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.
In 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.