By Carin M. Smilk
You could say that Jackie Land has been on the ground floor of change within the Reconstructionist movement of Judaism.
For one, it’s in her blood — quite literally.
Land (nee Kover) is related to the movement’s founder, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, her grandfather’s first cousin. This led to some new relationships over the years, including one with Kaplan’s granddaughter, Miriam Eisenstein, who attends Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda.
Land, 68, grew up as part of a Jewish family with traditional values in Silver Spring, attending Temple Israel (now a part of Tikvat Israel following a merger). She broke ground early on, being the first one to use Modern Hebrew, or Sephardic, pronunciations at her bat mitzvah in 1967 as her synagogue started moving away from Ashkenazi elocutions. She studied education at the University of Maryland, and upon graduation, worked for the government in the U.S. Customs Service and part-time as education director at Oseh Shalom in Laurel — the only synagogue in Laurel and one of seven Reconstructionist synagogues in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area.
That wasn’t always the case. When Oseh Shalom started out in a small communal building, it didn’t identify with a movement. “A lot went into that decision,” recalls Land.
“Our one-room shul house in the woods,” as she describes it, outgrew its space. It moved into a bigger building and began attracting families “much sooner than we thought.”
Maryland, she says, was a state ripe for congregations exploring new avenues. Land went along with that trend, acknowledging that she has always tried to shake things up, to instill change, lauding “the inclusiveness of Reconstructionism, of everyone finding their own place.”
All told, Land worked 44 years for the Reconstructionist movement (first as education director of Oseh Shalom, then for the movement as a whole) and with the Board of Jewish Education/Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning. In August, she became “kinda, sorta retired.” They remain members of Oseh Shalom, which they have been affiliated with for 45 years.
These days, Land’s title is senior consultant for education for Reconstructing Judaism, working mainly with educators throughout the movement. Prior to that, she served as associate director for Thriving Communities for the last 10 years, a job that emanated from her work as regional director of the Chesapeake Region.
Land recognizes that the Reconstructionist movement was (and still is, though less so) largely unknown, even in Jewish circles.
“I personally describe it as the movement that is very inclusive/egalitarian and comfortable. It allows “each congregation to make its own decisions based on their culture. It is liberal, for sure, but there is a freedom that allows the community to decide what is comfortable for them.”
Land stresses collaboration in other ways as well. She is big on “Ed Days” and other community programs to get people together. Before the pandemic, she helped spur and organize movement-wide conventions in 2018 (the first in eight years and the first after the movement combined with the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College) and then again in 2022. She believes that conventions should take place every four years. The most recent event was hybrid, which she sees as the wave of the future.
Land talks brightly of new opportunities post-pandemic. She says livestreaming and the explosion in online presence can boost connections among individual members and the movement as a whole: “People can go anywhere they want for services; I think that is a plus. We’re never going to go back to full in-person activities, so we have to learn how to effectively use hybrid models.”
Land is the mother of Joshua, who lives in Pikesville, Md., with his wife, Jessica; and Aliza, who lives in Israel with her husband, Hanan, and their son Dov (“Dooby”). Both went to day school, reflecting the Jewish values of their parents. The Lands visit Israel as much as they can though haven’t been back since 2020. In fact, they returned from their last trip on March 13, the day America and much of the world shut down. Land remembers the eeriness of arriving at the airport and being hurried out without even going through customs.
Despite all that’s changed since then, Land focuses on the good coming out of it. She believes the situation has led many people to greater spirituality. “By being able to watch services and perform certain rituals outside the synagogue building, you bring Judaism into the home; you make it yours. True, some just have Zoom on in the background, but others can, for example, experience the inside of a sukkah or listen to programs all over the country, even the world. That is a positive.
“We have to come up with new ways to make Jewish life exciting for everyone,” she says. “We have to move forward in the best way possible.”
Carin M. Smilk is editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times.