I met my future mother-in-law, Helen Golder, on Rosh Hashanah, 1948. She was a woman who was way ahead of her time; she said to me, “Joan, the women of your generation will be able to do any type of work which they choose. They won’t be confined to the secretarial, teaching, or nursing professions.”
Almost 40 years later, in 1982, much to my surprise, I was asked to be President of the Board of Temple Jeremiah. Helen Golder came up from her home in Florida to attend my installation. As we sat next to each other in the sanctuary, before I went up to the bimah, she nudged me with her elbow and said, “Remember what I told you?” I knew exactly what she was referring to.
Thus, I embarked on one of the most memorable–and challenging–experiences of my life. Previously, my work had been in editing and proofreading, managing a household, and teaching. I was barely aware of the fact that there was a “business” side of a congregation. I will be forever grateful to Jerry Brown and Ron Sandler, who were executive vice presidents during my administration, and to the other executive board members, who “held my hand” and led me through the temple’s financial and personnel matters.
Being the President of Temple Jeremiah was a unique experience. It gave me the opportunity to become close to clergy and congregants. I met leaders of the Chicago Jewish community. It tested my problem-solving skills (I had never before been compelled to dismiss an employee). And, yes, I felt closer to my own personal definition of Judaism.
I realized that I was listening more closely to sermons so that I could discuss them with congregants. I tried to learn everything that I could about Jewish customs and holidays in order to be able to answer congregants’ questions (congregants tended to forget that I was their president, not their rabbi). My personal store of knowledge was definitely enriched.
There are certain rituals connected with being president of our congregation that I LOVE and will never forget. Foremost among them was walking down the center aisle of the sanctuary with the rabbi, as High Holy Days began. Even today, many years later, my heart beats faster when I observe others doing the same.
Heartfelt thanks to my fellow members of Temple Jeremiah for giving me an experience that was a high point of my life!