For most of my life I thought that Sisterhood was the women’s group that my mother belonged to at our synagogue growing up. This was the place for women, mostly stay at home moms, to participate in the activities of the congregation without having any real power. Most of their activities revolved around creating bazaars (think community garage sales); giving certificates to boys and girls becoming Bar & Bat Mitzvah; and hosting kiddushes (communal sharing of sacramental wine and pastries after a prayer service, although the word Kiddush actually means “blessing”) when there was no Bar Mitzvah family to host this traditional gathering of the congregation after services.
In my view growing up, this was part of the way in which women were given a diminutive role in the patriarchy of the Jewish faith. As a Baby Boomer and part of the second wave of feminism of the 1960’s I had the impression that women’s roles in Jewish tradition were sexist, to say the least. Clearly, there was an important social role that this activity also provided and I am sure that for many of the women, including my mother, this gave a sense of belonging, purpose and meaning to their lives. As a young person, I didn’t have a clue (so, what else is new?) about the importance of these functions for women of that time.
Fast forward to today and I realize that I must be a really slow learner as I am only now, in my 60s, finally coming to a fuller meaning of the word Sisterhood! I am finally understanding that it is the Sisterhood of women that enables us to truly commune together (with or without a faith tradition) to create a broader sense of belonging, purpose and meaning in our lives. Sure there is family, work and community at large and all of this is important. But without the company of women, at least for me, life would be diminished dramatically. For it is the women, who I am finally coming to know in a more intimate way, who share the real challenges of life, love, loss, purpose, meaning and creativity. This is family by choice and for me, intensely powerful.
As an entrepreneur I dedicated all of my energies during the expanse of my working career to the creation of a business, to business relationships, to business and professional learning and to business success to the exclusion of much else. Even most of my friendships were based around work past and present. One of the gifts of my working years was the opportunity to meet people in the same field from around the country. It is only now, however, that these relationships are becoming more intimate as we move into a time of life when work is less important and relationships are paramount. The deepening ties that I am developing with the women I have known is a wonderful surprise of this stage of my life. Women who I have known for the richness of their minds, their business acumen and their professionalism are becoming women whose empathy, life experience, shared history, faith traditions and regional differences result in the lavish new patterns of our affinity.
Women often struggle in isolation from one another to create the life experiences that most accurately reflect our true nature. When we have the opportunity to share in community with one another, powerful things happen. We acknowledge the ways in which obstacles occurred and were overcome. We share the emotional fallout of being responsible across multiple domains of life that are more comprehensive than the men of our generation had to address – spanning work, family, social life, homemaking, health issues, leisure and finances. There are shared experiences of balancing power with nurturing; assertiveness with empathy; intellect with understanding; strategy with insight; productivity with attention.
The sheer intensity of depth and breadth of women’s relationships is astonishing. This is the nature of relationships for which I unknowingly yearned over the years. This is the nature of the discovery of feminine intimacy in later life. I hope that my mother knew some of the joys of these types of relationships within her Sisterhood. After all, don’t we often want to “bring our mother’s along” when we forge new territory in life? Even when mothers are no longer with us, we seem to want them to have shared in the fulfillment of possibilities.