The Orthodox Union (OU), the nation’s oldest and largest umbrella organization for the North American Orthodox Jewish community, will underwrite the cost of 16 innovative programs in 11 states that will support the spiritual, religious, and communal growth of Orthodox women. The programs were selected from a field of 93 applications for its Women’s Initiative Challenge Grant.

The Challenge Grant recipients are:

  • Summer Women’s Beit Midrash: Congregation Keter Torah in Teaneck, New Jersey
  • Women’s Professional Mentorship Program: Congregation Darchei Noam in Fair Lawn, New Jersey
  • Women’s Institute of Learning and Leadership: Congregation Shomrei Torah in Fair Lawn, New Jersey
  • Women’s Center for Inspired Judaism: Suburban Torah in Livingston, New Jersey
  • Women’s Seder Avodat Yamim Noraim: Young Israel Toco Hills in Atlanta, Georgia
  • Tools for Life: Keneseth Beth Israel in Richmond, Virginia
  • Rebbetzin-in-Residence (“R-in-R”): Westwood Kehilla in Los Angeles, California
  • Learn to Lead: Beth Jacob Congregation of Oakland in Oakland, California
  • More than Challah and Candlesticks: Women’s Relationship to Judaism in an Orthodox Context: United Orthodox Synagogues in Houston, Texas
  • Transmitting Torah: By Women … For Women: Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford, Connecticut
  • YIH Eishet Chayil Initiative: Young Israel of Hollywood-Ft. Lauderdale in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
  • Women’s Torah and Leadership Training Program: Lincoln Square Synagogue, New York, New York
  • M’Dor L’Dor: Cultivating Jewish Female Leadership Across Generations: Young Israel of Oceanside in Oceanside, New York
  • Saturday Night In(side Torah): Learning and Entertainment for the Women of our Community: Young Israel of Greater Cleveland in Cleveland, Ohio
  • Your Voice – Our Community: Young Israel of Southfield in Southfield, Michigan
  • Women’s Education Department: Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion Congregation in Baltimore, Maryland

Applications were evaluated based on the creativity of the proposed program, target audience, and whether the project could be replicated in other communities.

“The Challenge Grant is an exciting initiative that captures the positive energy of so many communities,” said Rebbetzin Dr. Adina Shmidman, founding director of the OU’s Department of Women’s Initiatives. “The Women’s Initiative is proudly empowering our communities to develop creative approaches to addressing spiritual and communal needs. Once these programs are piloted, they can be offered widely in other communities so that they, too, can benefit from the wisdom and experience of these successful initiatives.”

“Coming on the heels of its extremely successful national Shavuot programming by female scholars, the Women’s Initiative received an impressive response to its Challenge Grant,” said Allen Fagin, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union. “We have no doubt that the proposals will prove to be crucial additions to their shul programming and we look forward to sharing them broadly to benefit women in communities throughout North America.”

The Challenge Grant is one of many programs the OU Women’s Initiative is launching in its inaugural year. The Women’s Initiative ran a well-received Shavuot speaker series, which created and promoted high-level learning opportunities presented by women on Shavuot in shuls across the country, many of which had not previously hosted women educators in this capacity.

Upcoming initiatives include a multicity mikveh-attendant training program addressing mikveh client medical and mental-health needs; a Leil Hitorerut, an evening of spiritual inspiration between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; and the creation of the Women’s Impact Institute, a leadership training program.

“For more than a century the Orthodox Union has addressed the religious and spiritual needs of the American Jewish community. Ever-changing circumstances and challenges, however, compel the ongoing exploration of new approaches to advance our connection to G-d, both as individuals and collectively as a community,” said OU President Moishe Bane. “We therefore feel particularly privileged to be partnering with women of extraordinary vision and commitment from across the community to pursue exciting and innovative initiatives seeking to enhance the religious and spiritual growth of the contemporary Jewish woman.”

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