Karen Druker: Beth Am Women President 1977-78
Karen Druker: Beth Am Women President 1977-78
Watch Karen's video interview or read the edited highlights from her interview below:
Why did you join Beth Am Women?
I joined Beth Am Women—at that time we called it the sisterhood—because my children, who were four and eight, were signed up for religious school and Hebrew school. I was new in town and it was a wonderful way to make friends. I’m kind of unique as a Beth Am Women president because I’m a convert. So I was new to Judaism and very much in love with it. Sisterhood was a way for me to get more deeply involved in my faith and to make deep and abiding friendships with other intelligent women who had the same issues: we were trying to raise a family in the most beautiful, special way that we could. And we wanted to do service to the temple and to the community.
I think I have a little bit of a servant’s soul. There were needs to be met and things to do. I’ve always been a doer, and I still am a doer. With my involvement in sisterhood, I saw that I could help the congregation and at the same time make friendships and help my children and my husband and I could become part of the community.
Tell us about joining Beth Am.
I lived very close by the temple and it was convenient. It is also beautiful. I felt very much at peace sitting in the Sanctuary on a Friday evening, looking out on the hills that did not have high-tech buildings on them at that time. I love that the temple construction made it look like a tent, which was symbolic and beautiful. The sun setting over the hills during Shabbat services made this a peaceful and happy place for me.
Did you feel fully accepted as a Jewish woman at Beth Am?
I did. I found Beth Am welcoming. I mean, how can you be any more welcoming than to be elected president of the sisterhood after you had just been around for a couple of years? I don’t know how any group could be more welcoming than that.
You joined the sisterhood in the late ‘70s when feminism was very strong in the country. Tell us about that.
At that time there was a bit of a social revolution. A lot of women were going back to work, and I remember being at parties and being asked, “What do you do?” I was a stay-at-home mom then with two small children. Previously I had always worked, but I wanted to devote some time to giving my kids a lot of attention. I think many other women at that time felt inadequate and there was a kind of mass exodus from staying at home as women decided to go back to work. I remember when I became the sisterhood president that women were drifting away and we were having a little bit of a crisis in the way of membership. Women were no longer so interested in the typical Beth Am Women activities of providing home-made goodies and making the Shabbat dinners. They wanted to get paid for what they were doing and feel more professional. There was a stigma if you were a stay-at-home mom who just took care of your family and made wonderful meals. That’s just the way it was.
What do you think the purpose of the sisterhood was then compared to the purpose of Beth Am Women today?
I think that the sisterhood was the volunteer help that served the temple in the early days. And now the temple more serves us an educational platter of goodies with stimulating programs that we can go to, to enrich our minds. And also stimulating friendships and opportunities—it’s always been a great way to meet friends. But now I think in addition to us being the servers and the unpaid helpers for the congregation, we are also educated by the temple with the women’s programs. That’s a change that I see.
When I was president we held an activity that Rabbi Akselrad attended and we had a very small turn-out. We knew we had to find ways to change Beth Am Women so that it would accommodate working women, so that we could have programs that were not just about being the servant soul serving the congregation, but also stimulating programs for women on other issues, rather than just the role of wife and mother. I think Beth Am Women has adapted well to that. There are evening programs; there are women’s seders. It was a period of transition, so Beth Am Women, to stay alive and to stay meeting the needs of the women, had to change and evolve into Beth Am Women from the sisterhood. I don’t know how those two titles actually delineated what we were at the time, but I think Beth Am Women has a wider focus: more global, national or state-wide rather than just home-based, with home as the temple.
There are still some of us who have the servant’s soul and who like doing for the temple. There are still some who don’t mind making the home-baked miniature pecan tarts and who are willing to work in the kitchen. I’m one of those who still enjoys doing that. So there are different personalities and different needs today. It’s good that there’s a place for those who need to exercise their servant’s soul, as well as those who want to be served up a platter of intellectual stimulation.