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Wiesel to Conservative women: Go to Iran
'Do not stand idly by'

By MERRY MADWAY EISENSTADT
The Washington Jewish Week
December 18, 2000

WASHINGTON—Telling close to 1,000 Conservative Jewish women that "what you are doing for the Jewish people is important," Nobel laureate and Holocaust scholar and survivor Elie Wiesel urged them to take on another bold project.

Go to Iran and show solidarity with the families of the 10 Iranian Jews imprisoned on trumped up espionage charges, Wiesel told delegates Monday afternoon at the Women's League for Conservative Judaism conference in the District.

Saying he was "disappointed" that "Jewish leadership has not done more" to show strong, visible support, Wiesel suggested that the women's movement of Conservative Judaism send "a delegation" of "Jewish women and Jewish mothers" to Iran; "You could do so much," he told them. "After all, you have an authority which is called compassion," he said earlier.

Wiesel was presented with the Women's League Mathilde Schechter Award, recognizing "individuals who have achieved distinction through service to Judaism and to humanity."

The Women's League works to strengthen more than 700 Sisterhoods at Conservative synagogues throughout the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Israel and other parts of the world. Representing more than 150,000 women, the Women's League finances a Torah Fund to support the Jewish Theological Seminary and the University of Judaism; and runs projects in women's health, Torah education, distance learning and connection with Israel.

The three-and-a-half-day biennial conference, held Sunday through Wednesday at the Washington Hilton, provided workshops for sisterhood and synagogue leadership, educational seminars, female-led Jewish prayer and worship, and sessions on world affairs including the Mideast crisis and Israeli politics.

In addition to sending solidarity missions to Iran, Wiesel urged Women's League leaders to support Israeli families of slain soldiers and civilians. "Go and pay shiva calls," Wiesel said, adding they should write supportive letters to grieving relatives and the families of the IDF hostages in Lebanon.

Citing the moral imperative of Leviticus, " 'Thou shalt not stand idly by while your neighbor's blood is shed,' " Wiesel said, "What you do today may change lives tomorrow. The present matters. The present is a bridge" to the future as well as the past, he noted. "What is Judaism without an attitude toward time?" Wiesel said we must all do something important with the time given to us.

As if underscoring Wiesel's call, immediately following his address, conference delegates took action on 13 resolutions on a variety of domestic social issues and Ethiopian Jewry, return of Israel's MIAs, and the Mideast water shortage.

Among the measures approved was a call for Jewish leaders to "explore strategies" to provide appropriate Jewish educational settings for children in day schools and supplementary schools who have physical, psychological, cognitive and/or learning disabilities.

Other domestic issues included intervening to prevent school violence; gun control measures; women's health initiatives; veterans' rights; opposition to racial profiling and support for prescription drug price relief for the elderly and uninsured.

An undercurrent of collegiality, excitement and vigor marked meetings among delegates.

Ellen Poor of Congregation Olam Tikvah in Fairfax, who is Seaboard branch vice president for community services, helped at a conference information booth and said, "What is really exciting is the scope of the information presented and the opportunities to meet other active Conservative Jewish women from all over North America."

Similarly, first-time attendee Arlene Sidman, president of Congregation Har Shalom's sisterhood in Potomac, said she appreciated the workshops on the "inter-generational" topic of "getting the younger women active" while keeping long-timers involved but ready to relinquish leadership to the next leadership crop.

Bernice Blumenthal, sisterhood representative from Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County in Bethesda, pointed out the religious aspects of the Women's League.

"It was fascinating to be at the Shacharit service this morning," she said on Monday, "and to find it completely conducted by women, and to find women in tallit and tefillin able to daven and to be spiritually empowered."

© The Washington Jewish Week, 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission
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