Being a woman means bringing unique gifts to the table, says April Rudin, past president of Gesher Shalom”“Jewish community Center of Fort Lee.
“We should really encourage young women to get involved” in synagogue leadership, said Rudin, suggesting that woman may “bring something more” to the role than men.
Contending that women convey a sense of “warmth and mothering, just as Golda Meir was the mother of her country,” the Fort Lee resident said that “people in general flourish under a mother’s watchful eye. We should embrace what it is that makes women different from men.”
Rudin, who runs her own marketing firm, said woman have “an ability to empathize and to sympathize with each situation. They understand that although you have to lead, you also have to hear what the congregation is really saying.”
She recalled growing up in Detroit and working in an environment where “we did an imitation of men with our shirts and little ties. How ridiculous was that.”
Rudin said she doesn’t believe that gender is an issue in the selection of synagogue presidents, and that many women hold this position.
According to Nancy Perlman, manager of process, program, and funding development for UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Synagogue Leadership Initiative, at least 15 women head synagogues in the group’s catchment area.
Breaking this down by denomination, Perlman said this figure includes three Orthodox, eight Conservative, one Reform, and one Reconstructionist, as well as one president from a non-affiliated congregation.
Rudin – who shared her one-year presidency with a male co-president – said some congregants responded more readily to her, some to her colleague.
Noting the diversity of the congregation, embracing both older and younger members, she said that “some people are unfamiliar with who the president might be, even though they see her at services or hear her voice on the phone.”
She recalls one older man insisting, “Let me speak to someone in charge, young lady!”
“That would be me,” she replied, adding that at 50 years old, she had to assure him that she, in fact, held a position of authority.
“It’s the only place I can hang out where they still call me young lady,” she joked.
While being a synagogue president is a “thankless position, where activity and effort may not always be equal to result,” Rudin said it has been important for both of her sons to see what community involvement means.
“They can walk into the shul at any time and not feel it has to be a holiday. It’s part of their everyday life,” she said.
Of course, she added, given the frequency of her late night meetings, the boys – graduates of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County and now attending the Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in New York – had to forgo more than their share of hot meals during her presidency.
Rudin reflected that while her grandmother, raised in Montgomery, Ala., used to speak to her about the importance of equality between blacks and whites, her own message to future generations would probably center on women.
“What she had seen in her lifetime in terms of the progression of society was parallel to what we’ve seen with women,” she said. “We don’t want to be equal. That’s what’s changed. We want to bring our own warm personality to the position.”