Alison Auerbach contributes to Voices of WRJ

Voices of WRJ: Chukat
July 15, 2016
WRJ Guest Blogger
by Alison Auerbach

In this week’s parsha, Chukat 19:1−22:1, we read the following:

20:1 The Israelites arrived at Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin. Miriam died and was buried there.

These two lines on the death of Miriam seem a short shrift for a woman Rabbi Charles P. Sherman, in his sermon A Woman Worth Remembering describes thusly:

Friends, this was no ordinary lady – not by any means. Yes, she was a fallible human being with faults. On occasion Miriam liked a juicy word of gossip – who doesn’t? But she was a woman of enormous love of life and of exemplary courage, and she played a central role in the exodus which should not be forgotten.

Yet her death is a mere line in the Torah. Miriam, the only woman named as prophet in the Torah, very clearly didn’t receive the recognition upon her death that her male peers did. The text does tell us she was missed; in the very next verse we are told that after she died the Israelites found themselves without water.

Just as importantly when we learn there is no water we also learn Miriam has no heir; no one has been chosen to carry on her legacy. The well has run dry.

Or has it?

Carol Ochs, in Remembering Miriam, from The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, argues that while no one woman was named as successor, all women carried on her work. Miriam’s succession, she tells us, is shown in women passing on Jewish knowledge and practice in their families and in the recognition that home, too, was a sacred space. More ever, she states that: Miriam taught the women to find the holy wherever they were open to it, whenever they could be responsive. The strictures created around ritualized worship in the Torah were of less concern to Miriam than embracing a living Judaism. Women were taught by Miriam that the sacred can be experienced outside of structured worship. That, whenever we could be responsive to the holy, we should act upon it.

Indeed, Ms. Ochs helps us recognize Miriam’s work we are still carrying on:

Miriam’s legacy, which we are just beginning to retrieve, models our capacity to care for those more vulnerable than ourselves (as she did for her infant brother), to intervene in history regardless of our position (as she did when she approached the princess and when she challenged Moses’ conduct and leadership), and to dance as well as to sing publicly as a form of worship.

This is a powerful message. Whatever you choose to do as a Jewish woman, from creating a Jewish home, to taking on a leadership position in your synagogue or your sisterhood, to empowering WRJ to give voice to your values, you are carrying on Miriam’s legacy. It is our actions which mark us as Miriam’s successors.

We are following in her footsteps when we work to create a better world, as Rabbi Jessica Kessler Marshall shows us in her sermon Chukat: Miriam, a Prophet of Deeds:

Our prophet Miriam was a prophet of deeds. She didn’t give fiery speeches, she didn’t adjudicate matters of law, and she wasn’t overly concerned with exact prescriptions for sacrificial offerings. … She was not in the forefront of the public eye. She wasn’t loud or showy. But she did know what her people needed and she provided that. … Our prophet Miriam teaches us about what it truly means to lead by supporting others. To provide the sustaining nourishment and foundation so that one’s people may develop and thrive.

When we take action, support others and express our love of that which is holy we follow in Miriam’s footsteps. We are carrying on in a myriad of ways the heritage of the complex woman who was Miriam.

We carry on Miriam’s legacy when we help those in need.

We carry on Miriam’s legacy when we take a stand against racism, bigotry and hatred.

We carry on Miriam’s legacy when we dare to celebrate our love of Torah at The Western Wall.

No, Miriam was not mourned, not as her peers were. Instead we honor her life by following her teachings today. Her memory is for a blessing, and we, women who embrace the ethical and moral teachings of Judaism, have become her successors. We carry on Miriam’s legacy in ways big and small every day. And that is a memory we all should hold fast to.

Alison Heller Auerbach is proud to be a member of one of the founding congregations of WRJ, Rockdale Temple/KK Bene Israel, in Cincinnati. Alison has served as a board member for her congregation and as sisterhood president, and is currently an Area Director for WRJ’s Central District. Additionally she is on WRJ’s Board where she has worked on creating content for new and continuing sisterhood presidents.

