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The Real Jewish 'Housewives' of South Jersey
Lisa David wears many kipot. She has a full-time job as associate director of camping for the Union for Reform Judaism Camp and Israel Programs. She has another full-time job as the mother of three kids ages 5, 3 and 7 months. David’s third role is that of rebbetzin; her husband is Rabbi Benjamin David of Congregation Adath Emanu-El in Mount Laurel.
David isn’t the only modern mom who juggles kids, husband, career and a role in the Jewish community. Hazzan Alisa Pomerantz-Boro is the cantor at Congregation Beth El in Voorhees and she is the first woman to hold that position. Pomerantz-Boro is the mother of two kids, ages 11 and 17; her husband, Stephen Boro, is a Temple University professor.
Debbie Perlman is the wife of a cardiologist, the mother of three teenagers and the president of Cherry Hill’s Temple Beth Sholom. Pre-kids, Perlman was a commercial litigation attorney at a prestigious Baltimore law firm. But when the third child came and her husband got his first cardiology job, Perlman ended her legal career and became a stay-at-home mom. That’s also when she began her involvement at Temple Beth Sholom. From classroom mother, she rose to committee chairwoman, then the vice president of the synagogue, and finally, its president. “My involvement at TBS is my work, although it is volunteer work,” she says. “It is just as rewarding and important to me as being a lawyer was. But this way, I can also be a full-time mom.”
Dividing spousal responsibilities is part of their marriage formula, the moms say. “I don’t expect my husband to do carpools or shop for groceries or that kind of thing,” Perlman says. “He’s a doctor and his work hours are extremely long. Taking care of the kids and the house falls almost exclusively on me. That’s how we arranged our roles so it would work best for our family.”
Pomerantz-Boro and her husband also negotiated their roles to accommodate their careers and parenting. More precisely, Boro did two cross-country relocations --— from Manhattan to San Diego to Cherry Hill — so that his wife could accept cantorial positions. There are more opportunities for professors than there are for female hazzans, she explains. “Stephen is truly amazing in that he was willing to make the moves for my career. Not every man would.”
While her cantorial work demands long hours and many weekends, Pomerantz-Boro’s husband has a more normal work schedule that allows him to be home in time for dinner. “Have I said how amazing my husband is?,” she says. “Let me say it a few more times.”
As for David, she works from home for four days, travels to Manhattan once a week and around the country and to Israel when necessary. Her husband works many day and evening hours to fulfill his rabbinical duties. “It’s a multi-layered, constantly changing, intricate childcare system that we put in place,” she says. “We have a nanny to be with the baby while I’m working and that is a tremendous help. We also have a lot of family close by who are willing to help us. We take full advantage of that. I don’t know what we’d do without my in-laws, my parents and our siblings.”
Perlman also has family nearby; her sister lives one block from her. “She has kids, too, so sometimes, it’s like, ‘Can you please feed my kids?’ or ‘Can you please let the dog out?’ Having someone nearby who has the keys to your house is a lifesaver.”
Pomerantz-Boro needs special childcare for her daughter Rebecca. Born at 30 weeks, Rebecca has cerebral palsy and is legally blind. “The doctors said that she would never walk or talk and she does both,” Pomerantz-Boro says. “She is truly a miracle and the day of her Bat Mitzvah was one of the proudest of my life.”
As for their roles in the Jewish community, the women understand that they are in highly visible positions with many eyes — and the occasional wagging tongue — monitoring what they do, wear and say. If that bothers them, the women don’t admit to it. “Everyone at Adath Emanu-El has been so wonderfully supportive,” David says. “The other factor is that I have three very young kids and a husband and our careers — and that is so consuming that I can’t worry about other people’s opinions all that much. But I have the desire to do more with the synagogue and the community, and I hope that as the kids get older, I’ll be able to do that.”
“I do feel that people look to me and my responsibility as a leader in the synagogue,” Perlman says. “I fulfill that as best I can in how I conduct myself and what my kids do, like the fact that they stay in Hebrew school and go to Jewish camps. It is a pressure and I feel that people are watching, but that’s okay because I want to be a good role model. I’m taking after my role model: my mother. She raised me to be a strong, educated, involved Jewish woman and mother. I hope to raise my daughter the same way.”
Pomerantz-Boro also credits her parents. They “raised me with such strong Jewish and female identities that it never occurred to me that I couldn’t to be a cantor in a Conservative synagogue, even though women weren’t doing that at the time,” she says. “And although we juggle all of these roles, one of our most important jobs is to teach the next generation of Jewish women that they, too, can be whatever they want to be.
“And I would also say that peer pressure does exist for women, but the strongest pressure is what we put on ourselves,” Pomerantz-Boro says. “I say that my life is a water balloon with 11 holes and I have 10 fingers, so I’m constantly trying to plug holes. But I enjoy everything that I do and find real moments of joy in all spheres of my life. Part of that is because I long ago gave up on finding balance, which is really just an illusion. I accepted that I am not Superwoman. But don’t tell my kids!”
This article originally appeared in Bridges, a Jewish Exponent supplement. Melissa Jacobs is the editor of Bridges.