Temple Beth-El Sisterhood celebrates a century

Strengthening Jewish families and neighborhoods

Some of Sisterhood’s former leaders gather: Nancy Lovett, left, Nancy Riffle, Gaye Belsky-Gluck, Leslie Chazan, Sherry Levine Singer, Barbara Horovitz Brown, Carol Desforges, Phyllis Goldberg and Sherry Cohen at the centennial celebration.  /Elaine SandyPROVIDENCE – At Temple Beth-El’s Sisterhood’s 100th anniversary celebration, which included an annual meeting and installation of new officers and board members, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras lauded the “organization that … has strengthened families and neighborhoods.” 

Janet Englehart Gutterman served as installing officer for the new board and Laurie Sholes received a Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) Unsung Heroine Award and a mayoral citation for her continued commitment as Sisterhood treasurer.

In a special candle-lighting ceremony honoring Sisterhood’s history and leadership, three past presidents alternated in reading the history of Sisterhood at Beth-El while other past presidents or daughters or daughters-in-law of earlier past presidents lit candles.

Over the past century, 48 women have served as Sisterhood presidents. The first women’s organization, the Ladies Auxiliary, of Temple Beth-El, the Reform synagogue now on the East Side of Providence, began in 1877. 

In 1913, the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods (now WRJ) was founded; “Sisterhood of Temple Beth-El” was established and Marion Misch became its first president.

In 1929, the Sisterhood held sewing circles and sponsored a Girl Scout troop. In 1933, the Sisterhood produced a show called “The Old Testament.”  During the 1930s, the Sisterhood also organized an interfaith meeting, sponsored a Sisterhood Shabbat, contributed to the Relief Fund for Polish Jewry and lobbied through letter writing for more liberal child immigration policies in the United States.    

During the 1940s, members knitted blankets for hospitals, opened their homes to men and women on military leave, encouraged synagogue members to buy war bonds and hailed Israel’s statehood. 

In the 1950s, Sisterhood’s successful Artists Series included a performance by violinist Isaac Stern. When Temple Beth-El moved from Broad Street to Orchard Avenue in 1955, the Sisterhood opened a Judaica gift shop.

Sisterhood’s fundraising events during the 1960s included a “Fur/Hat Show,” “5,000 Years of Fashion” and “The Treasures and Trifles Sale.” The group held luncheons, a trip to New York City, an Interfaith Day, study groups on current events and Jewish book discussions; it established  “Talking Books” to benefit the blind. 

In 1973, Rabbi Sally Priesand, the country’s first female Reform rabbi, spoke at an annual Interfaith Day. Sisterhood raised funds to help refurbish the meeting hall.  And, in 1974, after more than 80 events, the Artists Series concluded with a concert by Beverly Sills. Then, in 1976, Roselea Cohn, a Sisterhood past president, became Beth-El’s first female president.

In the 1980s, Rabbi Maurice Davis, son of Sadie Davis, a past president of Sisterhood, led the Interfaith Day. “The Kitchen Shower” and “Here Come the Brides” were fundraisers. 

In 1992, Sisterhood and Brotherhood sponsored the first congregational break-the-fast; the 1990s welcomed the first Annual Sisterhood Film Festival, INSIGHT luncheons for the blind and  Passover Seder raffles.  

Presently, the Sisterhood continues to support the congregation with holiday celebrations, bake sales, social action and fundraising events to maintain the kitchen. Sisterhood gives students scholarships to attend Religious Action Center (RAC) or March of the Living trips and gifts at various life stages (consecration, bar/bat mitzvah and confirmation).

A founding member of WRJ, Temple Beth-El celebrates its centennial anniversary with that of WRJ, whose motto is “Stronger Together.” As Sisterhood members and leaders could attest, the May 22 program exemplified how so many women – stronger together – have enriched both Temple Beth-El and the larger Jewish community.

KAREN ISENBERG (kbandel@hotmail.com) is the Sisterhood vice president of membership.

NANCY RIFFLE (nmriffle@gmail.com), Sisterhood co-president from 2010-12, now serves as Sisterhood’s WRJ Centennial Ambassador. She compiled the Sisterhood history noted above.

SISTERHOOD is open to synagogue members and non-members. Call 331-6070.