Women of Holy Blossom at 100 years young
By Gillian Rosenberg
The shoulders we stand on
On October 26, 1921, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, 60 women met in a classroom of Holy Blossom’s Bond Street Synagogue to form a sisterhood. The Chair of the meeting was 27-year-old Rebecca Brickner, wife of Holy Blossom’s first Reform rabbi and a highly accomplished woman in her own right.
As a first step in defining their role at Holy Blossom and within the Jewish community, they identified 4 priorities:
- Fostering Jewish observance in the home;
- Stimulating spiritual and Jewish education;
- Furthering religious and moral development among Jewish children and youth;
- Espousing religious and Jewish causes.
100 years of service
Over the 100 years that followed that meeting, Sisterhood consistently devoted both human and financial resources to these priority areas and several others, in order to strengthen Holy Blossom Temple, to develop programs for Holy Blossom and the broader Jewish community, to provide leadership and representation within and beyond our congregation, and to support other Jewish institutions. Here’s a snapshot.
Holy Blossom Temple
- Financial aid to the school, including underwriting the cost of a full-time principal
- Contributions to several building funds
- Refurbishments and decorations
- Purchases, including the original elevator, 2nd floor kitchen, sanctuary organ, youth chapel keyboard, and audiovisual equipment
- Scholarships for Rabbinic students and youth
- School and Temple libraries
- The Biblical Garden, in memory of Ruth Katsch Fineberg
- The adult b’nei mitzvah program
- Departments of Worship and Religious Education
- Holy Blossom Women’s Network
- The Judaica and Art Shop
- Institution on Human Relations
- Institute on Judaism
- Jewish Lifestyle
- We Speak for Judaism
- Annual Sisterhood Project
- Holy Blossom Sisterhood Salon
- Women in the Political Process
- The Ups and Downs of Bringing Baby Home, with the Luke Sklar Mental Health Initiative
- Anat Hoffman, Leading Voices from Israel
- Heiress of the Wind
Leadership and Representation
- Lillian Wolman (pres. 1948-1950): first woman elected to the Board of Holy Blossom
- Marilyn Farber (pres. 1961-1963): first woman elected as an officer of Holy Blossom
- Henrietta Chesnie (pres. 1963-1965): first female president of Holy Blossom (1974-1976)
- Diana Goodman (pres. 1981-1983): President of Holy Blossom (1992-1994)
- Bea Sidlofsky (pres. 1985-1987), Sheila Smolkin (pres. 1991-1993), and Gail Goodman (pres. 2005-2007): founders of Canadian Women of Reform Judaism
- Gail Goodman: the first Canadian president of District Three, of Women of Reform Judaism
- Pnina Margolesez”l: Canadian representative to the Northeast District of Women of Reform Judaism
- Henrietta Chesnie, Sheila Smolkin, Lynn Feldman (pres. 2007-2009), Janice Babins (pres. 1999-2003), and Sara Charney (pres. 2003-2005): Board representatives of Women of Reform Judaism
- Ruthe Schipper (pres. 2009-2012): Northeast District Officer of Women of Reform Judaism
- Sara Charney: the first Canadian president of Women of Reform Judaism, a position she will hold until 2024
- Hebrew Union College and scholarship fund
- Palestine Relief Campaign (1929)
- House of Living Judaism (NY)
- Beilinson Hospital (Tel Aviv)
- Leo Baeck School (Haifa)
- Israeli Emergency Fund
- M’ayan Bamidbar Internation Study Center (Kibbutz Yahel)
- New World Education Centre for Progressive Judaism (Jerusalem)
- New initiatives by Women (Jewish and Arab women’s rights advocacy)
- Women of Reform Judaism, including the YES fund for youth, education and special projects that promote social good
Continuing the legacy
COVID-19 did not slow us down. We took the time to reinvent as Women of Holy Blossom (WHB). We re-branded around welcoming and celebrating all who identify as female and/or are comfortable in female spaces and with female experiences. We partnered with Women’s Advocacy Group (WAG), which provides educational programs on social, cultural, and political issues of interest to women. And we crafted a new mission that honours and extends the 1921 priorities, that addresses current challenges faced by women and Jews, and that builds toward a relevant and productive future. All that to say, this is not your grandma’s sisterhood, and yet, it is.
On June 2, we’ll celebrate 100 years with an evening event featuring Annamie Paul—lawyer, activist, and former Green Party of Canada Leader. In a pre-recorded address, Annamie Paul will share her thoughts on Jewish women’s leadership and engage in conversation with Rabbi Yael Splansky.
Please join us, virtually or in person. Information and registration can be found at https://holyblossom.org/event/women-of-holy-blossom-celebrates-100-years/.
For more about us, follow Women of Holy Blossom on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and see our mission on the Holy Blossom website at https://holyblossom.org/groups-and-programs/.
Yom Huledet Sameach, WHB!