My mother of blessed memory, Ruth Novak, grew up in a secular household. When my grandparents attended shul, they went to the local Orthodox congregation. Being female, Mom was not offered a formal religious education or encouraged to attend services.
After my parents were married, they affiliated with a Conservative congregation. Mom attended services occasionally, but most of her religious practice was in the home, lighting Shabbat candles and celebrating holidays. Eventually, my father affiliated with a Reform congregation, but Mom continued to be more of a home practitioner. I attended religious school but was never pushed to continue beyond my elementary school years.
As an adult, I had a spiritual awakening and became active in the Sisterhood of Temple Beth Shalom, Needham, MA. My mentors introduced me to Women of Reform Judaism, and I eagerly attended WRJ conferences and became active on the district level.
My mom, being a feminist and a volunteer, encouraged my leadership growth through WRJ. She had always been an active listener, and I was often the beneficiary of her skills. As I took on various leadership roles, I would often tell her what I was doing as part of my WRJ portfolio. This interchange caused Mom to become more active in the Reform community near her, but she was frustrated since they didn’t have a sisterhood. So, she ended up joining mine and was delighted to engage with a group of multi-generational women who were actively involved in sisterhood causes and who were willing to work to promote tikkun olam.
Mom and I enjoyed the bonding that came while attending various local sisterhood events together, including Membership Dinners, Donor Dinners, Lilith Salons, and her favorite event, our annual Sisterhood Retreat, which was created after attending a WRJ workshop. During Retreat, my Mom got to hold a Torah for the first time, which moved her so much she decided to study and become a Bat Mitzvah at age 65. She used her artistic talents to paint symbols on our community-made Sisterhood tallit. No matter what we were studying, Mom threw herself into these weekends completely. These memories are precious to me.
Eventually, Mom couldn’t travel but was willing to act as my editor as I wrote newsletter articles for my district portfolio positions. While serving as the Northeast District’s Development Vice President, my Mom, after helping to edit several articles about the YES Fund, decided to use her cost-of-living increase from Social Security to purchase a gold Lifeline. She wanted to support our YES Fund grantees to “ensure a bright future for our Reform partnerships.” In addition, Mom also supported WRJ’s Centennial campaign with a contribution, “To honor all the things we accomplish, all the things we do.”
Mom was very proud when I became the president of the Northeast District. She passed away a few months later. Her passion for WRJ continues to bolster and sustain me.
Trina Novak is a Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) Board member and the Immediate Past President of WRJ Northeast District. She is a past sisterhood president and member of the Sisterhood of Temple Beth Shalom in Needham, MA.
Ruth Novak, z”l, was an artist, life-long learner, and dedicated volunteer. She was a member of the Sisterhood of Temple Beth Shalom, Needham, MA, and also affiliated, though her Cantorial Soloist husband, Sidney Novak, with Temple Shalom, Newton.
As we approach Mother's Day, and perhaps reconnect in person for the first time in a year, we are reminded of the importance of generations coming together. And while we recognize it can be a day of reflection, memories, and joy, we know it can bring complex feelings, too. This spring, we wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate ALL of the women who make WRJ special. We asked some of our WRJ "sisters" to share how being a part of this community has shaped their formative years, continues to be an integral part of their lives, and how WRJ inspires them to think about the future.
We hope these stories in our campaign, L'dor V'dor: From Generation to Generation, demonstrate your impact. Your support enables WRJ to reach thousands of women, youth, and people through our signature leadership education and Jewish programming. Join us in honoring these women and their families as they pass down sacred Jewish values. Please donate to this ever-growing community with a gift today.