In a rare and invaluable opportunity for rebbetzens across the UK, 40 ladies travelled to Rome from as far afield as Cardiff, Newcastle and Liverpool to participate in a two-day leadership development trip that aimed to supercharge British communities from the top down.
The trip, held over Sunday and Monday, comes as the latest instalment of Valerie Mirvis’ Investing in Rebbetzens initiative, which works in conjunction with the Chief Rabbi’s Centre for Community Excellence (CCE) to inspire and empower the women at the heart of our congregations.
At the top of the agenda was a discussion of the competing roles incumbent on the contemporary rebbetzen, who is helping to lead a community and often juggling another job and raising a family. This is what Rebbetzen Chaya Zimmerman of Gateshead addressed in her session on the trials, tribulations and opportunities that emerge from being a role model.
Hers was one of three focused learning sessions that took place in the Renzo Levi Jewish school on the Monday. It was followed by a session by Valerie Mirvis, who drew upon the world of clinical supervision to discuss in detail the key elements of healthy working relationships. She highlighted the importance of mutual empathy and competence as being crucial to the systemic success of any community. Lastly, Rebbetzen Oser gave a presentation that focused on the unique challenges of helping lead the Jewish community of Hong Kong.
The programme was punctuated by insights into Jewish community life in Rome, with Chief Rabbi di Segni of Rome and president of the community board Noemi di Segni pointing to a vibrant and committed community that endures despite the familiar forces of anti-Semitism and assimilation. Tours of the Great Synagogue and the Jewish Museum by local Jewish guide Sara Pavoncello provided ladies with a comprehensive history of life in the ghetto, while Rabbi Aubrey Hersh of the Jewish Learning Exchange provided commentary throughout the trip on Jewish sites of historical interest.
The trip was rounded off with a visit to the Forum and the Colosseum.
Explaining the thinking behind the trip, Valerie Mirvis said: “As a city with a proud Jewish tradition that endures to this day, Rome was the perfect venue for the latest part of Investing in Rebbetzens. I am delighted that we were able to replicate the success of last year’s trip to Gibraltar and have great admiration for the hugely talented rebbetzens, who have so impressed me with their enormous contribution to British Jewry.”
Rebbetzen Ilana Epstein of Cockfosters & N Southgate Synagogue remarked on the benefits of the initiative, thanking “Valerie Mirvis and the whole OCR team for planning and implementing a trip that wasn’t just hugely inspirational but also great fun.” Tzipporah Sufrin, Rebbetzen of Enfield & Winchmore Hill, highlighted the “high standard of the lectures and the small details that made [ladies] feel valued” as important benefits for her.