Idina Menzel joins local women in raising their voices at Spring Event

Idina Menzel inspired 1,000 women at this year's JUF Women's Division Spring Event.

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Moderator Liz Schrayer (left) interviewing Idina Menzel at Spring Event. Photo credit: Robert Kusel.

"Why is there a separate Women's Division?" asked Shari Greco Reiches, a JUF Women's Board member and one of the chairs of JUF Women's Division Spring Event 2019. "Women get the job done," she answered, "and Jewish women really get the job done!"

Greco Reiches and her fellow chair--Brooke Kauf, representing JUF Young Women's Board, along with co-chairs Shelley Radner, representing the JUF Women's City Council, and Lauren Grossman, representing the JUF Young Women's City Council--brought together a crowd of 1,000 women in May to celebrate the power of women's voices.

"It is our voices coming together as a community that make a difference," Greco Reiches concluded before passing the microphone to Deborah Schrayer Karmin, JUF Women's Board Vice President, Campaign, and sister of the event moderator, Liz Schrayer.

"You share your voice by performing actions of deed and generosity," Karmin said, describing how the philanthropy of the women in the room influenced the world. From assisting Holocaust survivors in Europe to supporting Pittsburgh and Poway after recent antisemitic attacks, the event attendees were instrumental in providing JUF with the means to help thousands of people in need.

Karmin, who led the JUF Spring Event campaign with Amy Yeager Hausman and Liz Kulakofsky from the JUF Young Women's Board, described how "our voices can change the world."

Then, she introduced Hannah Goldwin, a high school freshman faced with a dilemma when a close friend told a racist and antisemitic joke. As she told her story, there was an audible gasp from the audience. Goldwin thanked her parents and JUF for helping her find her voice to educate her friend.

Attendees enjoyed lunch followed by a "frozen" dessert celebrating guest of honor Idina Menzel's role as Queen Elsa in Disney's Frozen . Then, Menzel took the stage along with moderator Liz Schrayer for a conversation about life, Judaism, and womanhood.

Their conversation started at the beginning of Menzel's illustrious singing and acting career--as a 15-year-old, she sang at weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs. During this time, she began to learn about the power of her voice: "You can sing someone else's song, but what you bring to it"--a connection Menzel called her "vocal identity"--helped her discover the strength of her passion and a path forward in the musical world.

Her voice also serves as a crucial part of her identity. "Ever since I was a little girl, I knew I had a voice, and I have a hard time identifying who I am if I'm not singing," said Menzel, who also spoke of her life as a wife and mother of a 9-year-old son.

Menzel, who described herself as a "Jewish girl from Long Island," said her Jewish connection is "something I wrestle with all the time." Although she did not have a bat mitzvah as a teenager, she found a part of the Tanakh that held special meaning for her--the story of Deborah--and chanted these verses in flawless Haftorah trope.

Menzel enjoys the stories of powerful female characters like Deborah as well as Elphaba from Wicked and Elsa from Frozen , who she has portrayed during her career. "The characters teach me about myself," she said, especially in their journeys to find a way to express their voices. "Isn't that what we all struggle with?" She wondered aloud. "How big, loud, and ferocious can we be?"

She also described this power in the bonds between women, including the "supportive and generous" women in her life. The force of women "standing behind each other, lifting each other up" was visible in the banquet hall captivated by her words before she launched into a gorgeous rendition of "For Good," a song from Wicked .

The final words she sang encapsulated the meaning of the event: "Because I knew you, I have been changed for good."

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