In 1920, 10 women for Ahavath Achim Synagogue started a Sisterhood. It was around the same time the women’s suffrage 19th amendment was ratified giving women the right to vote. A century later AA Sisterhood’s celebrated its centennial year with the theme, “Women Empowering Women.”
The Centennial Celebration, spanning the Sisterhood’s 100 years of service to AA synagogue, took place as a virtual program Oct. 18 using Zoom.
Because of the current pandemic, Sisterhood’s Centennial plans abruptly transitioned from its scheduled April gala event to the fall calendar date. The setting and décor in Srochi Hall, dancing to a musical band and a catered sit-down dinner were canceled. But the program to share Sisterhood’s stories past and present remained intact.
On Oct. 18, over 130 Sisterhood members, including a few guests, sat at their computers, iPads or smartphones at home. Using Zoom, they saw and heard Sisterhood leaders, AA rabbis and other members voice their personal reflections.
Allison Feldman and Rachael Joseph, current Sisterhood co-presidents, gave welcoming remarks together with alternate readings. Joseph told those listening, “We show up. Always. We have a voracious appetite to learn and improve ourselves and our community.”
Betty Behr and Susan Hart Sandler co-chaired the Centennial program. Sandler said, “For many years our primary place was in the synagogue kitchen and providing for our children’s education. Now we do those things and lead services, read Torah and Haftorah and serve as officers and president of the board of directors. What hasn’t changed is that the Sisterhood is the backbone of the synagogue.”
Rabbi Laurence Rosenthal and Rabbi Neil Sandler praised Sisterhood’s role. With his guitar, Associate Rabbi Sam Blustin sang the “Shehecheyanu” prayer. Debbi Kaner Goldich, president of the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, sent greetings from the organization.
And Adam Hirsch and Jacob Ross produced a retrospective video using many photos from The Breman Museum archives with assistance from archivist Jeremy Katz. In her closing remarks, Joseph called the documentary video a “perfect time capsule for our first 100 years.”
Capturing various eras, the video began with Lizzie Scheinbaum, the Sisterhood’s first president. Snapshots noted succeeding decades with Sisterhood teas, luncheons and dinners. Several 1950s and 60s photos revealed members cooking in the synagogue kitchen or performing on the AA stage for annual fundraising musicals.
In addition to the parade of photos were short videos of past Sisterhood presidents who pre-recorded their comments. The women reminisced while telling anecdotal stories highlighting Sisterhood’s activities. Betty Ann Shusterman said, “after being an AA Sisterhood president, you could be the CEO of IBM.”
Diane Bernstein, who initiated the project to honor women who were Sisterhood members for 50-plus years, noted that over time 309 members have accomplished the same milestone. Behr and Sandler followed by reading the names of 30 women who this year reached the equivalent threshold. Their list included three members who passed away between April and October.
Before the program began on Sunday morning, volunteers dropped off gift bags to attendees’ homes. “A Century of Sweets!” with dessert recipes compiled from three former Sisterhood cookbooks, was published in 2020. Caterer Annette Marcus took Ida Koplin’s Brown Sugar Pound Cake recipe to bake over 100 loaves that were inserted in the bags along with a copy of the new cookbook.
Another video was shown at the end of the event. A few women from Sisterhood’s Z’havah Group, aged 40 and under, spoke directly into a camera from their homes to answer the question: “What Sisterhood means to me.”
Feldman said these are the women who “will carry the torch into the next 100 years.”
Disclosure: Flora Rosefsky is an AA Sisterhood member.