Zooming through the pandemic
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Zooming through the pandemic

150 women from 6 countries join the OU Women’s Initiative virtual summit as covid changes almost everything

Sara Diament
Sara Diament

“Zoom fatigue” is one of those new phrases brought into our lives by the covid-19 pandemic. We’re all zooming from one online meeting or class to the next, and it can get a bit tiresome.

Sara Diament of Bergenfield has a fresh angle on this issue thanks to — what else? — a Zoom-enabled virtual leadership summit of the Orthodox Union Women’s Initiative, held June 14.

One of the sessions she found most helpful, led by Leslie Ginsparg Klein, was titled “Reconnecting and Reinventing: Creating Cures for Zoom Fatigue.”

“It was interesting to me because it applied to my professional life and the degree to which all lay leadership meetings have gone online,” Ms. Diament said. She holds master’s degrees in Jewish studies and health and behavioral science, and she is on the adult-education committee of Congregation Beth Abraham in Bergenfield and cochairs the board of education of Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge.

“Dr. Ginsparg used a lot of humor in her presentation,” Ms. Diament said. “She said we don’t have to recreate the perfect in-person meeting online. We talked about different ways to use breakout rooms and to be strategic about how discussions take place so that we can maintain strong working relationships and have everyone’s voices heard.

“I can incorporate what I learned in both my roles as I’ve experienced issues with equity of voice on Zoom and how many people can have a productive discussion.”

The summit was designed to provide female Orthodox lay leaders with a platform to learn and network with peers as they all face the varied impacts of covid-19. More than 150 women participated; they come from 78 communities around the United States, as well as from Canada, Israel, Australia, the United Kingdom, and South Africa. Eight are from Bergen County, and one is from Rockland County.

Ms. Diament said the summit’s geographic and chronological diversity assured that participants were not simply hearing what she called “an echo chamber” of voices from within their own communities. She found it valuable to learn how lay leaders in other places are managing covid-related issues.

This was the second annual Leadership Summit of the OU Women’s Initiative, which is headed by its founding director, Adina Shmidman.

“This year we took the program virtual due to the covid-19 pandemic and we also wanted to gear the sessions toward the topic that’s on everyone’s mind — how to lead their organizations successfully through covid-19 and how to rebound successfully afterwards,” Dr. Shmidman said.

“It was inspiring to see a group of women from different backgrounds and communities come together to support one another and learn from these experts. Together, we reimagined new strategies for our organizations’ missions, programming, and financial wellbeing.”

Miriam Greenspan, past president of the women’s mikvah in Teaneck and a member of the steering committee of the OU Women’s Initiative, attended a session titled “Reopening Fundraising: Adapting Strategies and Activities to Raise Funds for Your Cause.” It was led by Rachel Cyrulnik, head of RAISE Nonprofit Advisors. “We were given tools for addressing different situations and target audiences,” Ms. Greenspan said.

She also gained something unexpected from a talk by life and executive coach Adina Morris about “Your Life, Your Work: Time Management for Women Leaders with a COVID-19 Twist.”

This presentation involved smaller breakout sessions within the Zoom meeting; Ms. Greenspan said she was “super impressed with how easy that was” to accomplish with the help of a tech tutorial at the start and the availability of OU staffers to offer assistance during the sessions. “It was really well thought out and well run,” she said.

Ms. Morris’s discussion about the pressures many women are facing at home and at work during the pandemic led to new insights and ideas for coping. “I wasn’t as aware of some of the challenges I was facing until she articulated them,” Ms. Greenspan noted.

“One exercise we did was writing down all the pieces of our day, putting them into a circle, and seeing how much time each activity takes. It really made me focus on things I take for granted in my day.”

Other sessions presented at the summit were “Looking Forward Hopefully,” led by the writer Dr. Erica Brown, who also is the director of the Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership and an associate professor of curriculum and pedagogy at George Washington University; “Leader as a Conflict Solver: An Illustrated Guide,” led by executive coach and clinical psychologist Dr. Michelle Brody; and “Navigating Uncertainty: Challenges and Opportunities,” presented by leadership coach and organizational consultant Amy Katz.

Ms. Diament said that she has been an avid consumer of the OU Women’s Initiative programing. That includes the Rosh Chodesh Lunch and Learn series — also virtual for now — and the Nach Yomi podcasts, in which female Orthodox scholars deliver lessons on the books of Prophets (Nevi’im) and Writings (Ketuvim) at the pace of a chapter a day.

“Those programs have been amazing,” she said. “But I haven’t had the opportunity to join in their leadership programming. I heard wonderful things about the conference last year and when I saw they were having something virtual I jumped on it.”

“The summit was extremely timely and effective in addressing the communal needs and concerns of the moment,” Moishe Bane, the Orthodox Union’s president, said. “Once again, the Women’s Initiative created an event offering engaging and thoughtful topics, presented by best-in-class speakers. In addressing challenges posed by the pandemic and its economic aftershocks, summit participants were afforded the opportunity to share best practices and insights to employ in their respective communities and organizations.”

Ms. Greenspan said that the summit exceeded her expectations, in part because there were speakers and participants from various walks of life and stages of life, and in part because of the practical nature of the presentations.

“When I joined the OU Women’s Initiative I was looking for a place that represents Orthodox women,” she said. “I’ve been impressed with all their programming and all the learned women out there. This summit wasn’t just about learning but about life skills.”

The Orthodox Union, which was founded in 1898, is the umbrella organization for American Orthodox Jewry, with more than 400 member congregations and a range of programs and services, including the world’s largest kosher certification agency.

The OU Women’s Initiative, launched in 2017, develops professional and lay leadership training for women in the Orthodox Jewish community and works with Orthodox communities nationwide to identify and address women’s spiritual, educational, and communal needs.

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