Sisterhood: A Centennial History of Women of Reform Judaism.

Author:Umansky, Ellen M.
Position:Book review

Sisterhood: A Centennial History of Women of Reform Judaism. Edited by Carole B. Balin, Dana Herman, Jonathan D. Sarna, & Gary P. Zola. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 2013. 390 pp.

Published in 2013 on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ), this edited collection of fourteen new scholarly essays on the goals, projects, and contributions of WRJ is an informative and engaging work. As Gary P. Zola maintains in the book's introduction, it seeks to further readers' knowledge of the central role that women have played in the development of Reform Judaism, the American synagogue, American Jewish culture, and Jewish organizations and institutions throughout the world. Although in several places the selection of particular essays for each of the book's four parts seems arbitrary, all of the essays are well researched and well written.

The first part, entitled "'We're Building Judaism': WRJ and Religion," contains five essays that, taken as a whole, trace the historical roots, early leaders, and more recent contributions of the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods (NFTS), renamed WRJ in 1993. Noteworthy is both the detailed historical context in which each of the section's chapters are set and the emphasis on early NFTS activities which to date have received little scholarly attention. David Ellenson and Jane Karlin convincingly show, for example, the important financial role that NFTS played in the development of Hebrew Union College (HUC). It funded rabbinic scholarships, raised money to build and furnish the first dormitory on HUC's Cincinnati campus, and, after the Nazis came to power, provided money that helped rescue and provide refuge at HUC for students and professors of closed European rabbinical seminaries. As Rebecca Kobrin shows in her fine essay on Jane Evans and The House of Living Judaism, while the "annals of Jewish American history" herald United American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) president Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath as the visionary who moved the headquarters of the UAHC from the Midwest to a new center in Manhattan, the essential role played by NFTS and its indefatigable executive director, Jane Evans, in raising funds to make the move to New York City possible has largely been ignored (86).

Yet as the essays in Part One make clear, the contributions of NFTS to American Reform Judaism have been more than financial. As Pamela Nadell and Jonathan Sarna maintain, revitalizing Jewish...

To continue reading