Tradition and Innovation: Finding a Home at Temple Sinai

I grew up in the 1970s, the daughter of a progressive Rabbi who delighted in observing, reclaiming and creating Jewish traditions. Ordained Conservative at Jewish Theological Seminary, Dad had studied under Rabbi Heschel, and together, they prayed with their feet during the Civil Rights Movement. In 1971, my father, Rabbi Everett Gendler, took a small pulpit in Lowell, Massachusetts full of families looking for something different — many disenchanted with the traditional Reform movement. My parents dedicated themselves to organic homesteading, and Dad infused Friday night services with rituals related to the environment. When I was young, I loved it, but as I entered adolescence, I was completely mortified. Meanwhile, Dad kept pushing his congregation along the progressive curve, sometimes with mixed response. Not everyone in our congregation appreciated his then-controversial inclusion of female pronouns into prayers or Miriam’s Cup at the seder table.

Clarke and I married in 1997 — he had grown up the son of an American Baptist Minister, so it was quite a wedding! We joke that our officiants were a Rabbi, a Minister and a referee. But in the ways that matter most, our families were actually quite similar: faith-based, open-minded and community-oriented. We have had as seamless a blended family as you can imagine — although neither of us likes to cook, so we’ve fallen down on that aspect of creating a Jewish home!

Temple Sinai has been the ideal synagogue for our family. My parents were close friends of Rabbi Brickner’s, so that history has a sentimental pull for us. And only recently, when we were we looking through old photos, did we realize that Rabbi Goldstein —whose father was Rabbi at a neighboring congregation in Andover — attended our engagement party (when she was 12!). More important, though, we are drawn to Temple Sinai’s commitment to social justice and welcoming all comers. The one time each year I feel a twinge of discomfort, though, is when I play the role of ticket taker at high holiday services. Dad was a hard-liner when it came to tickets: he was staunchly opposed, much to the Temple President’s chagrin. He would NEVER, not EVER require tickets! While I’m the daughter of a spiritual leader, I’m much more of a pragmatist, which is why I’m excited to co-chair (along with my cousin Andrew Engel) the upcoming Capital Campaign so we can make sure that Temple Sinai is positioned to lead our community for decades to come.


-Naomi Camper