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Mon May 28, 2012, 12:30 PM

A rabbinical sister act

Ilana Mills’ rabbinic ordination from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion on May 13 was an auspicious occasion for her and her family, but it also marked an historic moment for the Jewish people. As Mills received smicha, she joined her older sisters Mari Chernow and Jordana Chernow-Reader in the Reform rabbinate. The Chernow women are currently the only set of three sisters who are Reform rabbis, and are likely the only three sisters who have ever all been rabbis of any denomination.

The sisters were raised by their parents, Eli Chernow, a retired Superior Court Judge, and Arlene Chernow, in Sherman Oaks, California. Reform Judaism has always been an integral part of their family life and individual identities. “Our mom has been working for the Union for Reform Judaism for 27 years in outreach and other areas of membership to build healthy and inclusive communities,” Mari noted. Their father serves on the URJ’s national board.

Mari, 40, is the eldest sister. She was ordained by HUC-JIR in 2003, and is the senior rabbi at Temple Chai in Phoenix, Arizona, where she lives with her partner. Jordana, 35, was ordained in 2010 and is director of lifelong learning at Temple Beth Torah in Ventura, California. She and her husband are the parents of a 2-year-old son. Ilana, 32 and newly minted as a rabbi, will be moving to Scottsdale, Arizona with her husband and their 2- and 4-year-old boys to take an assistant rabbi position at Temple Solel in nearby Paradise Valley.


Rabbinic sisterhood
3 rabbis now in Chernow family

When Ilana Mills was 16 years old she had an epiphany: "I want to be a rabbi."

At first she worried the only reason she wanted to follow that career path was because her two older sisters had talked about becoming rabbis. "I had to figure it out for myself and make sure I was doing it for all the right reasons," she says.

So, Mills went to college, but didn't take Hebrew, because "I wasn't going to become a rabbi," and became a religious-studies major at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania. "I fell in love with Jewish philosophy," she says.

After Mills graduated, she didn't apply for synagogue jobs because "I wasn't going to become a rabbi." Instead, she worked at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, D.C., and as a National Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) regional adviser. "The world was telling me something and I just wasn't ready to listen," she says.

Meanwhile, her two sisters entered Hebrew Union College-Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and have since become rabbis. Her oldest sister, Mari Chernow, was ordained in 2003 and is now the senior rabbi at Temple Chai in Phoenix; her other sister, Jordana Chernow-Reader, was ordained in 2010 and is the director of lifelong learning at Temple Beth Torah in Ventura, Calif.


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