Strength in Art: Sisterhood and Brotherhood


Generalizations can be misleading, but it’s probably fair to say that most religious institutions count auxiliary groups under their organizational umbrellas–groups that provide service and support to the institution. At The Temple, these groups are the Brotherhood and the WRJ/Sisterhood. A quick glance at The Temple’s history indicates that they go back as far as The Temple itself, and to the Temples that preceded. What drives their longevity? In a word, Brotherhood and WRJ/Sisterhood have proven to be indispensable over time.

But there’s more to both than service, support, and longevity. Being indispensable also means evolving, adjusting, and adapting to meet changing conditions and expectations.

The first job of WRJ/Sisterhood and Brotherhood is to be of service to The Temple generally. That service takes many forms: WRJ/Sisterhood, for example, has as its first mission supporting The Temple in multiple ways. This support includes the weekly Shabbat Oneg (we know how sweet it is to end a service with food and drink afterward). Sisterhood hosts the annual Interfaith Coffee in February. There is a different theme each time, such as a holiday or music, and the event is an important way to reach out to the greater Louisville community on behalf of The Temple. It sponsors Hanukkah Brighteners, an anonymous way to support families who need a little help to properly celebrate Hanukkah. There is a Sisterhood-led Shabbat service in March. Sisterhood runs the Temple Gift Shop; funds generated are used to help support The Temple. It also, along with Brotherhood, helps sponsor kids going to Goldman Union Camp Institute (GUCI) and provides gifts for The Temple Religious School’s Kindergarten and First Grade Consecration students as they begin their Jewish learning journeys, as well as B’nei Mitzvah and Confirmation students.

As Sarah Harlan, WRJ/Sisterhood’s President, describes, its second overarching mission is to put on interesting, engaging programs for Temple that are fun and intellectually stimulating. These events include a Tu B’Shvat Seder in late January and the Women’s Seder during Passover; sponsoring speakers; game days for members; Havdalah PJ parties; and Family Trivia Nights. Sisterhood also provides help whenever called upon. During the COVID shut-down, along with Brotherhood, the group financed the printing of prayer books for home use to accompany streaming services.

It’s a lot, and the activities are widely varied, appealing to many different interests. There’s something to appeal to the Mah Jongg player as well as the baker, interests in Jewish ritual and studies as well as secular topics. Additionally, since Sisterhood is part of the national organization, Women of Reform Judaism, they sometimes program jointly with other groups in the area. In short, Sisterhood provides multiple opportunities to meet and connect with like-minded people.

So does Brotherhood. The Brotherhood also supports a huge list of activities and services. For example, this past December’s Hanukkah dinner fed 300 guests (did anyone count the number of potatoes grated for all those latkes?). Annually, Brotherhood produces the Book of Remembrance at Yom Kippur, and was the original sponsor for the Holocaust Memorial Menorah, which is used during the Yizkor service on Yom Kippur. It helps cover the cost of Temple security for the High Holy Days, contributes to college scholarships, and provides gift books and engraved Kiddush cups given to Bar and Bat Mitzvah students and Confirmands. Members of Brotherhood make up the “No Rehearsal Choir” who appear at some services (truly, they do not rehearse). And if you’ve ever participated in a streamed Temple service on YouTube, you have Brotherhood donors to thank for the video cameras, both in the main sanctuary and chapel, that record services and life cycle events.

According to Michael Friedman, Brotherhood’s President, the group has an additional mission: to bring people together to have fun and celebrate life while doing good works. In addition to the activities above, Brotherhood also supports and sponsors events like poker nights and hikes at Bernheim Forest, which are now coed to include partners and spouses. There is an annual trap shooting event, at the end of which a “Hot Shot Humanitarian Award” is made to the person who can claim “no clay pigeons injured.” With support from Max Shapira of Heaven Hill Distillery, Brotherhood bought barrels of bourbon to use for fundraising, Isrebranding it “Fighting Isaac Bourbon” after Isaac Mayer Wise.

The Brotherhood helps the “Supplies Over Seas” program, founded by the late Temple member Dr. Norton Waterman, which collects surplus medical supplies that would otherwise be discarded in the US and ships them to other nations that desperately need them. Brotherhood is currently sponsoring a program in conjunction with the Louisville Orchestra, a series of educational sessions about the composer Gustav Mahler, leading up to the LO’s performance of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony in April.

And both organizations offer even more activities than mentioned here.

Both WRJ/Sisterhood and Brotherhood are open to members who are not Temple members; and they are welcoming to people who identify as Jewish, including interfaith couples. It’s clear from the list of activities that both groups offer members the benefit of enjoying time with others of similar mind and heart, real connectedness. And what of the strength of The Temple? Well … without Sisterhood and Brotherhood, just imagine what would go UNdone!