None of the nearly 40 women who attended the Jewish Women’s Salon live event “Who’s Your Esther,” on Feb. 17 knew what to expect when they arrived at 10 am.
By the time the event ended at 11:45 am, though, the resounding cries of “Is it really over?” and “You must do this again,” spilled from the Kramer Boardroom of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater at the Sandler Family Campus.
The concept of the program—and of Jewish Women’s Salon, a community-building effort of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater—was to provide a means of dialogue, inclusion, friendship and personal growth for all local Jewish women, regardless of their religious practices, observances or affiliations. The program is rooted in the articles published in Hadassah Brandeis’ 614 E-zine, an on-line magazine whose articles feature contemporary topics to which many Jewish women can relate.
With the then approach of the festival of Purim, which features the heroic actions of the biblical queen Esther, the chairs of JWS—Janet Mercadante, Janet Peck and Danielle Leibovici (currently on maternity leave from JWS duties)—envisioned a program that would center on the profound influence women can have on one another and on the world around them.
Using Esther as a role model who appreciated her unique place and time and recognized her need to save the Jewish people, the co-chairs asked program participants to think about the “Esthers” in their own lives—women who were “there for them” at certain times in their lives, or throughout their lives—to offer support, inspiration, motivation, or to serve as role models.
JWS co-chair Janet Mercadante welcomed the group to the event and shared a brief history of the JWS program, citing its genesis in HBI’s 614 e-zine. She also recognized Annie Sandler for having the vision to believe that one could “lift the pixels off the screen and use 614 e-zine to bring issues, ideas, and opinions to life through the ‘magic’ that happens when bright Jewish women come together.”
Farideh Goldin, academic director of the Institute for Jewish Studies and Interfaith Understanding at Norfolk’s Old Dominion University, facilitated the event. A popular English, women’s studies and Jewish education teacher at ODU, as well as an author, Goldin first shared the stories of the women in her life who shaped her into the person she is today, and then asked others to tell their own stories.
And that’s just what they did. “Esthers” included mothers, aunts, grandmothers , friends, daughters, teachers, bosses, and peers in the community. Some women’s stories elicited tears, while others’ brought fits of laughter. Even as JWS co-chair Janet Peck brought the program to a close, stories remained that still hadn’t been told, and the clamor for another round of “Who’s Your Esther?” grew.
“It was interesting to hear how many of the same words we used when we were talking about these women who are so important to us,” said Karen Lombart. “Words like strong, and committed, and Jewish values, and grateful. We don’t usually have an occasion where we can talk about things like this, that are really personal, and I think everyone enjoyed themselves.”
While she hadn’t known what to expect, Charlene Cohen made it a point to attend, basing her decision on a mix of curiosity and on past experiences she’s had at Women’s Salon and Outreach events.
“I always try to come to these Outreach programs,” Cohen said. “The diversity of Jewish women always makes the event very special, and today did not disappoint me at all. It was really great.”
A community-building initiative of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, Jewish Women’s Salon programs are free and open to all women in the Jewish community, with no solicitation or gift requirement to participate. “Like” the Jewish Women’s Salon on Facebook to see more photos, find links to articles and issues of 614 e-zine, and get notices about future events.
article and photos by Laine Mednick Rutherford