Changing Cultures

I have just finished reading Michael Mill’s article, “Cultures Can Be Changed” (Spring 2012). I endorse every word about men being part of the whole rather than loners. What puzzles and intrigues me, however, is what I don’t read. Unless my eyeglasses need changing, the word “woman” doesn’t appear once in the entire text. As a result, the article sounds exactly like what appeared n the monthly newsletter put out by the Conservative synagogue my family attended in Chicago 75 to 80 years ago.

Yes, my father was active in the men’s club, but my mother predated him by almost half a decade with her membership in the sisterhood. In those prehistoric times, women were virtually shut out for membership on the board of directors. Incidentally, I don’t find the word sisterhood – a term often denigrated in the 21st century as a relic of bygone eons – anywhere in the article. Am I missing something?

What fractures me most of all is the Grand Canyon-size chasm between the article and the cover of the same issue of CJ, an overt plug for women’s participation in synagogue hierarchy. Shouldn’t you be functioning on the same wavelength?

Los Angeles, California

Women Rabbis

In D. Korenstein's letter to the editor in the Spring 2012 issue, the author writes the his synagogue “hired a senior woman rabbi. Within a few years a significant portion of the membership was gone.” I object to the automatic assumption that the cause of the declining membership was attributable to the hiring of a woman rabbi. Many synagogues are experiencing shrinking membership numbers. The causes are demographic, philosophical, financial, religious, etc. Many are consolidating, closing, or otherwise changing. My own is considering a wonderful rabbi who happens to be female. The Reform temple has doubled in membership during the current term of their rabbi, a woman whom everyone there loves.

Look at the true issues that drive membership, especially the relevancy of the synagogue in peoples’ lives. The argument that it has much to do with gender is underresearched at best.

Brockton, Massachusetts

Light Unto the Nations

I heartily agree with Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser’s proposal (“Acknowledging American Exceptionalism,” Spring 2012). I have long felt that the United States was given the mission to be a light unto the nations. Despite its struggles with various human failings, it has to some extent already achieved that goal. There is hope that as time passes, it will move further in that direction. It would be well to adopt the Harachaman prayer suggested by Rabbi Prouser.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

More About That Cover

I read with great interest the letters to the editor stemming from the cover photo of the Winter 2011/2012 issue. The photo prompted a fascinating colloquy between me and my rabbi, which served to uncover some false preconceptions (I presumed – wrongly – that it was a picture of two men holding hands) and led to some solid learning that touched on the custom and practice of wearing tefillin, current gender issues within the Conservative rabbinate, and more. I suggest that the photo itself has enduring didactic value, one I would certainly like to put into play in my shul’s School of Jewish Studies. I think showing it to children within our movement and asking them what they see in it will lead to many fruitful conversations about important issues of Conservative Jewish thought and practice.

Past President, Am Yisrael Conservative Congregation
Northfield, Illinois

Lost Synagogues

Having been a member of the Laurelton Jewish Center for more than 50 years, until its closing several years ago, I resent that Ellen Levitt (Spring 2012) made Bernie Madoff seem to be its only claim to fame. There was much more to our history than Madoff. Rabbis Saul Teplitz and Howard Singer were our religious leaders. Dr. Morton Siegel, who became director of education at United Synagogue, was principal of our huge Hebrew school. Other former Laureltonians who have contributed positively to our society should have been cited, rather than that one disgrace of a man. While there is not a Laurelton Jewish Center any longer, just look around the Jewish United States and Israel and you will find former LJC students in leadership positions. I am an example. Having been a vice president at LJC I am now a vice president at Congregation B’nai Sholom Beth David, one of the most vibrant Conservative synagogues in the New York area.

And by the way I still live in Laurelton.

Laurelton, New York

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