Judy: I think I’ll just start at the beginning because a lot of it, I think of a lot of what has happened to me and who I am, is a result of where I grew up. My name is Judy Kamins Goldstein, and I was born and raised in North Dakota, back in the day, when there were small congregations in various cities, when there were one or two Jews in some of the towns, and not very many others.
By the time I was a teenager, I became involved in BBYO, because the Jewish men and women in North Dakota and Northern South Dakota all belonged to B’nai Brith. There was the B’nai Brith Organization and the B’nai Brith Women, and the kids all belonged to BBYO. This was the main connection. I was from Minot and once we had a Rabbi, who stayed for, I think, a year- otherwise we were served by the travelling Rabbis who might come for the High Holy Days or by Mr. Gordon. Mr. Gordon was replicated in many other cities in small towns. He was a very learned man who would help the occasional Bar Mitzvah boy with his studies.
Back in those days, of course, girls weren’t Bat Mitzvah’ed, heaven forbid, so I grew up in BBYO. I became very active in that, and I was the regional president for a year, which entailed trips to the conferences, to the Twin Cities, Winnipeg was involved- that was always kinda fun, you know, a bunch of teenagers going across the border to Winnipeg. And then it was time to go to the University. Now, the common practice in the 50s was, especially if you had a daughter, you sent her to a university in a large enough community that had a reasonable Jewish population. Because, in the 50s, you not only went for your BA, your BS, or the unspoken reason, was to get your MRS. I was more interested in, you know, getting my degree in Nutrition and Dietetics, but as it happened, I DID get the MRS. One of you mentioned working with Hillel, so you must recognize the name Rabbi Louis Milgrom, who was an institution there in the 50s and 60s, and he had a saying “meet your spouse and the Hillel house”, and we all laughed about it! I met my husband on a Friday evening. They, once-a-month, had dinners and services at the Hillel house, and I was there with another fellow, when he said “come on, there’s somebody I want you to meet, he’s also from North Dakota.” And as they say, “the rest was history”. That man’s name was Alvin Goldstein.
After his family left North Dakota, they settled in South Minneapolis and joined the Adath Jeshurun Congregation. Louie, Al’s father, lived a block from the shul, and went every morning and every evening and Al was affiliated there and [did the] USY, LTF kind of thing. So, after his service and when we were married, it was just logical that we would join the congregation. No shopping around was needed. I’m sure that we would have enjoyed the process, but [it was] not an issue for us. So that was in 1959.
We joined the synagogue and really didn’t do a whole lot at first. We were both working and very busy, and attended services. And then, in the summer of 1964, I remember distinctly because that was just before one of the children was born, I was asked to serve on one of the education subcommittees. And I said yes! I have been working on and off, mostly on, at various committees and various board positions since: Secretary of the congregation, President of the congregation, and everything in between.
Talor: When you got involved with Adath, in sounds like you went from being kind of not being involved to being really involved over the course of your years. What was it that kept you coming back and taking positions and joining committees?
Judy: Well, I have been a volunteer my entire life. I grew up in the type of household. My father was always doing some volunteer kind of thing in the general community. And I just grew up, that’s just what you did. My first volunteer job was in 9th grade. There was a junior Red Cross group at the high school, so that was my first volunteer thing. So, the concept of volunteering was just what you did. And I had been heavily involved in Hadassah in the community in Minneapolis. I was president of one of the groups and so it was just my mentality. I had one child at the time, and working, you know, it wasn’t the Gan then, it was the preschool then, committee, just seemed a logical place to start (because I was pregnant with my second).
Mikaela: Definitely! What was your involvement like through Hadassah? Was that through Adath at the time or was that a separate entity?
Judy: It was just through some of the women that I knew. We were all young brides and we got together and joined the Weitzman Hadassah and I was fairly new at it- very new at it. I think I had only been there about a year and I was asked to be president, and I said ‘sure, why not!’.
Mikaela: That sounds like a theme, where people think very highly of you and ask you to do all of these positions.
Judy: My philosophy is if you’re going to do something, first of all, don’t take a job that you aren’t willing to finish, and you aren’t willing to give your best effort toward. And, once you’ve made that emotional and mental commitment, follow through with it! And I just do!
Mikaela: It’s so cool that you’ve been consistently at Adath your entirety, it sounds like, of being in Minnesota. What’s made you stay at Adath?
Judy: Well, there’s absolutely no reason that Al and I ever would have left! I mean, that was his synagogue! He was on the Board occasionally from time to time, and it was comfortable for us. The staff, the philosophy of the congregation, the way the services were conducted, and the educational philosophy and opportunity were there for the children.
Talor: Do you want to tell us about the National Women’s League for Conservative Judaism and the experience you had?
Judy: I could talk about Women’s League for years! Women’s League for Conservative Judaism was founded in November or December of 1918 by Mathilde Schechter and different conservative congregations from around the country started joining. The Adath Jeshurun women joined on June 1 of 1919, so we were one of the first congregations to join the organizations. It had lots of different names before it ever became Women’s League. It didn’t become Women’s League until the mid to late 20s. It was the Sisters of Peace and all sorts of really interesting backgrounds. So, it was the way women at the Adath connected. Because you have to realize that back in the ‘20s, and the ‘30s, and the ‘40s and the ‘50s and into the early ‘60s, we really had no identity. I have, around here, some old Clarions and I was always Mrs. Alvin Goldstein. I didn’t become Judy Goldstein until the late ‘60s. That’s just the way it was. We cooked in the kitchen, we served the Men’s club, we ran a very successful gift shop, and we did other charitable kinds of things, but it was years before we could even be on the board. And it was many more years before a woman, heaven forbid, became president of the congregation. Well, Esther Katz opened the flood gates and there have been many of us since then.
