Just Like All the Other Moms

by Arlene Sarah Chernow

On May 13, I will watch my youngest daughter become Rabbi Ilana Mills, joining her sisters, Rabbi Mari Chernow and Rabbi Jordana Chernow-Reader in the rabbinate. Like most mothers (and fathers, too!), I have always hoped that my daughters would find fulfilling, meaningful work that matches their skills and talents, and provides opportunities for them to grow intellectually and emotionally. This coming Sunday, on Mother’s Day, I will see these hopes fulfilled.

It may seem hard to believe, but when I went to college, women chose majors in just a few areas—teaching, nursing, and social work.  I was a bit of a radical and majored in political science. When I graduated, 90% of political science majors were men. When our oldest daughter, Mari, was young, I had an opportunity to introduce her to Chief Justice Rose Bird, who served as California’s first female justice and the state’s first Chief Justice.  I believe that meeting Rose Bird helped Mari understand that women could be anything they wanted to be.  Complementing this understanding was the fact that our house always was full of professional women with meaningful careers, and Mari, together with Jordana and Ilana grew up in a world in which women did not experience the professional barriers that often were obstacles to previous generations of women.

40 Years of Women on the BimahIn fact, my own career led me to the Jewish professional world more than 30 years ago, and I have spent the last 28 years working for the URJ and its Outreach initiative, mostly with intermarried families and Jews-by choice.  I grew up in a secular Jewish home and my discovery of Judaism began when Mari attended pre-school at Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles. The more I learned about Judaism, the more it became central to my life and the more I wanted to learn. Shabbat and holiday dinners became the focus of our family, and our synagogue became our social community.  For years we used vacation time to attend study kallot and other Jewish learning opportunities—a practice that continues today and enriches our lives immeasurably.

Although I know that children follow their own stars no matter what their parents wish and hope for them, I cannot begin to describe how delighted I am that our daughters have found the same fulfillment in Reform Judaism that Eli and I have experienced for decades.  I’m sad that my parents didn’t have a chance to find the meaning and joy we all have found in the Reform Movement, but I know they would have been so proud of our daughters.

I have been asked again and again if this day will be about our place in history.  My answer is always, “No.”  For me, it’s just about being a mom and seeing my daughters take charge of their lives.  This Sunday, I will sit in the audience with tears of joy in my eyes—just like all the other moms.

Arlene Chernow is the URJ’s Associate Engagement Director – Outreach and Membership.

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8 Responses to “Just Like All the Other Moms”

  1. avatar

    Your daughters have always been stars — as is their mother. So nice to see this article. I miss seeing you. Jocie Wurzburg

  2. avatar


    Mazel Tov to you and your family on this special Mother’s Day! You are all one amazing Outreach Success Story. Love, Julie

  3. avatar
    Sue Levi Elwell Reply May 11, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    Happy Mother’s Day to one of the most fabulous, generous, creative and simply marvelous moms I am privileged to know. And mazel tov to the entire Chernow clan on this historic day!!!

  4. avatar
    Rabbi Harley Karz-Wagman Reply May 11, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    Mazel tov, Arlene:
    You underrate your personal accomplishments on behalf of our movement and of all Jews. How motherly. Enjoy a special day and make sure Eli indulges you well.
    L’shalom, Harley

  5. avatar

    Mazel Tov to the entire family
    It’s such a tribute to all of you that you’ve chosen this path. (Maybe we should also let the URJ Camp take some credit too) I wish you all the best of luck, and next time I’m in Prescott Valley I want to hear a great sermon.
    All my love

  6. avatar
    Diane Tickton Schuster Reply May 12, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    What an extraordinary kvell moment, Arlene! We’ve always connected mother-to-mother, and I share in this moment of celebration with a profound sense of sisterhood. Huzzah to all the Chernows on this joyous occasion!

  7. avatar
    Rabbi Jerry and Cyrille Kane Reply May 14, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Mazel tov Arlene and Eli. Watching this terrific video, validates what we have known and observed for years. Namely, apples don’t fall far from trees. You and Eli have nurtured your daughters and served as amazing role models. May you all continue to nurture each other and celebrate for many years to come!

  8. avatar

    Congratulations on bringing up three admirable daughters. I am so happy for your family that you have all brought so much to Judaim. It is a true honor to know you and have the privilege of being the benefactor of your good advise. May you and your family continue to have success and Mazel.

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