women's leadership YIOS
Louis Finkelman Contributing Writer

YIOS earns grant for women’s leadership program.

During its inaugural year, the Orthodox Union’s Department of Women’s Initiative called for synagogues to apply for a challenge grant of up to $5,000 to fund new creative programs for women and girls.

Dr. Adina Shmidman, founding director, reported that 93 synagogues across the continent submitted program ideas. The OU intended to fund 10 programs, but, impressed by the quality of the applications, they committed to fund 16.

Young Israel of Southfield (YIOS) was one of the winners for its “Your Voice-Our Community” program.

Adina Morris
Adina Morris

When she read about the grant challenging congregations to “create engaging and impactful programming to facilitate spiritual involvement for women of all ages,” Adina Morris thought YIOS could meet that challenge. Morris, wife of the congregation’s Rabbi Yechiel Morris, works as a leadership and life coach at CRDL Coaching LLC; she has professional skills relevant to program design.

Morris discussed the challenge with Ariella Shaffren and Shirli Gotlib, sisterhood co-presidents, to develop the specifics of their entry.

The three identified a substantial need of their synagogue: integrating new members — especially women — into leadership. “The Young Israel of Southfield has undergone significant growth in the past decade; some 40 or 50 young families have joined,” Morris said.

Rapid growth creates opportunities and challenges. A larger congregation benefits from a mindful process to establish bonds across groups and age levels.

Some new members have talents they could devote to the synagogue, but they also have busy lives, with competing demands of profession and family. And some may not offer unless invited, but established leaders may not even know of talents that could be offered. The synagogue would benefit from a way to pull them in, to invite them to lead, but what is the path?

Ariella Shaffren
Ariella Shaffren

“While we were working on that project, we discovered that a fellow member of the congregation, Haviva Greenbaum, is a professional grant-writer,” Shaffren said.

Inviting Haviva Greenbaum into the planning illustrates Shaffren’s point: “We didn’t know that Haviva was a professional grant-writer until it came up in a different conversation.”

The women designed “Your Voice-Our Community” with several interlocking goals.

“We want to invite talented people into leadership,” Shaffren said. “We want to build relationships across the generations. The usual ‘age-basket segregation’ results in not even knowing other congregants and not knowing what they can do.”

On Nov. 3, the Shabbat of the Torah portion, Hayyei Sarah (the Life of Sarah), Rabbi Morris will deliver a sermon based on Sarah as a role model, focused on encouraging communal support for women leading in the shul and the broader Jewish community.

Kiddush after services will honor the women of Young Israel of Southfield. At an afternoon meal, seudah shelishit, for women, held at a private home, Adina Morris will teach classical Jewish sources that inspire women to seek leadership roles.

Women with children, careers and community work might not often take time, in Morris’ words, “to devote to developing themselves or to re-energize.” So, the Sunday activities of “Your Voice-Our Community” will provide an escape from the usual places and responsibilities. The full-day retreat at Soul Space in West Bloomfield begins with a literal escape, an escape room activity.

Terri Farber
Terri Farber

Terri Farber, a motivational speaker and leadership trainer from Farber/Schechter Philanthropic Advisors in Birmingham, will lead activities to help women identify their own potential roles as communal leaders.

Morris is especially excited to lead a session of “mind-mapping” after lunch. In this directed activity, small groups of participants freely contribute their thoughts on a topic, while each thought gets recorded and posted on a wall. The leader then reviews the thoughts, systematically drawing connections between notes and rearranging the notes until they form patterns. Mind-mapping, thus “makes thoughts visible.”

Different teams of women — mixed at random — will consider open-ended questions about what inspires and motivates them.

This will lead into teams planning inspiring or motivating projects for the synagogue. The team judged to have the best idea will get seed money to put the idea into practice.

After evaluating “Your Voice-Our Community,” the YIOS women will enable the Orthodox Union to publish detailed instructions for replicating and improving this program. When a congregation begins a similar program, the women of the Young Israel have committed to serving as mentors.