Women’s League had conventions every 3 years at the Concord Hotel in Upstate New York. And, for those of us from the Midwest, it was a double treat not only being with so many sisters, but to go to the Concord up in the Catskills. And in 1982, there was a conference in November, and the region president, at that time, was Beverly Fine, who at that time belonged to the Adath Jeshurun, and as I indicated before, the Adath was a reasonably progressive congregation, and had talked about counting women in minyan- I forget exactly when that happened. But, as a branch, we had decided we were going to offer a resolution at the plenary conference. So, at the end of the plenary session, when the question was asked if there was any other business, Beverly rose, paper in hand, approached the microphone, and read the resolution, which asked that Women’s League strongly encourage the Jewish Theological Seminary to accept women in their Rabbinic program. And then all you-know-what broke loose. Lots of buzz, lots of conversation. At first, they didn’t know quite how to respond and there was talk back and forth. It was decided that the motion was out of order, because it had not gone through the Resolutions Committee, and the issue would be referred back to the Committee, and brought forth at our next convention in 1984. And of course, for the rest of the conference there was talk about “ugh, these women from the Midwest” and “what are they trying to do?”. So, by the time we returned for our 1984 convention, of course, the whole thing was academic, because Amy Eilberg had already been admitted and was a student in the Rabbinic program. But back in the days when United Synagogue Rabbinic Assembly, or whomever, was going around the country and having listening sessions about women being counted in Minyan, one was held at the Adath, and I believe, that we were counting them in Minyan before it became “official policy”.
There were the days when women, of course, never put on T’fillin. I mean, that’s really sacrilegious. We had a staff person, a woman, who appeared at minyan one morning- she went regularly- and whipped out her T’fillin and put them on, and I remember my father-in-law talking about that, “how could she? How could they let her do that?”, and by the next week, he was okay with it. So, the idea of exposing people to some of these things.
Talor: Everything kind of moved really fast after that motion was introduced. What were your thoughts as it was introduced? Did you think it would become a thing as quickly as the next convention? You said it was kind of academic and that they were bringing it up again because it had already happened, but did you think that that would become a reality?
Judy: My hope was that eventually woman Rabbis would be permitted in the conservative movement. I don’t think that- I was hopeful, I was cautiously optimistic, but I really didn’t think it would happen at that point because things were always moving so slowly. But very pleased when it did happen.
Talor: What kind of progress have you seen since that point? Was that the first domino to fall in terms of progress for women in organized [Jewish] religion? Walk us through where we were then to where we are now.
Judy: It opened the door. If it is permissible now to have a woman Rabbi, why not have female Cantors? Not a bad idea! We have female Cantors [now]. We are producing female Rabbis. Now, we needed to get congregations at a point that they will accept them and hire them in pulpit positions, and that was not an easy task. How are we going to make our congregations comfortable counting women in minyan? Leadership on the board and presidencies were probably, maybe, one iota easier because during those times, women were taking leadership roles in business and in community organizations and were shown to be strong and effective leaders and could really do the job and in some instances, their skills were more appropriate than typical male skills.
We’ve gone from, “can they do it at all?” to “now let's have a congregation, whose staff is representative of the congregation”. That is a HUGE leap. And if you think about it and maybe from, well, from the mid 80s to now, it isn't really that much time. Yes, it's a number of years but historically speaking it's just not that much time. I’m proud to say that the Adath has been out front, you know, in many of these aspects.
Mikaela: Yeah, I definitely hear what you're saying-it's interesting. Since you've been a member, through a lot of this, you know, progression and change as Adath would do these progressive things that are ordinary today, would you agree with that being a long running theme of Adath?
Judy: Yes, I do think that the congregation has been in the forefront, a lot of these challenges. And I think a lot has to do with the type of professional staff that we hire.
I don't know how it happens because each committee is different. It's composed of different individuals, and a variety of viewpoints and skills, but generally speaking, we have managed to find just the right clergy person for the time, and to continue this forward view. So I think the lay leaders have to get some credit for it, because if we're smart enough to get the right professional staff, we've made it easier for all of these things to happen.
Talor: Judy, I would like to know, you know, you've kind of always stepped up to leadership and kind of taken on the responsibilities you’ve needed to in order to exact the progress that you wanted to see. I would love to know like what advice or what words of wisdom, you would give to the congregation in terms of keeping that trend going.
Judy: Well, I kind of have an idea in my mind of what needs to be done. I'm not sure how it's going to happen. But we, as I said earlier, we need to make the leap, the generational change.
The next generation or two after mine have completely different views of what a religious institution, in this case the synagogue, should have in their life, what the role should be, how it should operate. And they are different. And each generation has a different point of view. And as my group ages out, and the next one comes in, we recognize things are going to be done differently. You're going to have to appeal and find what works to appeal to the next generation or two. But while doing that, the new leadership can't lose sight of the fact that there are still members who are used to things being done another way. And to figure out how to blend these two things together, to service both groups, I think is the challenge. I don't have any idea. And I thus cannot make a suggestion as to how to do it, but I do know that it has to be done.
An example is technology. There are a number of people who are just not technologically proficient. And you have the question of then are we only going to have a Chadashot? Are we going to do away with the Clarion? And would that cut out the service to a large group? And blending together the generations and their needs is really, I think, the important task. And I'm cautiously optimistic that the leadership, the lay leadership, at the synagogue will be up to it.
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