This past Monday, my wife and I sat in our beautifully decorated social hall and were delightfully overwhelmed by the smiles and chatter of Temple Israel’s most dedicated women during the annual Sisterhood Closing Dinner. The Temple Israel Sisterhood dates to 1906, then called then the Ladies Aid Society, but the strength and contributions of Jewish women in America can be traced all the way back to 1654, with the women who marched off a boat onto the dry land of New Amsterdam. Since then, through official and unofficial means, Jewish women have participated in countless acts of tzedakah, tikkun olam, and Jewish engagement. Notable moments are the establishment of the Mordecai Female Academy in North Carolina in 1809, the creation of the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society in Philadelphia ten years later, and the organization of the United Order True Sisters in New York in 1846. But by the end of the 19th century, almost every American Jewish community had established women’s groups with differing names and a common purpose: to care for the sick and in crisis, provide help to those in need in the community, and help build educational opportunities and Jewish worship. From the sewing clubs, aid societies, social clubs, and national councils evolved the Temple Sisterhoods, and Temple Israel moved with the times.
This week, amidst the wonderful food and colorful flowers, as thank you notes and projects were passed around and discussed, it was abundantly clear to me just how much our Temple Sisterhood continues to fulfill its purpose in providing for our congregation and community. From gifts to our Confirmation students to new chairs for our multi-purpose room, from conferences and dinners to fundraising and support, the strong foundations of our Temple rest assuredly upon the hands of the women in this congregation who proudly call themselves members of the Sisterhood. Acting through the lens of the Women for Reform Judaism, (which boasts 75,000 members in 500 Temple Sisterhoods across the world), our Sisterhood toils in what can only be described as “labors of love” for our entire community. More than that, it was clear from how the members spoke to each other, and of one another, how much our congregants mean to the Sisterhood. There is genuine care and worry for our sick or lonely, and genuine love and support for those in need.
These strong and humble women in our community work hard to keep up vital components of our Temple community, and deserve our highest thanks and praise. To those members of our synagogue who have not yet joined the Sisterhood, I do hope you will consider it. For too long in Jewish history, women were not counted in minyans and could not occupy a sacred place on the bimah. Now that those wrongs have been rectified, it can be easy to think that sisterhood, which used to be the only way women could serve in a Jewish capacity, isn’t necessary or important. I want you to know, however, and I do hope our incredible Sisterhood president, Carol Bloom, would agree with me, that Sisterhood today has never been more important.
If you want to know the history of a synagogue, look to its Sisterhood. If you want to understand the humanity of a synagogue—the cornerstone on which a temple is built—look to the Sisterhood. If you want to believe that the world tomorrow will be better than the world today, look to the Sisterhood (and to our incredible youth who are supported in so many ways by, that’s right, the Sisterhood). I hope that as new members find themselves at home at Temple Israel, the women in those families will consider joining sisterhood and adding to a long legacy of not just Jewish engagement, but world engagement. To our members who have allowed their sisterhood membership to lapse, or who have never joined Sisterhood, please, attend a Sisterhood event. Be their guest at a dinner or worship with them at their incredibly moving Sisterhood Shabbat service. Be a part of a centuries-old tradition of women uniting with women in Jewish fellowship.
I am so grateful each day to be able to serve as a partner and friend of our Temple Sisterhood. To our Sisterhood members and, especially, our Sisterhood leadership and volunteers, thank you for the invitation to sit within your ranks this past Monday evening to share in your joys and your successes. Mazel Tov!