Meet Your New President

The new president of Women’s League describes how a one time decision put her on the path to leadership in this excerpt from her installation speech, delivered at Convention 2014 in July.

by Carol Simon

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I want to talk about journeys, both personal and collective. As a noun, a journey is a passage from one stage or place to another. As a metaphor, a journey can be much more personal; it’s about how we got where we are today.

My journey began years ago in a small boardroom at a synagogue in Miami. The sisterhood was at a troubled crossroads. I sat there thinking that if I didn’t volunteer to be a co-president, the sisterhood would remain a group of committed, but older, women – no one new, no one representing me or my friends. Funny thing is, those women were only slightly older than I am now!

Little did I realize then how that one decision would shape my journey. Getting involved in a sisterhood influenced my personal and religious growth, and continues to do so today. It provided me with a life-changing sense of Jewish community and with a precious web of friends. Just as importantly, it gave me a place where I could try new things and go beyond my comfort zone. That one little decision to volunteer has opened doors that I never could have envisioned sitting in that boardroom.

Over the years, I have often wondered how women acquire leadership skills. For me, it was clear: sisterhood. Within that supportive community, women encourage one another to be creative, to be courageous, to press or change, to confront challenges, and to embrace opportunities. Along our personal journeys, in sisterhoods and in Women’s League, we meet outstanding women who befriend us, who mentor us, women who reach out to us. While the programmatic focus of Women’s League has changed to suit the times, the driving message remains unchanged: “I can do that. We can do that.”

Our sisterhoods are blessed with an incredibly diverse cross section of women – teachers and social workers, accountants and managers, lawyers and health care workers, mothers and grandmothers, sisters and daughters, all committed, in one way or another, to the ideals of Conservative Judaism and the vision of Women’s League founder Mathilde Schechter and the pioneering women who worked with her.

Today we still treasure every member. My goal is to reach out to our members to connect … and, just as importantly, to lean in to listen, to find out what we can do to help sisterhoods grow and flourish, and what our members need, personally, to make their Jewish connections stronger and more spiritually fulfilling.

Many people contend that sisterhood is an anachronism, rooted in the past. I know from personal experience that a women’s community provides important and even healthful benefits and comfort to its members. In a Jewish women’s organization, the additional benefit of our shared cultural identity and history further enriches and energizes each of us.

We are the only organization devoted specifically to Conservative Jewish women. Throughout our nearly 100 year history, we have fostered enlightened Jewish learning among our members. We have advocated fiercely for the State of Israel, provided essential financial support to our educational institutions, and promoted the power and dignity of women’s voices in prayer and study. That is the Women’s League legacy and that continues to be our value. We look to provide every community with a women’s group committed to our collective goals, and to provide every Conservative Jewish woman with a community of which to be a part.

Carol Simon is international president of Women’s League for Conservative Judaism.