Area Day

Women gather for the closing ceremony and Havdallah from last year’s Area Day in Tempe.

With excessive heat warnings expected to be in effect across the Valley and the Southwest this weekend, sisterhoods from a number of synagogues are heading north to Flagstaff to beat the heat and attend the Women of Reform Judaism Southwest Area Day, also called “ReJEWvinating in the Forest.” It is the first WRJ Area Day to take place in Flagstaff.

The event is hosted by the Sisterhood of Congregation Lev Shalom of Flagstaff, which is the newest affiliate and will receive its charter and gavel over the weekend, as well. Lev Shalom joined after several members attended last year’s Area Day, which was held at Temple Emanuel of Tempe.

“Joining the WRJ put us on the map,” said Lev Shalom Rabbi Mindie Snyder. “We’re getting more visitors as a result. Over the long term, we will have a greater scope of friends and hopefully some additional collaborations as well.”

The WRJ Pacific district includes Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, El Paso, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wyoming and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta. It is made up of 57 sisterhoods representing roughly 7,500 women. It encompasses a larger geographic area than any of the seven other districts, which is why in addition to a biannual district-wide conference, they hold four smaller Area Days per year for the Pacific Northwest, Northern California, Southern California and the Southwest.

“We’re talking about distances of 450 or 500 miles between our sisterhoods in this area,” said WRJ Pacific District President Judith Ning, who is also a member of Congregation Albert in Albuquerque. “We run from Vancouver, British Columbia to El Paso, Texas.”

Area Days focus on leadership, personal development, relationship building and improving communication and cooperation.

Six congregations are sending delegates, with 35 women expected. Temple Emanuel of Tempe and Congregation Albert are planning to send 10 members each, with nine women in Flagstaff expected to attend, in addition to four from Congregation Or Chadash in Tucson and one from El Paso. The visitors from out of state are particularly exciting to Dana Spiel, the conference co-chair, Southwest area director and past president of the Temple Emanuel of Tempe Sisterhood.

The event kicks off with Friday night services at Lev Shalom, followed by a meal at a yet-to-be-determined location. Saturday activities start with a light breakfast at 9 a.m. and a welcoming message from Spiel.

“We’re fostering the future, because in general, sisterhoods are decreasing — just like temple membership is — across the country,” Spiel said. “To get a new sisterhood on board that’s growing and working together is very important. The Area Day isn’t just about the workshops, but also all the networking, community building, sharing and learning with other like-minded women.”

Snyder will lead an activity about using expressive arts for community building on Saturday.

“The WRJ has been around for over 100 years and they’ve done all kinds of good things in that time,” Snyder said. “What we’re trying to do this weekend is combine some practical leadership training through the WRJ, along with some spiritually nurturing experiences with Judaism as a broader community and some creative experiences as well.”

The keynote speaker will be Brian Fuller, FBI supervisory senior resident agent, who will discuss online crimes against children at lunch on Saturday. Since starting as a special agent in May 2000, Fuller has worked cases of insurance fraud, bank robbery and crimes against children.

The event will also feature a number of workshops, including one exploring yoga and scripture called “Moving with Torah: Take a Breath.” Other workshops include “Beading with a Jewish Theme,” “Women’s Spirituality and the Environment” and “Jewish Leadership, Women’s Roles & MY Purpose.”

Following the workshops, there will be a panel discussion titled “The Pink Elephant in the Room” covering topics such as the value of gender-specific organizations, the different challenges faced by female clergy and the value of female clergy as leaders and role models.

That evening, there will be a dinner and closing circle hosted at a local home. Though there are no formal events organized for Sunday, Lev Shalom has made passes to Lowell Observatory and the Arboretum at Flagstaff available to attendees.

While WRJ members learn and network, Lev Shalom Men’s Club will provide entertainment for spouses and other companions of the event’s attendees.

To sign up for the Area Day, contact Spiel at 602-369-1179 or JN