Melissa Robinson (left) and Lisa Tilton Levine (right) of Millburn, members of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Irsael’s Women’s Connection, worked with wine consultant Sharon Sevrens of Amanti Vino in Montclair, to select Israeli vintages for the group’s “Night in the Shuk” event.

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Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel
432 Scotland Road
South Orange, NJ 07079

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Release Date: Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Media Contact: Caryl Bixon-Gordon (201) 796-7788

Women’s Connection at Reform Synagogue Crosses Generations to Bring Members Together for Social Activities, Cultural Programs and a Fresh Take on Community

SOUTH ORANGE, N.J., April 16, 2014 – In 2006, Rabbi Daniel Cohen approached Andrea Baum about rejuvenating the Sisterhood women’s group at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel (TSTI) in South Orange. The goal: To appeal to a broader range of women with an approach that reflected their changing needs. Baum enlisted the help of fellow temple member Helene Sorin, and together they re-imagined how the group could offer something new and exciting to engage more female members of the Reform congregation. What emerged was TSTI’s Women’s Connection, a vibrant group that has refreshed the temple “Sisterhood” concept to provide women of all ages with an opportunity to socialize, learn, and lead together in ways that are meaningful to them.

Building on what the original Sisterhood members had established, the founding members of Women’s Connection re-branded the group to appeal to more diverse interests, ages, careers and lifestyles. Its activities are a direct reflection of its mission statement: “To foster an environment where women of all ages can connect with each other through social, educational, cultural and intellectual activities in a Jewish context in order to create bonds with each other, the Temple, and the Jewish community.”

Women’s role in society and their interests and concerns have changed dramatically since the Women’s Movement in the 1960s. According to a 2011 White House report, “Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being”:

  • Women are marrying and having children at a later age than in prior generations (nearly 20 percent never have children);
  • females account for more than half of all college enrollees and graduates;
  • women comprise 61 percent of the workforce;
  • and they have more varied occupations.

Recognizing that women today have a different definition of community from their mothers and grandmothers, Women’s Connection offers programs at different times to accommodate the varying needs of those who are raising families or are working as well as those who are retired.

Outgoing president Roberta Probber, who lives in Montville, believes that Women’s Connection is all about creating community across generations. “The re-branding helped us bring women together from all walks of life and provide a place where they could connect with each other socially and culturally. To that end, we have more varied activities than typical sisterhoods and find creative ways to foster community and get people involved.”

The truly inter-generational group includes mothers of young school-age children, teens and college students, empty-nesters and retirees. Incoming co-president Melissa Robinson of Millburn said she values Women’s Connection for fostering a stronger association with temple life, other members and Judaism in ways that are not always associated with religious observance. “It’s nice to come to temple and see so many faces that I know, especially among my peers,” said Robinson, who has been an active member of Women’s Connection for four years. Incumbent co-president and Short Hills resident Sue Brand said that the people and programs have given her and her family ways to be involved with TSTI outside of the religious school. “It’s a great place to develop new relationships within a Jewish framework.”

The group sponsors book discussions with Rabbi Cohen, a yearly cooking event, New York City walking tours, outdoor hikes and nature programs, guest speakers, cultural programs and a Friday night service led by its members and the Women’s Connection choir. Members also partner with the adult education committee to sponsor scholar dinners and movie screenings. Baum, who also lives in Short Hills, noted that many of the original members have stayed involved and currently serve on the Women’s Connection Advisory Committee, a testament to the group’s significance to the synagogue’s membership and to its past presidents, who are active in developing new leadership.

In a nod to its traditional role at TSTI, Women’s Connection still provides gifts for students who become bar and bat mitzvah, does High Holiday plantings outside the building, and rents out an elegant set of dishes to members who hold their special celebrations at TSTI. It also runs the synagogue’s gift shop, which raises money for TSTI.

Recent programs reflect the group’s refreshing take on community: A mahjong night, a cooking class led by two members who are chefs, and “A Night at the Shuk,” a Middle Eastern-themed evening complete with an upscale marketplace, Israeli music and authentic regional foods. A June photography class is planned for the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens in Montclair.

Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel is located at 432 Scotland Road in South Orange. Membership in Women’s Connection is open to all female members of TSTI for a fee of $36 per year, which includes admission or special member pricing for programs. Non-members are welcome to attend many activities at non-member rates. For more information about Women’s Connection or Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, visit www.tsti.org.


About Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel