Exhibit showcases area’s ‘First Ladies’

Exhibit showcases area’s ‘First Ladies’

Historical society pays tribute to women in leadership roles

Members of the Hebrew Ladies Sewing Society, who made and donated dresses to poor women in Newark in 1886. 
Members of the Hebrew Ladies Sewing Society, who made and donated dresses to poor women in Newark in 1886. 

To Linda Forgosh, executive director of the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey, women have been the backbone of the state’s Jewish community.

To celebrate them, JHS will honor past and present female leaders of the Greater MetroWest NJ community in an exhibit entitled “First Ladies.”

The exhibit will feature 45 items she called “a cross-section of the old and the new,” including photographs, crafts, and hand-crafted invitations to sisterhood events.

The oldest item, from the late 1890s, is a grainy photograph of members of the Hebrew Ladies Sewing Society. 

“They made clothes for poor women in Newark’s Third Ward,” said Forgosh. “This community has been built on women who have been more than generous — not just with their money but with their time and efforts — to help those who are in need.”

The sewing society’s efforts were a forerunner of thrift shops run by groups like Hadassah and National Council of Jewish Women.

By the early 20th century, “women were self-starters and were founders of synagogues and sisterhoods,” Forgosh said. 

Nevertheless, they were often identified — in this newspaper and others — by their husbands’ first names, so that “Harriet Schwartz” remained “Mrs. Henry Schwartz.” 

“At one time the idea of a woman being president of a federation was unheard of, because most contributions came from their husbands. But things have certainly changed,” said Forgosh. The current president of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ is a woman, as is the immediate past president. 

The poster for “First Ladies” features a photograph from 1886 of women leaders of the Hebrew Ladies’ Sewing Society. 

“It is our society’s effort to make the joining of the MetroWest and Central NJ federations into the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ a merger of equals,” Forgosh said. 

Among the notable women to be featured are:

Carrie Fuld, the sister of philanthropist and Newark department store owner Louis Bamberger. She donated the land and house for the Jewish Day Nursery School, a project of Temple B’nai Jeshurun that opened in the early 1900s. It exists today as Fuld Neighborhood House.

Matilda Brailove of Elizabeth, a philanthropist who crusaded against Hitler and on behalf of Israel. Brailove helped many European refugees make aliya after World War II and was appointed chair of the National Women’s Division of UJA in 1950. 

Lois Lautenberg of West Orange, “who has touched every organization in some way, shape, or form through her long history in the community,” said Forgosh. 

Jacqueline Levine, another West Orange resident and longtime activist in the civil rights movement and the campaign to free Soviet Jewry. 

Marsha Atkind of Roseland, former president of NCJW and current executive director of the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey.

• Essex County Freeholder Pat Sebold of Livingston, “who has been active in both the political arena and on federation boards. She is symbolic of Jewish women in political life,” said Forgosh.

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