“What did you do during spring break?”
I can hardly wait to get back to school Monday morning to ask, and answer, this question.
Yesterday, I offered an invocation during the awards luncheon at the WICERS 2019 conference. It was the second-most meaningful meal, after our family Seder, of my Passover celebration.
WICERS, an acronym for Women In Construction, Engineering and Related Services, is described on its website as “an exciting opportunity for professionals in construction, engineering, and other related fields to convene, share, and gain, powerful resources for personal and professional development.” The WICERS movement has a fascinating origin story, and how I came to be invited to participate in the luncheon and what I learned from the experience is a pretty good story, too. But these are stories for another day.
Today, I will share only what I promised these women, who inspired me and generously welcomed me to WICERS: a written copy of my invocation. Since I spoke from notes, I offer a good-faith attempt to capture what I said.
Ms. Bryson, Ms. Jackson,* awardees Ms. Clayton and Mr. Davis,** elected officials, esteemed honorees with me on this dais, it is a privilege to join you at this conference, as you mark five years of providing enrichment, support and opportunities to women in non-traditional career spaces. As a woman who entered the Jewish Theological Seminary of America just two years after their ordination of the first woman rabbi in the Conservative Movement—when there was only one female, tenured professor on the entire faculty and none in the senior administration—I am familiar with the challenges of forging a professional path in a traditionally male-dominated field. Fortunately, in my nearly two decades serving as a rabbi and teacher in Metro Atlanta, I’ve been inspired by many colleagues and mentors, and by all of my students.
Today I’m inspired by you, and I feel such joy to be able to offer words of blessing as we begin this luncheon and presentation of awards honoring women and men of achievement. I’m especially delighted to be with you at this time in the Jewish holiday cycle, as we are in the middle of celebrating Passover, the season of our freedom and redemption. On the seventh day of the holiday, Friday morning, Jews in synagogues around the world will read the passage in the Torah known as Shirat Ha–Yam, the Song of the Sea. In the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus, which tell’s of Miriam’s leadership in praising God, we read:
וַתִּקַּח֩ מִרְיָ֨ם הַנְּבִיאָ֜ה אֲח֧וֹת אַהֲרֹ֛ן אֶת־הַתֹּ֖ף בְּיָדָ֑הּ וַתֵּצֶ֤אןָ כָֽל־הַנָּשִׁים֙ אַחֲרֶ֔יהָ בְּתֻפִּ֖ים וּבִמְחֹלֹֽת
And Miriam the Prophet took the timbrel in her hand,
and all the women followed after her, dancing and singing,
שִׁ֤ירוּ לַֽיהוָה֙ כִּֽי־גָאֹ֣ה גָּאָ֔ה
Sing to God who is victorious!
This afternoon, we too sing praises to You, God, source of our strength:
Let us be like Miriam the Prophet and all the women who joined in song and celebration at the Sea of Reeds. Bless all of us at this gathering with continued success and wisdom, so that we may raise each other up and celebrate together in the years to come. Help us to support one another as we create and nurture meaningful and lasting partnerships. Guide us as we do the sacred work of reaching our potential that You endowed in us, in every human being, when You created the world. M’kor Ha-Hayim, Source of Life, help us recognize our gifts and share them with those around us, so that we may all continue to create, to grow and to flourish in our lives. And we say, Amen.
*Jan Prisby Bryson and Daphne Bryson Jackson, founding mothers of WICERS
**WICERS 2019 Level Award Recipients, Ms. Xernona Clayton and Mr. Howlie Davis (Government Relations, Vice President, Jacobs)