Rosanne Selfon, May 2016 quoting Rabbi Eric Yoffie about WRJ

In 2008, the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) honored WRJ, naming it as the first organization ever to receive the International Humanitarian Award.

Former URJ President Rabbi Eric Yoffie presented the award that evening in NY saying, “I have faced many difficult challenges in my years at the Union, but I have never had a more impossible task than the one that I have been given today: to pay a comprehensive tribute to the Women of Reform Judaism, doing full justice to their achievements while staying within a time framework that absolutely, positively is not to exceed five minutes. It cannot be done. And so I apologize in advance for the many things that will not be said…”

Rabbi Yoffie began by saying, “…two things about the Women of Reform Judaism. The first is that without our sisterhoods, there would be no Reform Movement, and there probably would be no Reform synagogues—at least not as we know them today”.
He went on to say, “In the last half century, there have been tumultuous changes in our society, and women’s groups have been impacted in a variety of ways. NFTS was not immune to all this, but its leaders have been remarkably adept at keeping up with the needs of modern women. Along the way they changed their name, continued to speak out for social justice, and just completed what may be their most significant accomplishment of all: the creation of the Women’s Commentary on the Torah, a pioneering work of scholarship that showcases our Movement’s best teachers and affirms, by its very being, the equality of women in Reform Jewish life.” He continued, noting, “You know, I didn’t think that they were really going to produce this Torah commentary, and boy was I wrong! But to underestimate these women is always to be wrong.”

Rabbi Yoffie concluded his remarks saying,“There are too many people in our Movement who do not know the story of WRJ. The major reason, it seems to me, is that WRJ is not engaged in a continual campaign of self-promotion—which tends to be the norm in the Jewish world. They are simply too busy encouraging the grassroots efforts of their members, and in doing the everyday, nitty-gritty work that sustains our synagogues and strengthens the Jewish people.

But: “M’oded anaveem adonai” “God upholds the humble,” we read in Tehilim (Ps. 147:6)
God upholds, and we honor, praise, and thank these women for their untiring efforts to advance the cause of Liberal Judaism.

Rabbi Yoffie commented about communities within your district, “It’s interesting. Much of WRJ’s strength is in the Midwest and in smaller communities, and there are those who think of the Midwest and small town America as an America First kind of place, exclusively concerned about American institutions and American values, in religion as well as in politics. But from its earliest days, WRJ has had a very different vision.“

Temple Israel Sisterhood in West Bloomfield, MI hosts an Interfaith Women’s Freedom Seder

On Tuesday April 5th Temple Israel Sisterhood hosted its first ever Women’s Freedom Seder that underscored human trafficking as the modern day form of slavery.

About 85 women from Temple Israel in West Bloomfield along with women from Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit who came as our guests, attended and participated in this social action Passover seder.

Rabbi Marla Hornsten and Rabbi Arianna Gordon conducted the seder and the Sisterhood’s Social Action Committee organized the event. The four cups of wine became social action oriented – cups of awareness, human dignity, hope and action. We watched a DVD that told the story of Theresa Flores, who was sexually trafficked as a 15-year-old attending Groves High School in Birmingham, MI and many years later started S.O.A.P (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution), an initiative that provides bars of soap to be labeled with the national human trafficking hotline number and placed in motels. Donations were made to S.O.A.P and to Atzum (a social justice agency that helps human trafficking victims in Israel). It was a wonderfully powerful Seder that touched everyone that attended.

2016 Kallah

WRJ Central District Retreat (Kallah)
April 15-19, 2016
Goldman Union Camp Institute (GUCI)
Zionsville, IN

Rights, Rituals and Ruach

Kallah 2016 Savethedate Postcard

Application for 2016 Kallah is now available.
Download now at
Looking forward to seeing you all at this year’s Kallah!!

