Education and Inspiration for Women

The OU Women’s Initiative works with Orthodox communities in the U.S. and Canada to identify and address women’s spiritual, educational, and communal needs. Offering programs for women of all ages and stages of life, the Initiative develops, sponsors, and facilitates innovative Torah learning opportunities, women’s community engagement, leadership training for women in communal positions, and mentorship support for rebbetzins. Through its vibrant programs, the Women’s Initiative aims to recognize women’s contributions to their families, institutions, and communities while supporting each woman in finding her personal and communal leadership voice.

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Photo on left: Dr. Erica Brown, professor at George Washington University and director of its Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership, addressed over 100 women as keynote speaker at the OU Women’s Initiative Lay Leadership Summit.
Photo on right: Etta Brandman Klaristenfeld, OU Women’s Initiative Commission Chair, leading a session at the OU Women’s Initiative Lay Leadership Summit
100
women leaders across North America, Canada, London, South Africa, and Israel attended the 2019 Leadership Summit
1,400
women registered for virtual Rosh Chodesh shiurim.
26
communities across North America joined together for the Counting Toward Sinai Scholars Program.
50
female scholars presented lectures on Simchat Torah morning in communities across North America.

Education and Support

Bringing Torah Scholarship to Women Across North America

Women from 26 communities across North America deepened their religious growth and communal engagement through the Counting Toward Sinai scholar-in-residence program. In the year ahead, the Women’s Initiative will expand existing programming and provide more opportunities for synagogues to host female educators.

Women around the World Connect on Rosh Chodesh

The Virtual Rosh Chodesh Lunch 'n Learn was launched in August 2018 to promote Torah scholarship and provide spiritual nourishment. The program has now grown into a popular monthly video series featuring emerging and seasoned female Torah scholars. Women from Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, England, the United States, and Canada come together and connect on a day designated for women.

Celebrating Simchat Torah Together

The Women’s Initiative sponsored over 50 shiurim for women during the aliyot on Simchat Torah. Presented by local female scholars, the lectures afforded women the opportunity to connect to Simchat Torah in a meaningful way.

Encouraging Innovation in Women’s Programming

Created to encourage innovative and replicable Orthodox women’s programming, the Challenge Grant Initiative received close to 100 submissions. Of those, 16 programs from across the U.S. were selected to run this past year with the support of the Women’s Initiative. One of the grant recipients, The Young Israel of Hollywood-Fort Lauderdale, launched the Eishet Chayil Initiative, a series of workshops including sessions on time management, financial health, mental health, physical health and wellness, leadership, and spirituality. The monthly workshops are designed to support and reinforce women’s feelings of fulfillment, confidence, and strength.

Elul Weekend of Inspiration

A unique mix of local live events and Selichot night webcasts, the Elul Weekend of Inspiration 5779 provided thousands of women from around the world with the opportunity to be inspired in anticipation of the Yamim Noraim. Mrs. Dina Schoonmaker and Rabbanit Shani Taragin delivered lectures to over 700 people in Far Rockaway and Kew Gardens Hills, New York, and in Teaneck, New Jersey.

Sense & Sensitivity at Our Mikvaot

The Jewish family is known as the foundational institution in Judaism, yet it can also be fraught with such major stressors as fertility challenges, health issues, and mental health concerns. This year, women from across the country—both in person and via livestream— participated in Sense & Sensitivity, a professional development program developed for mikvah attendants and administrators to give them the tools to assist women facing challenges.

One hundred women attended the OU Women’s Initiative’s inaugural Lay Leadership Summit this past May, a two-day retreat to network, bond, and further develop leadership skills.

Spotlight on Women Lay Leaders

Jessica Katz, Passaic, NJ

Fifteen years ago, Jessica Katz and a friend co-founded Yad Leah, an organization that distributes gently-used clothing to over thirty Israeli communities. At the Summit, Katz made connections that continue to benefit her organization. “We still collaborate on the WhatsApp group that formed from the Summit. For example, I recently had questions about a grant. One woman stepped up, wanted to help, and wrote it! Her help secured a significant grant. That wouldn’t have been possible without the Summit.”

Sora Wolasky, Baltimore, MD

As a community leader, Sora Wolasky has many roles, including co-head of the Baltimore Shabbos Project and longtime co-chair of the NCSY Atlantic Seaboard Annual Concert. Recently, she helped expand the Women’s Chizuk Mission, a personal-growth-oriented trip to Israel for women. At the Summit, Wolasky connected with a mentor who taught her about public relations, financial structuring, and creating a business plan. “Her guidance was invaluable, incorporating business development best practices without changing the heart of our organization.”

Tzivia Weiss, Houston, TX

An active leader in her community, Tzivia Weiss is the executive director of the Houston Kashruth Association and recently founded Kivun Houston, a women-run organization that provides learning opportunities and chessed services. “I’m one of a few women in an executive leadership position at an Orthodox institution, and I was excited to attend a conference with women across the country in similar leadership roles.”

Leba Schwebel, Brooklyn, NY

Leba Schwebel created the AMATZ Initiative, a program that works to prevent disillusionment in religious life by training educators in girls’ schools to give their students a grounding in emunah and other life-transforming concepts of Yiddishkeit. For Schwebel, the Summit was a chance to learn from experienced leaders. “It was invigorating meeting women from all different backgrounds, yet with a shared desire to build up Klal Yisrael.”

The Women’s Initiative is committed to creating relevant, meaningful programming that fosters women’s scholarship and leadership.
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