sisterhood of Temple Sholom obtained its charter from the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, now Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ), in 1966. Since its inception, the Sisterhood has provided vital funding and services not only to its congregation and the broader Jewish community, but well beyond. It has had much to celebrate in its 50th year.
The group has held several events, some marking the anniversary specifically, others part of the normal course of business. It began last October with Her Story, A Celebration of Women and Culture. Among the many events since then was Sisterhood’s annual Autumn Fling fundraiser in November and its Sisterhood Service in December. There was the Women’s Passover Seder in April and the recent Golden Anniversary Tea on June 5. The closing event takes place June 21 and the entire community is invited to the catered dinner, installation of the board and special guest Sarah Charney, WRJ vice-president of programming and education; Temple Sholom Rabbi Dan Moskovitz will also attend.
And these only touch upon what Sisterhood has done this year. The 200-plus-member group also held a Shabbaton weekend, co-sponsored scholar-in-residence Anat Hoffman of the Israel Religious Action Centre, and extensively researched Sisterhood’s history. Seven articles on the latter can be found via templesholom.ca/programs/sisterhood.
Donna Ornstein, a past Sisterhood president and current co-vice-president of marketing and communications, with Annette Kozicki, highlighted one major undertaking.
“To celebrate our 50th anniversary, our Sisterhood has just created a new fund called Sisterhood Open Door Accessibility Project, which is to be used to improve accessibility to the Temple building for the benefit of the Temple and the congregation,” she told the Independent in an email interview. “We have set aside $10,000 from our 2015-2016 budget and the intention is to add more funds each financial year as determined by our board to continue this project.
“This initial $10,000 is directed towards upgrading the Temple’s handicap washroom, and other washrooms as funds permit. Future projects will be determined by the Sisterhood board in consultation with the Temple. In 2014, Sisterhood completed paying the Temple $20,000 towards the cost of the construction of the accessibility ramp to the bimah.”
The Sisterhood’s mission statement is: “We, the Sisterhood of Temple Sholom, are an organization rooted in Reform Judaism. Journeying together, we aspire to engage in the pursuit of gemilut hasadim (acts of kindness), tikkun olam (healing the world, and tzedakah (righteousness).” In every measure, and then some, the group has met this aspiration.
“We have been fortunate in having many of the Sisterhood leaders over the decades reach out to the women in the Temple, encourage their participation and mentor their leadership training, not only in-house, but by encouraging new women to attend the WRJ Pacific District conventions,” explained Ornstein about the keys to the group’s success. “There was only a period of three years in the 50 years where we could not find a member to step up as president and, in that case, there was a group who rotated.
“Strong friendships have been created among our Sisterhood members, which have lasted for decades,” she continued. “We offer many different types of activities, and the women participate in what interests them: for example, book club, WRJ Lilith discussion group, women’s knitting group, Rosh Chodesh study group, Sisterhood Choir, walking group, mah jongg, games days.
“We form committees for larger projects and portfolios, bringing new women onto the committees and encouraging them to move up onto the board, such as fundraising, membership and social action.
“Sisterhood,” she added, “has enjoyed and appreciated the support of the Temple clergy and the office staff for our many events and projects over the 50 years.”
There have been almost 30 presidents of the Sisterhood, with the late Jan Pollack having been the founder and Reesa Devlin the current president.
“In the early years of Temple Sholom, Sisterhood’s social action adhered to charity begins at home, as it raised funds for items a new shul needs, such as libraries, kitchens, furnishings and office equipment,” write Sisterhood members Marie Henry and Joyce Cherry in their joint 50th-anniversary article. “As it became more established, Sisterhood helped those in the community around them and the world at large. In the late 1980s, Sisterhood contributed to the Armenian Earthquake Appeal and sponsored a Jewish camp for a youth group member. They participated in various community projects, such as the Jewish Food Bank and the Committee for Soviet Jewry.
“In the 1990s, Sisterhood sponsored a Russian family to come to Canada. A very special program saw a workshop on Understanding the Impact of AIDS in the Jewish Community that … led to the beginning of the Temple Sholom HIV AIDS committee. Funding also went to Emily Murphy Transition House, a vital resource for women fleeing violence in relationships. This involvement led to co-sponsoring Peace in the Home – Shalom Bayit – along with Jewish Women International, to address problem of domestic violence in the Jewish community.”
Sisterhood has sponsored teams in the annual Run for the Cure for Breast Cancer, has held sweater drives to collect winter clothing for those in need and has collected prescription glasses for developing countries.
“Another very important presentation program in 2009 brought addressing human trafficking in B.C. to everyone’s attention with the persistence of its originator, Marnie Besser,” note Henry and Cherry. “This program led to the spearheading of a successful lobby to the Canadian Senate for the passing of Bill C-268 regarding the minimum sentencing for the trafficking of minors.”
