2017-02-15 / Voice at the Shore

Nominations for Woman of Valor celebration due March 1

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore editor


Among the honorees at Beth El’s Woman of Valor celebration in 2015 were Holocaust survivors (from left) Sonia Kaplan, BJ Pinnock (who is not a survivor but spoke on the survivors’ behalf), Rosalie Simon, the late Cyla Kowenski (z’l), Hanna Ehrlich, Ruth Kessler, Sara Katz, Ruth Zinman, and Berta Borowick. Among the honorees at Beth El’s Woman of Valor celebration in 2015 were Holocaust survivors (from left) Sonia Kaplan, BJ Pinnock (who is not a survivor but spoke on the survivors’ behalf), Rosalie Simon, the late Cyla Kowenski (z’l), Hanna Ehrlich, Ruth Kessler, Sara Katz, Ruth Zinman, and Berta Borowick. Wanted: Women of Valor.

Next month, Beth El Synagogue in Margate will once again recognize women who enhance Jewish life in our community and help to make our community and world a better place. Organizers of the Woman of Valor celebration, which will be held on Sunday, March 19, at 3 p.m., are now seeking nominations for women to be honored from all local synagogues and Jewish-affiliated organizations, said Marilyn Kessler, who is chairing this year’s event and has been instrumental in bringing the event to Beth El.

Nominations are due March 1. Those wishing to nominate a woman from their organization should contact Kessler at (609) 442-9798 or timbalegirl@gmail.com, or call Beth El at (609) 823-2725.

“The criteria for Woman of Valor is very broad,” said Kessler, who also chaired the program when it was held at Beth El two years ago. “Usually there is someone who works very hard, either a volunteer or paid employee—someone who has put in extra effort this year, or exhibits extraordinary service. Usually once a year there’s someone who has done something special,” she explained.

The 2015 Woman of Valor program recognized nearly 20 local women. Each received a rose and a certificate. Each nominee was also asked to designate another community member to speak on her behalf—to describe her life, contributions, accomplishments and character. According to Kessler, the event, which was timed to coincide with both Purim and International Women’s Day, “was a great day to honor women.”

Kessler first held a Woman of Valor celebration at Beth El when she was the synagogue’s president during the 1990s. It was Beth El Rabbi Aaron Krauss who gave her the idea; Krauss had been involved in a similar celebration years earlier as rabbi of Atlantic City’s Community Synagogue.

“For many years, the Community Synagogue had a pageant called ‘Mrs. Queen Esther,’” said Krauss. “It was a Jewish version of the Miss America pageant.” However, he noted, “It was not at all a beauty pageant. It was all about accomplishments and good deeds. Some very wonderful women were chosen.”

The popular Mrs. Queen Esther pageant attracted nominees and judges from both Jewish and non-Jewish organizations, added Krauss. “The synagogue was jam-packed!”

Beth El’s Woman of Valor celebration is a slightly different take on the same concept. Krauss said he and Kessler reworked the concept because the Mrs. Queen Esther pageant, which was a competition with judges and winners, generated a certain degree of ill will; the competition effectively pitted women who had contributed in major ways to their community against one another. In contrast, the Woman of Valor celebration gives every woman nominated their moment to be honored and recognized.

“Everyone likes to be patted on the back,” noted Kessler. “Everyone works so hard. I don’t want to leave anyone out.”

Kessler is hoping to make the Woman of Valor celebration an annual event. The previous times she chaired the event at Beth El, she did so as synagogue president. Although she is no longer president, she felt motivated to put on the event again after a community member asked her when the next Woman of Valor celebration would take place.

“I am always looking for ways to bring the community together, to get people to work together with Jewish spirit and nice camaraderie,” said Kessler. For her, Woman of Valor is a way of making this happen. “It’s just a real feel-good day. The best part is that the community comes together. Everyone works together and shows what women can do.” 

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