This essay is published as part of the WRJ “Sharing Our Stories” project – a place where Reform/Progressive women in North America and around the world share personal stories of sisterhood, spirituality and social good in an effort to help us create meaningful connections and better understanding of each other, our shared values, goals and challenges, to share what we have in common as Reform/Progressive Jewish women, and also explore our own unique identities as citizens of different cultures.
I am 81 years old. I was raised in a Classical Reform Temple, Temple Shalom in Plainfield, New Jersey. At the time, Plainfield had a large and vibrant Jewish community. The Jewish Community Center had an active Women's Division where Mom was a member and a summer day camp, Camp Noam, where I spent many happy summer days. In addition to my Reform congregation, our town had two Orthodox shuls. As a teenager, we hung around outside these shuls during the afternoons of the High Holy days talking and flirting with each other. At Temple Shalom, I learned about bible stories and the holidays and became a confirmed at thirteen with a dozen of my peers. Other than observing holiday meals with my extended family, my Jewish education ended.
Fast forward ten years: I am now married and the mother of three children. My husband had been raised in a kosher home and became a bar mitzvah under the tutelage of a rabbi who came to his apartment. When called to the Torah to chant his portion, he was shocked by the absence of vowels in the actual scroll. His tutor had not prepared him properly.
As a young family, we joined the nearest Reform Temple in our area, Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls, NJ. We wanted our children to be educated in the ways of our people in a manner that would prepare them for a Jewish life that would have meaning to them. Some years later, we found a second Reform congregation, Temple Shalom in Aberdeen, NJ where we are still members. My husband is a past president and I continue to sing in the Temple choir for the High Holy days. As a senior couple, we spend the winters in Boca Raton, Florida where we belong to a second Reform congregation, Temple Beth El.
I have always supported my sisterhood as a member and have supported many of their events. However, my main involvement has been as chair of the education, caring, outreach, and rabbi transition committees. I sat on the temple board at various times and created a program called "Passover University" which earned a Balin honorable mention award. I presented at the Dallas biennial on "Creating a Caring Community." I also helped to create a healing service which was used by our clergy on a monthly basis and is now offered as needed. During the afternoon Yom Kippur service, I lead a guided meditation. Temple Shalom has had many female presidents, board members and committee chairs. I have seen many changes in the Reform movement from the days when men were discouraged from wearing the tallit to this day when men and women may opt to wear them. I was inspired to wear one by my involvement in a weekend couples kallah. The then song leader (now cantor) Leon Sher said the blessing with me as I wrapped myself in its folds. I love to sing and find that singing with the choir enhances my spirituality. It helps to me to focus on the service and to bring special meaning to the songs of thanks and praise that we offer as a community. It centers me.
I appreciate all that WRJ has done for my temple. One of my daughters-in-law is a past president. Our Temple is a warmer, friendlier place because of the efforts of our women.
Sheila Rubin is a member of Women of Temple Shalom in Aberdeen, NJ.