When Harriet Tabak died last year at age 77, she was remembered as a woman whose generosity to her synagogue and the Jewish community left a lasting impression.
Now, future generations will have a tangible symbol of that generosity with the dedication of a Torah scroll in honor of Tabak at the Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth.
The Nov. 17 program dedicating the scroll drew about 400 people to the synagogue, including family, congregants, and leaders of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County.
“Next to her own family, the temple meant so much to her,” said her husband of 57 years, Joseph, his voice cracking with emotion. “I want to thank everybody who participated in the dedication. I assure you Harriet is looking down through the skies and is very humbled by this dedication.”
An “extraordinary” $225,000 in donations was received for the Torah, making it one of the largest fund-raising campaigns in the shul’s recent memory, said Rabbi Eliot Malomet.
He added that the scroll was an appropriate remembrance of a woman who, much like the Torah, was central to the shul. The mantle of the scroll is inscribed with the words of the Sh’ma, “Hear O Israel the Lord is God the Lord is One,” which, Malomet said, “was inscribed in Harriet’s heart and is a visual link to the Torah dedicated in her memory.”
Also dedicated during the ceremony was the Elaine and Harold Kaplan Simcha Room at the temple. Elaine, who died 10 months before Harriet, was a longtime temple member and the older sister of Joseph Tabak.
Attending were Tabak’s sons, Jeffrey and Steven, and their wives and children; and Harold Kaplan and his children, Debra Levine and Frederick, and their spouses and children.
Jeffrey Tabak told the gathering that when he looked out at the sanctuary he could still see his mother and family, both sets of grandparents, his Aunt Elaine and Uncle Harold, and cousins sitting together. “We still feel her presence and are honored to know she had a place in this temple, this synagogue.”
Citing the $225,000 raised, he quipped, “Mom, you raised money for another Jewish cause and you didn’t have to go to any meetings.”
Harriet Tabak was a lifelong Highland Park resident and temple member, going back to when the synagogue held its first Hebrew school classes in the back of the Raritan Avenue bakery run by her parents, Morris and Dorothy Engelhardt.
A board member of the temple’s sisterhood, Tabak ran its gift shop for eight years and chaired many fund-raising and charitable events.
After a devastating fire in the synagogue in 2006, Tabak was active in its rebuilding, chairing the Livnot campaign.
She was also an emerald Lion of Judah for her level of philanthropy to the federation, where she was instrumental in recruiting new donors, becoming Lion of Judah Endowment chair.
A life member of the federation’s board of trustees, Tabak also served on its Women’s Philanthropy board, spearheading numerous programs over the years.
The Kaplan Simcha Room, said Malomet, was an appropriate way to honor Elaine Kaplan, who took joy in others’ happy events even as she suffered from progressively worsening symptoms of the multiple sclerosis she developed as a young woman.
“Our mother lives through the people of Highland Park and this shul,” Frederick Kaplan said.
The Kaplans were married for 61 years and had lived for some years in Florida. She maintained her ties to Highland Park and Middlesex, making an annual Lion of Judah pledge to the Middlesex federation, said executive director Gerrie Bamira.
“Our community will be forever grateful to both Harriet Tabak and Elaine Kaplan and their families for their commitment to Jewish life and continuity,” Bamira said. “Elaine may have moved, but her heart was always in Middlesex. Harriet’s presence will be felt in her synagogue and everywhere in the Jewish community for generations to come. We were all affected profoundly by her values.”