The get-together was the 46th annual Biennial Assembly of the Women of Reform Judaism's (WRJ) Pacific District (that's the West Coast, plus Hawaii, Alaska and Vancouver). The woman talking to me was Sylvia Rose of University Synagogue in Los Angeles. She had a name badge around her neck that displayed a ribbon sporting a plethora of colored stickers -- YES Fund (Youth, Education, Service), WUPJ (World Union of Progressive Judaism), JBI (Jewish Braille Institute) -- symbolizing some of the myriad programs sponsored by the sisterhoods of WRJ. By the end of that weekend at the Woodland Hills Hilton, Rose would be inducted as one of six vice presidents for 2006-2008.
I looked around the party room 40 of us had taken over for the evening at a preassembly function. I was without question the youngest in the room (if you exclude the wait staff). At 28, I was the youngest person at the conference; as co-vice president of membership for my sisterhood, Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks, I am the youngest woman on our board.
While my peers might have been spending their weekend partying, going to see "Borat" or enjoying a day at the beach, I was learning Torah, voting on policy changes and teaching women twice my age how to increase their sisterhood's membership.
And I loved every minute of it!
I kept hearing over and over again that this "wasn't your mother's sisterhood" (of course, every time I heard that, I looked at the next table where my grandmother -- the "e-mail chair" and former president of our sisterhood -- was sitting).
I joined my sisterhood five years ago, after attending a sukkah party with my grandmother. Like most women who shared their experiences at the assembly, I started small -- I volunteered my time on a committee. I was involved in a Jewish sorority in college and saw sisterhood as the next step up -- minus the keggers, rush week and homecoming. So I went to some meetings, which led to more meetings, and today I co-chair that committee.
The women whom I now consider my good friends at first thought of me as "Char's granddaughter from Chicago." Now she's known as "Shoshana's grandma."
The face of sisterhood is changing, yet a stigma remains. For all of the efforts of these articulate, intelligent, hard-working women, the word "sisterhood" still brings up images of old ladies wearing aprons as they set up the Shabbat Kiddush. It probably doesn't help to point out to my contemporaries that all of the district officers inducted at the meeting were my mother's age or older.
When I suggest joining sisterhood to my friends, who are in their 20s and 30s, they tell me they'll join sisterhood "later" -- and they come up with a slew of reasons why they don't want to join now. But I've never been one to take no for an answer.
Complaint: I don't have anything in common with these women.
Answer: How do you know unless you meet them? Our youngest member is 15; she and her mother are good friends of mine. Our oldest member is 95; she's also a friend of mine.
Complaint: How will I meet guys my age hanging out at a sisterhood?
Answer: Um, hello. These women are mothers and grandmothers who have Jewish sons, grandsons and nephews.
Complaint: The programs are so boring. I don't want to just sit around listening to speakers.
Answer: So join and change it. Our sisterhood has a group of young mothers of children in preschool and religious school who recently sponsored a bra fitting at Nordstrom before the store opened to shoppers -- and brought in an OB/GYN to talk about breast cancer awareness.
Complaint: I don't have time to be involved.
Answer: Really? Well can you make a phone call, fold an invitation or send out an e-mail? Bet you can.
Sisterhood is not for everyone: People who can't stand other people won't like it. But that's about it.
These women offer an arm when you've twisted your ankle and a shoulder to cry on when you get bad news. They bring food when you can't leave the house and tell jokes when you need a good laugh. They'll argue with you when you want a good fight and support you 100 percent when you feel that no one else will. They raise money to send rabbis to school and to send Jewish kids to Jewish camps; they help the infrastructure of their synagogues and that of synagogues around the world.
WRJ is also the predominant sponsor of the new Women's Torah Commentary that is being published next year (I saw a preview of the Chayei Sarah segment, and it looks awesome).
By Saturday, I wore an small Torah pin I had purchased at the "Faire and Share," in support of the YES Fund. But I'm very proud that I join the ranks of those name-badge-wearing sisters who came before me.
Sylvia was right: These women get together and something happens. But I can't really describe it either -- I guess it is something you'll have to see for yourself.
FYI: We're taking over San Diego in December 2007.