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Sisterhood | Beth Israel Synagogue in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Sisterhood

In 1936, at the request of Rabbi Simon, the clergy at that time, a group of ladies from the Baron de Hirsch Synagogue organized a women’s auxiliary to the Board of Governors, intending to add greatly to synagogue life.

On October 15, 1936 , thirty-eight women declared themselves members on that first day. The first executive slate was President, Dr. J. C. Glube, Vice President, Mrs. M B. Fineberg, Secretary, Mrs. Manuel Zive and Treasurer, Mrs. Morris Weiner.

The Sisterhood has been an independent women’s organization of the Baron de Hirsch Congregation with its own constitution and executive which is separate from the Board of Governors of the general congregation.

Little has changed in the aims of Sisterhood from its original mandate. Its goals are to enhance the work of the congregation, to promote a Jewish social life for the congregation, to beautify the sanctuary and to support the needs of the Talmud Torah by sponsoring activities and celebrations for the children at each holiday time and by funding School staff. For decades, the Sisterhood has also been providing kiddushim following Shabbat services.

A kosher kitchen was a necessity and first became a reality in the Robie Street Synagogue during the tenure of Sisterhood President, Mrs. A. (Sophie) Newman, 1946-48.

With the move to the new Beth Israel Synagogue in 1957, the size of the congregation grew and so did the scope of Sisterhood’s undertakings. They were particularly instrumental in the administration and outfitting of a fully equipped kosher kitchen, both milchik (dairy) and fleishik (meat), which could provide service for up to 400 people for special dinners, wedding receptions and Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations. The Sisterhood membership grew from 38 to a high of more than 200 in the best years..

Sisterhood is affiliated with Women’s Branch of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. Their newsletters and other publications have been useful in offering program material, fund raising ideas and communication with other orthodox sisterhoods on the continent. Sisterhood Presidents and Vice Presidents have participated in national conventions.

In November 1987, Sisterhood was awarded a special “Wealth of Grace” citation for exceptional accomplishments in the advancement of Torah Standards by the Women’s Branch of the O.J.A.

Sisterhood members sit on the Board of Education committee, share the duties of Chevra Kadisha and provide the traditional comfort for mourners returning from the cemetery. The Sisterhood provides appropriate gifts to all Bar Mitzvah and Bat Torah celebrants and to brides who are married in the Synagogue.

Fund raising has changed with the times. The annual bazaar was started in 1957 with various products for sale, large commercial booths, afternoon tea and a supper. This event changed slightly with each different convenor but was, by far, the largest money raiser for Sisterhood. It drew the general public and was prestigious enough to have the wife of either the provincial premier or the Lieutenant Governor officially open it.

Sisterhood held successful white glove teas for more than ten years. Used clothing sales were held at various church halls. The star of the CBC television children’s series, Mr. Dress Up was brought to Halifax five times for our congregation and the general public.

The Chanukah Book Fair, started in 1977 by Rebbitzen Rose Pritzker, began as a sale of books and gift items and escalated into a wide-ranging event.

Sisterhood has had many other projects – Monte Carlo Nights, “Learn as you Turn” square dancing, regular dances, catering of dinners and the A. M. Party.

In the early years of the new building, Sisterhood directed a large portion of its fundraising to help pay off the mortgage. In later years, proceeds went towards the purchase of two Yahrtzeit memorial boards in the sanctuary and towards payment of the Eitz Chaim (Tree of Life) bronze sculpture in the synagogue lobby. The latter has been an on-going fundraiser through the sale of stones, leaves etc., honouring or memorializing family members of the congregants.

Sisterhood operates a Judaic Library that is the largest east of Montreal and has been used extensively by university students researching projects.

The women have also accepted the task of synagogue beautification. They have raised funds for the decoration of the social hall with new paint, draperies and curtains. Indirect lighting was installed which adds to every occasion. Funds for this came from a “Light Up Our Life” campaign.

Sisterhood made a substantial contribution during World War Two. Its members ran a canteen at the Quinpool Road Hostel where they entertained the troops by playing bridge and holding dances for the hundreds of Jewish servicemen who came through Halifax . Sisterhood helped the Canadian Jewish War Efforts Committee by looking after all the immigrants that poured into Canada through Halifax .

Sisterhood packed ditty bags (soap, etc.), knitted for the Red Cross and for the London Blitz victims and supplied baby layettes. Almost every phase of war work was done by the women of Sisterhood. The Sisterhood also reached out in times of local disasters such as the Springhill mine disasters of the 1950’s and the Swiss Air crash of 1998.

Sisterhood provides for the congregation what any woman does in her own home, adding the warmth and hospitality to make the synagogue really an extension of our individual households.

Sisterhood has always shown concern for the community. It welcomes newcomers, reaches out to congratulate our achievements, shares our joys and supports our sorrows. It makes us a community of young and old, united to purpose. That is why so many past presidents and volunteers who have given so much over the years, continue their support and commitment to Sisterhood.

Sisterhood women get great pleasure from enthusiastic and enjoyable acting, singing and dancing. Many such productions have been staged by Sisterhood and its members. December 13, 1959 , “Gi Gi Joins Up”, the first stage production in the new shul was directed by Shirley Burnstein. December 10, 1961 , “Our Fair Ladies”, a musical presentation directed by Shirley Burnstein was presented at a congregational dinner. March 30, 1967 , “My Fair Lizzie” saw Shirley Burnstein and Ralph Garson in charge. May 13, 1969 , at a life membership tea, Shirley Burnstein sang “My Yiddishe Moma” to Sarah Goldberg our Mother of the Year. November 14, 1986 , for the 50 th Anniversary of Sisterhood, a musical production was written especially for Sisterhood by Dr. Jayson Greenblatt, produced and directed by Shirley Burnstein and accompanied by Bunny Shore .

Sisterhood also felt the need for a little sporting action with a bowling league, formed in l950. It became known as the B’nai Brith Bowling League and in 1955, the Hebrew Ladies Bowling League with its own executive and a year-end banquet.

A gift shop was begun by Rebbitzen Sophie Greenspan. Such items as jewelry, religious artifacts, books and holiday items are purchased by the convenor from various suppliers in Canada , the United States and Israel .

During the celebration of Sisterhood’s 50 th Anniversary in l986, the important and welcome facility of a new milchik kitchen was installed in the much-used Youth Lounge. The entire cost for this was contributed by Shirley and Bob Wolman, in loving memory of their mother and mother-in-law, Sadie Goldfarb, one of Sisterhood’s most ardent and faithful workers.

Sisterhood is proud of its record of achievement and collaboration. To the leadership, the presidents, the members of the executive, and to the scores of unsung heroines whose energies have been offered joyfully and unstintingly, go acknowledgement and gratitude for dedicated involvement and participation.