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Working hard for a real share of power

‘It’s time for the men to move over’, and these four women’s groups are trying to make it happen

    Leaders: (left to right) Norma Brier, Dina Brawer, Melissa Leigh and Dalia Cramer
    Leaders: (left to right) Norma Brier, Dina Brawer, Melissa Leigh and Dalia Cramer

    JEWISH ORTHODOX FEMINIST ALLIANCE UK

    FOUNDERS: Established by Dina Brawer — Jofa’s UK ambassador — in June 2013 and formally launched with its first UK conference attended by over 200 women and men. The group is inspired by two Orthodox feminist organisations — Kolech in Israel and Jofa in the USA.

    OBJECTIVES: To achieve greater participation of women in all areas of Orthodox religious and ritual life. Seeks to use education to counter what it describes as the “soft bigotry” of the community’s low expectations of women.

    WHAT IT HAS ACHIEVED: Has published halachic study guides and created an app for teaching Torah. Over 800 people have taken part in Jofa events and a further 700 receive Jofa literature. There have been Jofa events around the country and it held sessions at Limmud in December. A UK delegation attended the Jofa International Conference in New York last year. Has its first representative on campus at Manchester University to liaise with students.

    Mrs Brawer says: “We have put the issue firmly on the agenda. There is a recognition that if we truly want the next generation of Jewish Orthodox women to be engaged, we must build communities that actively invite women’s participation by giving them meaningful roles.”

    UNITED SYNAGOGUE WOMEN

    FOUNDERS: Established in 2009 by Dalia Cramer and Irene Leeman. Ms Cramer continues to co-chair, alongside Leonie Lewis.

    OBJECTIVES: The group represents the 17,000 female United Synagogue members, providing training, education and support for women seeking communal leadership positions.

    WHAT IT HAS ACHIEVED: It lobbied for a change in US rules last year allowing women to stand as chairs of their synagogues as well as trustees of the US central decision-making body.

    Ms Cramer says: “We are making a significant impact within the organisation, enough to warrant the US supporting the employment of a US Women’s administrator to manage our initiatives.

    “We have enjoyed a huge amount of support from both men and women across the community, which has been very encouraging.”

    WOMEN IN JEWISH LEADERSHIP

    FOUNDERS: A cross-communal organisation launched in 2013 under the umbrella of the Jewish Leadership Council. Co-chaired by Laura Marks, senior vice president of the Board of Deputies, and Norma Brier, the former chief executive of Norwood.

    OBJECTIVES: To enable more women to reach lay leadership roles in communal organisations, believing a more diverse leadership will be more effective. To create awareness that the community “lacks true equality”.

    WHAT IT HAS ACHIEVED: WJL has helped establish courses, mentoring schemes and networks. Its biggest contribution, it says, is to put “gender diversity and equalities are on the agenda”. But it recognises that systemic change may take a generation.

    Ms Marks says: “We cannot sustain long-term such imbalance in our community and that the damage it is causing is profound. Our community recognises that it is time for the men to move over, reach out a hand in support and share the power. ”

    The group has just launched the Ordinary/ Extraordinary Jewish Women campaign, calling on the UK community to nominate women who have inspired them the most. Funds raised will go towards its mentoring programme.

    UJS WOMEN’S NETWORK

    FOUNDERS: Set up in January 2014 by Judith Flacks, a former Union of Jewish Students campaigns officer, and Melissa Leigh, who is its chair. Launched with a networking event involving Jewish women in senior career and community roles

    OBJECTIVES: To provide a forum for Jewish women students and support those who feel they have been discriminated against because of their gender.

    To provide access to inspiring female Jewish role models.

    WHAT HAS IT ACHIEVED: The group is recognised within the student movement. It is working on a mentoring scheme for students to be paired with successful Jewish career women.

    Ms Leigh says: “It is essential, now more than ever, to acknowledge women’s voices in our community.”

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