Women of Vision

By Malkie Krieger
On March 6, 2012

 On February 22, TAC hosted the kickoff event for Women of Vision, a program that seeks to spotlight Orthodox women making meaningful contributions to their communities. The evening's speaker was Mrs. Virginia Bayer Hirt, president of The Jewish Center on the Upper West Side. Primarily, she spoke about the role that she plays as one of the few women presidents, nationwide, of a Modern Orthodox synagogue (UWS Jewish Center).

In addition to her role on the UWS, Bayer Hirt shared the story of how she and her husband founded SAFE, Securing America's Future Energy, an organization dedicated to reducing America's dependence on oil, from a national security standpoint. Attendees were impressed by Bayer Hirt's articulate presentation of the challenges faced by community leaders moving into the 21st Century – but specifically by her motivation to constantly innovate community practice to keep up with differences in Jewish identity today.

Kira Joel, SC ‘13, pointed out, "Mrs. Bayer Hirt is part of a generation of people who are hesitant to embrace change – yet she seemed so interested in involving the voices of the younger generation in communal leadership, which was amazing." Through her stories, students could sense the energy and commitment she has brought to her community, the charisma and creativity which pushed her to begin SAFE in reaction to 9/11. Since then, SAFE has accomplished serious feats on Capitol Hill, including spearheading and authoring the first energy reform bill to have passed into law in 30 years.

Bayer Hirt is the the first of an impressive string of speakers that TAC plans to bring in for the Women of Vision series. This semester's Women of Vision initiative intends to present empowering women who can serve as role models of what it means to be a female Jewish leader on a fairly frequent basis. TAC "wish[es] to attract women who are advancing their careers on a professional level, as well as their involvement in the greater community," said TAC president Leora Niderberg, "while maintaining a strong connection to both their female and Jewish identities." The program was inspired by a "dearth of inspiring women professionals in our midst. With this program, TAC is looking to create a ‘revolving door' of women figures who will be able to inspire and connect with students across their wide and diverse spectrum of interests."  

The meetings will take place intimately, informally, for about an hour and a half each, rather than a formal lecture presentation – bringing students to engage in close discussion with women who are prime examples of what they can be accomplishing either now or within a few years.

Though the program is open to all students, TAC is structuring the guest speakers with diverse professional and communal involvement, so that each week will attract a small, warm, and diverse crowd. Rather than fill a lecture hall with students, this particular program aims to attract a smaller group of students directly interested in the career and lifestyle choices made by each guest. "This will contribute to a more personal interaction by everyone attending, with more time for networking and socializing on an individual basis with our presenter," Niderberg said.

The current list of invited speakers includes women involved in new models of female clerical leadership, Torah scholarship/education, fashion, politics, art, literature, science, medicine, journalism, law, non-profit, and more. "Our goal is to give those Stern women interested in pursuing any career a chance to connect with someone who has made a real contribution to her respective professional niche," said Niderberg, "while also maintaining an active membership and role in the Jewish community."

The first Women of Vision event set the bar high for the rest of the semester, and TAC looks forward to connecting women who have achieved great things with those about to achieve great things – SCW women. Their culminating dinner and discussion event will be held on May 1, and will feature prominent female Orthodox lawyers, educators, artists, and scientists.

The glass ceiling in every area of public life is cracked, but not yet broken. As young women who are bright, talented, and committed to the Jewish future, it is our responsibility to learn all that we can from those empowering female Orthodox leaders among us and be prepared to carry the torch to the finish line.

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