Members of Reform Congregation Beth Chaim in Princeton Junction still miss Marlene Brown. A past sisterhood president and former New Jersey senior deputy attorney general and section chief, she died of breast cancer Oct. 26, 2018. She was 57.
According to those who knew her, Brown was the kind of person every synagogue covets, one who leads, contributes, and fills the gaps when needed. To ensure that their friend would be memorialized each year, in Brown’s honor the Beth Chaim sisterhood dedicated custom-made Torah covers to be used during the High Holiday season.
“We wanted to do something special in her memory,” said sisterhood president Ellen Chajson. “She did so much to help behind the scenes. We lost someone who was integral to our congregation.
“At times, it’s not easy for me to remember she is no longer there.”
Lawrenceville resident Donna Sher, a former president of the Beth Chaim sisterhood, said that despite her illness, Brown maintained her commitment to the congregation.
“I knew Marlene well and she was a good friend,” said Sher. “I’m the one who originally got her involved with sisterhood, where she became very active. She was battling cancer and you would never know it. She kept going to dinners and other affairs and she never complained. It’s marvelous the sisterhood is honoring her in this way. She certainly was a leader. The new Torah covers both honor her and were needed.”
Sher said Brown loved music and attended the Newport Jazz Festival on an annual basis. And when she wasn’t at Beth Chaim or with her family, she was arguing cases before the New Jersey Supreme Court.
The sisterhood began planning to honor Brown several months ago. After Chajson, sisterhood treasurer Joyce Kalstein, and Beth Chaim executive director Orly Klugman consulted with Brown’s West Windsor family and friends, the decision was made to commission the High Holiday Torah covers, which were dedicated at a special service on Sept. 20.
“It’s a perfect honor for Marlene’s work in sisterhood and all else she did,” said Chajson. “I thank everyone who helped with getting this done. It is an honor for [the sisterhood] to have presented these special Torah covers to the temple in Marlene’s memory.”
The covers were designed by Margery Langner of Custom Judaica in Tucson, Ariz., and adorned Beth Chaim’s three Torahs during the 5780 High Holidays, and will in each future season of renewal.
“What I try to do is give the client, in this case, Beth Chaim, what they want, and make sure they feel what they wanted through the design,” said Langner, who, with her husband, Eli, has been producing such Judaica for 30 years. “We get pictures of the sanctuary, start with line drawings and fabric samples…. The process went well. Orly Klugman worked with me all through it.”
Langner produced a trio of covers with different designs. All three are white, as is customary for the season, and the words and images are woven in shades of silver and grey. The focal point of one is the blast of a shofar; another has the words Avinu Malkeinu in the shape of a star of David as its centerpiece; and “l’shanah tovah” is written below a depiction of a pomegranate tree on the third cover.
Beth Chaim’s clergy said using the Torah covers enhanced their services.
“At this time of renewal, we are very blessed to receive these magnificent hand-crafted Torah covers,” said Rabbi Brian Beal. “They added a greater sense of meaning to our worship at this holy time of year.”
Said Rabbi Adena Blum, “It is wonderful that they are honoring Marlene in this way and allowing the entire congregation to share in that honor.”