If you are interested in staying at the Hampton Inn rather than the camp, make your reservations-

TBE Sisterhood holds 3rd Brisket BakeOff on St.Patrick’s Day

Temple Beth Emeth Sisterhood in Ann Arbor just had a fantastic Brisket BakeOff and Fundraiser this last weekend.  This was our 3rd one.

And fun!  We had ten contestants who entered recipes and briskets for our panel of judges.  Judging was like that on Iron Chef, though no one knows whose brisket is being  judged at any time.   The judges take this very seriously.  Our judges were Justin Hiller, VP of Hiller’s Market, Mary Bilyeu, Ann Arbor’s “Food Floozie” and contributor to, and Lisa Saulles, last year’s winner.   We had great prizes for the winners– we give first through 4th prize (nice inducement for buying and cooking a 6-8 lb brisket).  The value of the prizes we are able to offer gets better each year.

Then we all had a great meal.  There were around 90-100 people (number of drop-ins, people from A2 don’t seem to believe in RSVPs) who came.  It was open to the whole congregation.

Dinner was brisket as the main course (of course), colcannon (Irish, it was St. Patrick’s day after all- made of mashed potatoes, cabbage and leeks), kasha varnakas, green beans, salad, a barley lentil stew (vegetarian option), challah,  dessert.  We also had wine with the meal.

And on top of this– we had a concert by the Balkanos.  Check out the video.

We lucked into this group.  They are out of Chicago,  the singer is the daughter of a member of our congregation, and they were on the way to a “gig” in the Detroit area.  Hope you caught them in Detroit, if you were able to.

I’m very pleased to say we made around $1400.  3% of the “ticket” sales for the dinner is going to Mazon.  The rest is designated as our commitment to the YES Fund.

I’m attaching our brisket booklet. Great recipes in here, but note we also raised much of our money by selling ads in the booklet.

Great fundraising and congregational event.

Sharing the Best

Welcome to WRJ Central District’s Blog– Sharing the Best
Use this blog to notify Central District members of upcoming programs and successful events.
This is a moderated blog.

The world of Social Media– of easily spreading the word, is growing. So WRJ Central is adapting and giving you more opportunities.

Visit us on Facebook also to see what is “trending” and add your comments and information.

Have Questions? Join us on Yammer. WRJ Central District has a its own page where we can share information–
Not a member of Yammer yet- here are directions to sign up.

And don’t forget to send news and articles into Isha L’Isha.

Feb 20 and Feb 21, 2015

TBE Sisterhood invites our sister-Sisterhoods to come to both TBE’s Sisterhood Shabbat on Feb 20th and our Workshop held at TBE on Saturday, Feb 21, from 9:30 – 2:00.

Sharon K. Benoff is currently WRJ Vice President of Development & Special Projects, has been on the WRJ Board of Directors since 2003, with prior roles as WRJ Vice President of Programming and Advocacy and WRJ Vice President of Service to Sisterhoods. In 2012-2013, Sharon served as the WRJ Centennial Fundraising Chair, responsible for raising millions of dollars to secure WRJ’s future. She is also working with women groups in South America helping them organize and join the WRJ organization. At home, she has been an active member of Women of Shir Ami in Newtown, PA.

Sharon is a dynamic, engaging speaker with a wealth of experience. She will be giving the D’vah Torah on Friday night and lead a workshop for us on Saturday, 9:30am – 2:00pm. Cost of the workshop is $10 to cover lunch.

Other Sisterhoods are invited. Saturday’s programs will focus on Advocacy/Social Justice—how to organize, what WRJ has already done and “Cultivating Leadership/Sharing Ideas.” Our members are very interested in talking to others in similar offices to learn and compare what others have done. If you are interested in coming to our workshop and working with Sharon, contact Hillary Handwerger, 734-668-6585,

Temple Beth Emeth is at 2309 Packard St, Ann Arbor, MI 48104