A Woman’s Journey from Conservadox to Reform

Second generation Holocaust survivor – a compelling part of my identity and that of many of my friends growing up in Bayside, NY. It came with a determination to never forget our history and to always make our parents proud of us and of our upholding our Jewish traditions.

The shul that I grew up in was essentially conservadox. While religious school attendance was mandatory for my sister and me the instruction was minimal. What I really yearned for was to be up on the bima with my father, which of course was not permitted. Years later, when it came time for my husband Scott and me to join a congregation here in Washington, we reflexively joined one much like my childhood shul.

Our children attended nursery school there and occasionally Scott and I would attend services. Yet we never really felt that we fit in. Finally, when our eldest daughter began bat mitzvah preparation we made the big move over to Temple Sinai. Still, I worried about what dad would think of it. He had always been a believer in women’s rights, yet I knew that that belief did not extend to the shul. He reluctantly attended the bat mitzvah and it was not until the end of the service, when he pronounced “I liked it” that I breathed a sigh of relief.

Soon after we joined the congregation I was invited to sit on the bima which pleased me immensely but I essentially coasted and remained uninvolved for the next few years. Finally, in 2004 I joined the adult b’nai mitzvah group. It was a time in my life when I realized that my aging parents would be gone one day and that I needed to do my part to feel comfort and at home in my temple community. And I still wanted to make my father and mother proud. My opportunity came with the preparation needed for my first torah reading after my adult bat mitzvah. I called my father every day to practice the parasha, and would hear him say that he was proud of me as I chanted. It was a milestone in my life and I believe in his as well. Son or daughter, I was carrying on a tradition that he had suffered to preserve.

The moral of this story is you reap what you sow. For several years Scott and I attended High Holiday and occasional Shabbat services but it was not until I dedicated myself to making an effort to contribute that I developed my strong connection to Temple Sinai. Now, as Executive Vice President of Sisterhood, I take great pleasure in connecting with other women in the planning of interesting and meaningful programming that benefits the entire temple community. And what an opportunity it was for me to serve as Co-Chair of the first TSWRJ Retreat and welcome others to become connected and develop their own feeling of familiarity and comfort with our Temple Sinai community.


-Ilana Gordon