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Conference Focuses on Women’s Needs

Hundreds of women hoping to get in touch with their spiritual side are heading to California for a first-of-its-kind conference.

Chochmat HaLev, a center for Jewish spirituality located in Berkeley, Calif., is organizing a Jewish Women’s Conference, slated for July in San Francisco. The one-day event is aimed at meeting the needs of women, who are represented in Jewish spirituality circles in far greater numbers than men.

Organizers say that many women are looking for a religious movement that is not synagogue-based because it affirms the totality of their spiritual experiences.

The spirituality movement “embraces concerns that women have had — it embraces family issues, it embraces cooking and food and all the other ways that you can infuse spirit into your life,” said Laurie Williams, the conference organizer. On Passover, she said, “I was making the haroset, remembering my grandmothers. I felt completely as much a part of that generational line as I do on the High Holidays, when I can feel 5,000 years behind me.”

Conference highlights will include a keynote address by best-selling author Anita Diamant, who will discuss Judaism as a spiritual path; more than a dozen workshops, and the opportunity for women to network during affinity-group meetings. Music will be interspersed throughout the day, and meditation space will be available. Participants, who are expected to number between 500 and 1,000, will leave with a resource guide and a bibliography so that they can continue to explore newfound areas of interest.

The list of workshops includes such titles as “Mothering as a Spiritual Practice,” “The Spirituality of Eating” and “Are You a Boy or a Girl? Questions About Gender in a Post-Modern World.”

Chochmat HaLev’s president, Nan Fink Gefen, stressed that the conference will not assume any preset definition of what constitutes women’s spirituality.

The overall goal is to help women, whatever their backgrounds, begin their own inner conversations, Gefen said: “We wanted to have a conference that could kind of open up spirituality for women and get women to be thinking about their spiritual lives.”

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