By Rabbi Jon Adland
I remember this as if it were yesterday. The year was 1966 and the season was spring. My father secretly arranged to pick up his children, the four of us, at three different schools, and take us to Washington Hebrew Congregation’s closing Sisterhood luncheon. Though I wasn’t totally in the loop, what I understood was that my mother—Marilyn Friend Adland—was going to be installed as president of WHC’s Sisterhood. Though I didn’t know it then, but I do now, WHC’s Sisterhood was one of the first in our Reform Jewish movement and my mom was going to be the president of this Sisterhood. My father, unbeknownst to my mother, was bringing us to witness this moment and, obviously, it left a lasting impression on me even if I had very little idea what Sisterhood was or what my mom was doing.
It didn’t take long to figure out that this was something special. My mother was now on the synagogue’s board of directors, she was getting lots of phone calls, there was always a pile of papers by the phone in the kitchen that belonged to her, and she was going to sit on the bimah at some future time. She took her position seriously. I was so proud of my mom, but her role in Sisterhood didn’t end there as she went on to leadership in District 7 (I think it was called), and the National Federation of Temple Sisterhood’s Board. As an NFTS Board member living in DC, she was asked to be a part of the initial organization to be called the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights in 1973. This position left a lasting impression on me as for 25 years I have served my local and the national Planned Parenthood loyally. I should add that she served a second term as WHC’s Sisterhood president and many years on the WHC board. We even attended the 1971 Biennial in LA together. I was a youth delegate and she was attending the NFTS convention.
When I arrived at HUC-JIR in Cincinnati, OH, in the fall of 1977, I learned that the dorm was called the Sisterhood Dorm and though I didn’t reside there, I always took great pride in knowing that the building was connected to my mom in some way. NFTS supported the students in a number of ways including scholarships that so many of us received.
When the organization’s name changed to Women of Reform Judaism in 1993, it also reflected the next generation of Reform Jewish women who worked to support their congregations, religious schools, and a number of Tikkun Olam projects around the globe. This Sisterhood belongs to my wife Sandy who served as president of the Temple Adath Israel, Lexington, KY, Sisterhood, and for many years held numerous positions on the district board including her current office as 1st Vice President of Central District. A little over two years ago, Sandy was elected to serve on the WRJ Board. Such pride I had in her and only wished my mother had been alive to see this changing of the guard. And now, in another year and a half, Sandy will assume the presidency of Central District.
No matter which congregation I have served, Sisterhood/WRJ has been there to support my rabbinate and is intimately involved in my life. The WRJ women are our pillar of strength and a source of our spirituality. Every Sisterhood Shabbat I have witnessed, every program they have created and worked on, everything the Women of Reform Judaism does helps make the world a better place and Reform Judaism a better movement. The women don’t put on white gloves and pour coffee or tea or hold monthly luncheons like they use to; some do, but the Women of Reform Judaism today serve to strengthen our movement, our camps, our religious schools, and our Reform Jewish lives. Their work makes my rabbinate better.
Sisterhood didn’t begin in our family with my mother. Casually she once remarked to me that her mother—Sylvia Weiler Friend of Lincoln, NE—had been that congregation’s Sisterhood president once too. My two sisters are active in Sisterhood and I hope that someday my daughter will be part of the WRJ that is yet to come. NFTS/WRJ/Sisterhood is a part of who I am and, I truly believe, that without the Sisterhood presence in my home, I may not have become what I am today. From Sylvia to Marilyn to Sandy, the Women of Reform Judaism enriched and enriches my life today.
Rabbi Jon Adland currently serves Temple Israel of Canton, OH. He currently serves as one of three Reform Rabbis on the Clergy Advisory Board to Planned Parenthood Federation of America and lovingly and spiritually has supported his wife Sandy on her WRJ journey.