6th Conference

Tikkun Olam – Jewish Women’s Contributions to a Better World

6th International Bet Debora Conference of European Jewish Women Activists, Academics, Rabbis, and Cantors

February 12-15 2013, Vienna


What contribution do Jewish women make toward Tikkun Olam – improving the world?  This question occupied more than 150 participants in the 6th International Bet Debora Conference for European female rabbis, cantors, rabbinical scholars and other interested Jews – both men and women. It was the first time that the Jewish-feminist network Bet Debora has held an event in Vienna. Previous conferences took place in Berlin, Budapest and Sofia. The response to the call for papers by conference organizers Eleonore Lappin-Eppel (Vienna), Lara Dämmig (Berlin) and Sandra Lustig (Hamburg) was overwhelming. More than 50 women from across Europe, as well as from Israel and North America, contributed to the program, offering varied approaches to the issue at hand. Participants, ranging in age from 22 to 95, took on different aspects of the topic in workshops, panel discussions, films, works of art, shiurim and lectures: women rabbis discussed their role in today’s society and representatives of Jewish women’s organizations shared their successes and perspectives. Sub-topics included equal participation of women in Jewish communities and the position of women in Jewish law. Women from Poland, Hungary, Ukraine, Russia and Germany reported on their grass-roots work. An impressive array of social projects run by Jewish women was presented, including programs for vulnerable youth or to help people with disabilities integrate within Jewish communities. Rabbi Irit Shillor remarked at the opening discussion that younger Jews today often find their Jewish identity through social activism.

The conference also offered a unique opportunity to become acquainted with the contribution of Jewish women from Vienna, such as Renée Wiener, who was raised in an Orthodox family and became active in the French Jewish resistance during World War II.  Her autobiography, “Von Anfang an Rebellin“ – “A Rebel from the Start” – (Picus Verlag, Wien 2012) was presented at the conference. Six eyewitnesses, all born in Vienna and now living either there or in New York or Jerusalem, spoke about rebuilding their lives after the Holocaust and making their contribution to a better world through career, family and political engagement. And six younger participants – representing an ethnic and cultural cross-section of today’s Viennese Jewish community – discussed their self-perception as modern Jewish women.

With help from Sandra Goldstein (Vienna), the conference organizers provided an important forum for encounters and exchanges of ideas between Jewish women who are active in communities, universities and programs Europe-wide. Building on this energy, Bet Debora has big plans: Its work will be professionalized and conferences will be held in two-year intervals. Most importantly, Bet Debora aims to reach out to younger women in order to promote its goals of equality for Jewish women and to intensify intergenerational dialogue.

The conference proceedings were published in September 2014.