OU Women’s Initiative Holds First Lay Leadership Summit

23 May 2019


WOODCLIFF LAKE, New Jersey – The Orthodox Union Women’s Initiative hosted its inaugural Leadership Summit, a lay leadership conference designed to encourage and develop women serving as lay leaders within their communities. The 100 participants were nominated by 56 communities around the United States, Canada, Israel, the United Kingdom and South Africa to attend the summit which took place May 20-21 at the Hilton Woodcliff Lake in New Jersey.

Sessions focused on leadership strategy and communication, public speaking, engaging and retaining volunteers, creating compelling programming, effective use of social media, honing and growing one’s personal leadership strengths and work-life balance, community spiritual growth, board and donor relations and other lay-leadership challenges for 21st century Orthodox women. Expert lecturers, educators and leaders in the field – including: Erica Brown, Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, Allison Josephs, Chani Neuberger, Amy Katz, Dr. Leslie Ginsparg Klein, Dr. Marian Stoltz-Loike, Miriam L. Wallach, Suzy Schwartz, Dr. Linda Goldmintz, Judith Rubin, Rachel Cyrulnik, Faige Horowitz, Tamar Snyder, Dr. Rochelle Cooper Schneider, Susan Weiss, Cynthia Darrison and Lisa Schneider – delivered workshops, sessions and other presentations throughout the program.

“The goals of the program were to nurture lay leadership, enhance leadership skills and create a collaborative space,” said Adina Shmidman, founding director of the OU Women’s Initiative. “It was inspiring to see a group of women, incredibly diverse in age, experience and hashkafa, coming together to share their passion for the Jewish community.”

Participant Julie Thomas for Skokie, IL shared, “I was inspired by the magnitude of the impact that a quiet force of women throughout the global Jewish community have made on their communities and improved communal Jewish experiences. This was a space to inform, educate, inspire and provide support, collaboration and validation. It was an opportunity for many women who are deeply intrenched with creating, improving and impacting to have a voice, be seen and understood. I am very thankful to the new OU Women’s Initiative to have created this opportunity to bring together women and develop a brand new collaborative and supportive community. I feel privileged to now be able to access this well spring of passion, inspiration and information for all future endeavors and concerning issues that may come up.”

Executive Vice President of the OU Allen Fagin addressed the summit and recognized the many contributions of the successful professional women in the room who volunteer in their communities as officers, members of executive committees and board members of synagogues, yeshivas, day schools, mikvaotchevra Kadisha, bikur cholim, youth committees, adult education and a wide variety of community groups and institutions.

“You recognize the enormity of our communal challenges and, even more importantly, the enormous opportunities we have to meet those challenges, to benefit our communities and reach out beyond them,” said Fagin. “And you each recognize what I believe is the most important lesson of leadership, and that is the power of one – the ability of one person.  One person with the right drive, energy, skill and ambition to singlehandedly inspire a community; transform a shul; propel a yeshiva to new heights and drive organizational change through the formulation of strategy and mission.”

Orthodox Union President Moishe Bane added: “The Orthodox community is indebted to the lay activists here today, who, along with Jewish women throughout history, have committed countless hours of their precious time and tremendous energy to ensure the blossoming of Torah Judaism in America and around the globe, and who have been pivotal to the success and impact of our most valued institutions and programs.  These women exemplify the oskim b’tzarchei tzibur be’emunah, building our communal “homes” with passion and wisdom.

The OU Women’s Initiative works with Orthodox nationwide communities to identify and address women’s spiritual, educational and communal needs by expanding and enhancing Torah learning opportunities by women and for women and by creating innovative programming to meet the needs of women at all ages and phases. The Women’s Initiative focuses on the development of professional and lay leadership training for women in the Orthodox Jewish community. For more information, visit https://www.ou.org/women/.