Fresh festivals with a female focus

The “Unleash your rhythm” workshop at She’ela 2016. Photo: Peter Haskin

IN medicine, law, arts and culture, business, the community and home, Jewish women make their mark in fields far and wide.

Uniting this diversity in an inclusive space of inspiration and learning, various grassroots initiatives such as the Women of Worth Weekend in Sydney and She’ela in Melbourne have been formed in recent years, seeking to connect and celebrate women in the Jewish community and beyond.

The Women of Worth (WOW) Weekend at The Great Synagogue offers a “modern and cross-generational event where women spark and rekindle friendships, cry with sadness and laughter and share several ‘WOW’ moments”, remarked shule vice-president, Caroline Lewis.

“When a group of women share space together, there’s an energy and enthusiasm in the room that is palpable.”

It was Lewis’s brainwave to establish WOW, the first of which was held last year, and the next one making its much-anticipated return in early July.

Centred around Friendship, Family, Fearlessness, Fun, Faith, Food, Fashion and the Future, this year’s WOW features speakers including Melbourne comedian Justine Sless, shining an amusing light on exploring her Jewish roots as an adult, and founder of KOCO, Danielle Chiel, discussing how she has made a difference in women’s lives in southern India.

Helping to boost women through the power of mentoring is Bobbi Mahlab, who will share her experience co-running Mentor Walks with Adina Jacobs.

“Part of the magic of Mentor Walks is bringing diverse experiences and diverse backgrounds to women. Often when you work in a sector you can be in a bubble and Mentor Walks can open you to different perspectives,” said Mahlab.

On the walks, many women seek guidance about a particular issue, whether it is applying for a promotion, gaining tips on how to turn a side hustle into their primary source of income, and balancing work and family life. Running in seven locations across Australia, including Sydney and Melbourne, Mentor Walks aims to instil women with the courage to give something a go.

“Women seem to be born with a confidence deficit. We have less natural self-belief than our male counterparts,” remarked Mahlab. “Confidence is something you build over time. Often you gain confidence through courage.”

Encouraging women to put that courage to the test, Melbourne’s non-denominational She’ela Festival offers a platform for Jewish women to take a leap of faith.

“Some people want to try new things, other presenters have been doing what they do for a long time,” explained Naomi Rubenstein, who founded She’ela in 2016 after she “googled the internet and couldn’t find anything like this in the community”.

Since then, She’ela has offered meditation workshops, yoga, kabbalah, painting classes, thought-provoking speakers, all coming together in the “beautiful atmosphere” of She’ela, which returns next March.

Last year, attendees heard stories about women changing lives through acts of kindness, and the challenges faced on the professional pathway to success. “We’re giving a voice to a lot of people in the community,” said Rubenstein.

The power of women coming together, open and uninhibited, is a philosophy underpinning her venture.

“I enjoy women coming together because they can open up and feel uninhibited quickly,” said Rubenstein. “They are coming in with less layers … It’s real and people don’t feel judged.”

WOW is on July 6-7. Tickets and program at greatsynagogue.org.au/wow2019.

She’ela Festival is looking for presenters for next year’s event. Visit sheelafestival.org.

SOPHIE DEUTSCH