In the next decade, Sisterhood created “Bedtime Kits for Kids, filling backpacks with donated pyjamas, toiletries, underwear and some comfort items for children who arrive at a shelter with nothing but what they are wearing.” Sisterhood sponsors Tikun Olam Gogos, it collects clothing and toiletries for WISH (Women’s Information Safe Haven), a nonprofit operated by women to help women in Vancouver’s street-based sex trade, and also donates women’s business clothing and accessories to Dress for Success.
As well, it contributes to the World Union for Progressive Judaism and the ongoing WRJ initiative YES (Youth, Education and Special Projects) Fund, which, as one of the unbylined 50th-anniversary articles notes, “represents the collective financial efforts of individual donors and WRJ-affiliated Sisterhoods to strengthen the Reform Movement and ensure the future of Reform Judaism. YES Fund grants provide Reform Jewish institutions and individuals worldwide with the tools necessary for religious, social and educational growth, and enhance Jewish life by supporting clergy, cultivating women’s leadership, advocating for social justice, providing programming and offering support.”
In her 50th anniversary article, Bonnie Gertsman focuses on the history of the Sisterhood and food. “Preparing food has traditionally been the responsibility of women, to both nourish and nurture those they care about. And so it was at the beginning of Sisterhood 50 years ago,” she writes. “Although the group was small [at the beginning], the enthusiasm was keen. Refreshments for Oneg Shabbats were looked after by Sisterhood members, as was food for all special events.
“Over the years, the women’s skills increased and, when Bunny Rubens (rebbetzin of Rabbi Harold Rubens) became involved, Sisterhood took up catering. Regarded as a way to provide a service to members and at the same time raise money for the Temple, catering bar/bat mitzvahs and other events became a key component of Sisterhood life.”
Sisterhood started Temple Sholom’s first Second Seder, as well as the break fast following Yom Kippur. Rubens started the latter on her own, notes Gertsman, “and it morphed into a Sisterhood project, with members supplying the food. Sara Ciacci took it on many years ago, and continues to oversee it.”
In 1987, Sisterhood published Favorites from our Kitchen. “As the years passed,” writes Gertsman, “Sisterhood’s involvement with cooking for Temple has changed as the Temple grew and paid staff and caterers were hired for the kitchen and catering. Now, Sisterhood has Soup in the Kitchen and Soup Schvesters. These ‘soup sisters’ prepare soup to have on hand in the freezer, ready to be delivered to people in need of a helping hand.”
On the spiritual side, Sarah Richman writes in her 50th-anniversary essay on religious and educational programming that, as a member of WRJ, Temple Sholom Sisterhood “is committed to egalitarian participation, leadership and education.”
She notes, “The annual Sisterhood Service was one of the first and most enduring examples of this commitment. The first Sisterhood Service was conducted in the 1970s and was a Friday evening, erev Shabbat service that recognized the contributions of women to the congregation. The Sisterhood Service evolved over the years, affirming the right of women to participate and lead worship services. Over time, the service began including the Torah service … and also having a sisterhood member deliver the drash (sermon), demonstrating that women not only have the right to full participation in religious services, but also the knowledge and ability to do so.”
Richman highlights the Sisterhood Choir, the Rosh Chodesh Renewal program that “encourages women to explore and study our ancient texts together” and the purchase by Sisterhood of 126 copies of The Torah, A Women’s Commentary for the congregation. She also discusses Sisterhood-hosted Shabbat education seminars, which began in 2007, “motivated by the Shabbat initiative of Rabbi [Eric] Yoffie,” then president of the Union for Reform Judaism, and Sisterhood’s contribution to Temple Sholom’s scholars-in-residence program.
“The Blessings Wall Project,” she adds, “is an example of a program that blended each individual woman’s Shabbat candlelighting process (the spent matches), together with fabric, paper, photos and/or artwork that represent her personality or character. Each woman’s matches, paper/fabric and photos/artwork became an individual panel on the wall.”
WRJ is the organizational umbrella for hundreds of sisterhoods, and the North American (“national”) affiliates are divided into eight districts, with WRJ Pacific District representing 57 sisterhoods in the western United States and Canada. The Blessings Wall Project, Camp Kalsman Campership Fund/Fashion Show Project and A Community Conversation about Death and Dying are but a few of the Sisterhood programs and initiatives that have received recognition at both the district and national levels. Temple Sholom Sisterhood members have served on the district board, and member Alexis Rothschild has also served on the WRJ board.
Ornstein told the Independent that, in November, “we will send as many of our Sisterhood members as possible (hopefully about 10) to the Women of Reform Judaism Pacific District convention in Las Vegas where we will meet women from over 50 sisterhoods and participate in workshops on leadership training, spirituality, programming. We come home from these biennial conventions energized with lots of new ideas.”