WRJ: The Place for Me to Be

By Alexis Rothschild

My journey to Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) and the “Award Winning” Sisterhood of Temple Sholom in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, is very recent, though my involvement with the Jewish community has been lifelong. I grew up in what I considered to be a very religious family. I am the third generation of Reform Jews in my family. We celebrated Shabbat weekly, rejoiced in the Holy Days and shared the festivals with family and friends. I attended weekly religious school, celebrated my confirmation, was active in my temple youth group and attended URJ Olin-Sang-Ruby Camp Institute. I follow in the footsteps of my parents; emulating their love, their commitment to volunteerism, and their devotion to Judaism

I have belonged to a temple all my adult life because it was instilled in me that it was important to support Jewish life through your synagogue. I was a youth group leader, became a congregational teacher, and founded a small URJ congregation in Edmonton, Alberta. I have been involved in temple leadership including serving on religious school, social action and senior rabbi search committees. Each time, I gained skills that have given me patience and increased my ability to be a team player.

I skirted around joining sisterhood, not sure that a “women’s group” was where I needed to be. I finally became involved with sisterhood six years ago when I wanted to start a Women’s Torah Study Group. Donna Ornstein, president of our Sisterhood at that time, approached me and said that sisterhood was the venue to do my program, as well as serve my temple. Once you volunteer, there is no time to regret. I became Vice President of Programming and developed two programs during those two years. One was “Live, Learn and Celebrate Shabbat”, and Rosh Chodesh Renewal, a Torah study group. After serving as VP of Programming, I was asked to take on the role as President. Here are the thoughts that I shared at my installation as president of our sisterhood in June, 2009:

It is a very emotional day for me. It is a true honour that the women of the Sisterhood of Temple Sholom have elected me president.  All the women who have been installed as officers today have committed their time, imagination, energy and dedication to ensuring the continuity of Judaism, as many generations of women before us, including my own mother, have done through their various Temple Sisterhoods.

My earliest memories of my mother’s volunteerism at Holy Blossom Temple Sisterhood in Toronto included her involvement in the Temple library and the Sisterhood Festivals’ committee which ensured that those of us in the congregational religious school had apples and honey for the Rosh Hashanah, latkes for Hanukkah, hamantaschen for Purim, and outstanding Model Seders. I feel as though she is here with me today, slightly surprised at seeing her daughter, who had often avoided joining women’s groups, taking on this role. But I know that she would be delighted that I have chosen Sisterhood to continue my Jewish journey. Maybe this is not my mother’s Sisterhood, where Oneg Shabbat was the place where my mother poured tea from a proper silver tea service set, wearing the beautiful hats that women wore on Friday nights. But it is my mother’s Sisterhood in the friendships that we develop and the support of committed Jewish women in shared experiences, whether they be religious study, social, social action or book clubs. 

As I complete my fourth and last year as president, I know that my involvement with sisterhood has allowed me to work with an amazing group of women. WRJ has helped me to grow and assume other leadership roles. I am now a member of the WRJ North American Board and sit on the WRJ Budget and Nominating committees. I am a member of the URJ Camp Kalsman Commission and, most importantly, I am still very active in the Sisterhood of Temple Sholom.

In Vancouver, the Sisterhood of Temple Sholom, Women of Reform Judaism, is the only religious Jewish women’s organization functioning with a vibrant and active membership. We stand on the shoulders of our founding sisters here and across the Reform movement and continue to build on the past one hundred years of service and programming that our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers provided to the Jewish community. Our service to the Jewish community may still include occasionally providing the Oneg Shabbat treats, but I now know that it also includes social and political action, study and education, and strengthening the Jewish community as a whole. I hope to be able to share the successes of our sisterhood with others and to continue to work with the many dedicated Women of Reform Judaism from across North America that I have come to know and now consider part of my larger sisterhood. This “women’s group” is definitely where I need to be.

As I stood on the shoulders of my mother and other sisterhood women, so too do my daughters stand on my shoulders. My oldest daughter, Annette, is an active member of the Sisterhood of Temple Sholom. I am deeply moved that she has taken on the mantle of sisterhood. It is wonderful that we have this shared love for sisterhood and our temple. Rebecca, my youngest, (in Toronto) has changed temples and her new congregation does not have a sisterhood. I am delighted she belongs to a synagogue as many single people her age are not active and committed However, the three of us light Shabbat candles together on Friday nights via the phone as part of program started by my sisterhood-a WRJ centennial project over year ago called the “Blessings Wall”.

Alexis Rothschild is the president of the Sisterhood of Temple Sholom in Vancouver.She is presently on the WRJ North American Board and on the URJ Camp Kalsman Commission. She has been married to Shawn Gold for almost 33 years and has two daughters, Annette and Rebecca, both of whom are members of sisterhood

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