Why WRJ? My Leadership Journey

May 3, 2024Rachelle Weiss Crane

My journey with Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) began in 1999 in Chicago, Illinois. The sisterhood at my congregation had been floundering and then disbanded. The senior rabbi asked me to help re-establish the women’s group. I was honored, excited, and frightened all at the same time. I grew up in a secular, unaffiliated Jewish family so I had no role models for Jewish communal leadership. Soon later, the women of WRJ District 18 came to my rescue.

The district helped guide me as a new president, and our WRJ sisterhood began to flourish. My tutelage included my first visit to a URJ camp. Through workshops and one-on-one meetings at beautiful OSRUI in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, I learned about WRJ policies and best practices and gained confidence. Some of those women are serving on the WRJ board now. It has been a joy to reconnect with them! During that visit, I also learned about WRJ’s role in establishing and funding URJ camps and the power of camp in building Jewish identity. I vowed to send my son there, and as it turned out, our family moved to Dallas, Texas, and he was destined for Greene Family Camp, an amazing URJ camp in Bruceville, Texas, for nine incredible summers.

WRJ networks are strong and have a wide reach. That move to Dallas in 2002 was an easy transition because of WRJ. My arrival was anticipated, and I immediately received a warm welcome, a meaningful project to work on, and a new group of mentors and friends in my new WRJ sisterhood at Temple Emanu-El, Dallas. Since 2002, I have served in a variety of leadership roles in my local sisterhood, including president. I have also had meaningful roles with the Southwest District of WRJ, the Temple Emanu-El board, and the broader Dallas community. I credit WRJ for helping me to develop my leadership skills and giving me the confidence to take risks.

Joining the WRJ North American Board was one of those risks. I wanted to learn about and participate in more of WRJ’s work around North America and the larger Jewish world. My term as local WRJ president was ending, and I was ready for a new challenge. At the encouragement of a friend and current WRJ board member at the time, I applied for a board position and was honored to be a nominee. My board service has been everything I had hoped for and more!

My installation to the WRJ Board took place in May of 2019 during the WRJ Social Justice Conference in Washington, DC. I was proud to join this impressive group of leaders and excited to learn how I could best contribute. My first assignment was to the Dues Commitment Committee. What I imagined would be challenging and tedious work turned out to be an excellent experience. I built relationships with the other board members on that committee, and we helped struggling sisterhoods find ways to survive and sometimes truly thrive through the first year of the COVID-19 lockdown. I have also been privileged to serve on the Resolutions Committee, the YES Fund Allocations Committee, the Executive Committee  Nominating committee, and the WRJ Board Nominating Committee. With each new committee assignment, I embraced new challenges, worked diligently, learned a great deal, and experienced the joy of getting to know and collaborate with people from all parts of North America.

Serving on the EC Nomination Committee led by Blair Marks was a tremendous growth experience. We were doing sacred work, identifying new leaders to take WRJ into the future. It was rewarding and fun even when our much anticipated in-person deliberation meeting moved to Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When asked to co-chair the 2023 WRJ Board Nominating Committee, I was honored and felt ready for the task. I had the chance to hone my leadership skills working as co-chair with Abby Gilbert and it was a natural next step to serve as chair of the 2024 WRJ Board nominating committee as well. WRJ board members today owe a great deal to those who came before us. Our committee of 10 women honored that legacy as we helped to shape the future of WRJ.

I love the fact that WRJ is truly a working board. Board members and the incredibly talented WRJ staff work together to advocate for change, build budgets, allocate funds, write resolutions, and make decisions. While it is sometimes a juggling act to balance WRJ responsibilities with those of my full-time employment as Director of Israel Engagement and Jewish Living at the JCC in Dallas, my voice and my work are both valued by WRJ colleagues making it well worth the effort.

I have enjoyed every moment of my board service and appreciate the relationships I have built through the work of WRJ. I am in awe of the amazing people I have come to know and call friends through WRJ. I have also picked up new skills including how to write a d’var Torah and how to use Zoom for online meetings. The ability to run a Zoom meeting was invaluable as the world shut down. I had the advantage with all my professional colleagues since WRJ has been using that technology tool for years! And this summer when our congregation looked to a handful of lay leaders to unpack a Torah portion on select Shabbat mornings, I was able to say, “Yes! I have the skills to do that.”

WRJ board service has enriched my life. It has made me a better person, parent, partner, and friend. It has enriched my life as a Jewish woman. I look forward to whatever comes next for me with WRJ. I am counting the days until we are in New Orleans in May for the WRJ Board Meeting and the Fried Women’s Conference. I hope to see you there! 

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