Leaning in With the Orthodox Community

Tonight was the first public, open event of the Orthodox Leadership Project, a group of which I am a founding member. The theme of the night’s panel discussion, “Leaning in with the Orthodox Community,” focused on strategic ways to broaden the landscape of Orthodox leadership and included panelists who themselves are all accomplished female, Orthodox leaders. The fact that over 100 women and men gathered on the Upper West Side on a chilly, rainy, late December night, most coming after a full day of work or school, is a testament to the desire on the part of so many to be a part of the conversation, and ultimately move the Orthodox community to a place where the leadership landscape is equitable, diversified, and therefore enriched.

Each panelist shared her trajectory to a position of leadership, some taking more deliberate steps to get there, others finding themselves there after saying “yes” to a series of opportunities that presented themselves. Dr. Rivkah Blau spoke about the way her early leadership experiences building a Jewish community at Barnard helped to prepare her for roles that she took on later in life, as school administrator and community educator. Blu Greenberg discussed how attending a conference changed her life, and how important it is to say yes to leadership opportunities and avenues of advancement that will “lead you to where you want to be in 40 years.” Rachel Friedman discussed her transition from a career in law, to a career in teaching, pursuing her passion and contributing to the community in a way that spoke to her personal strengths.

The conversation ranged from the involvement of women in ritual life, to a discussion of “titles” for female Orthodox spiritual leaders, to how we educate our youth to inform their values and solidify their commitment to a shared leadership landscape. As the hour became late, a discussion ensued about how to navigate the often complicated and messy balance of family needs with communal involvement and professional ambition. While most of the conversation was distinctively “Orthodox” in its orientation, this last piece is one that could have and does take place in any forum about “leaning in.” At what point have we stretched the blanket to its maximum, leaving cold toes exposed? How to decide between attendance at a child’s siddur play and an important Board meeting? Are there points in time where one needs to “lean out” in order to allow others to “lean in”? How to create a shared landscape in the domestic sphere to enable one in the professional and communal arena? These are just a few of the issues that came up in the hours, for most of us, between work and life. Hefty issues, larger conversations, broad desires for growth, change, more equitable leadership. and enriched lives. The room was buzzing with conversation as I snuck out to catch my ride home, with assertions being challenged, questions raised, and networks forming.

I am excited and inspired by the fact that what started as a small cohort of women, seeking to create a network of support and resources, and who came together to provide mentorship and guidance, is well on its way to becoming a catalyst for change and opportunity in the Orthodox community.

For more information or to get involved please go to http://orthodoxleaders.org/.



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