Family Came First for Elaine Wolpe, 85

Elaine Wolpe | Photo provided

If you needed advice or help planning an event, Elaine Wolpe was there for you.

The Boston-area native, who died Dec. 27 at 85, will be remembered for her excellent counsel — and her well-stocked refrigerator, as she was a “fabulous cook,” according to son Paul Wolpe.  

At shiva, a friend told him that one thing he remembered about Elaine Wolpe was “that of all the mothers, it was her refrigerator we always wanted to raid.”

She came to Philadelphia when her husband, the late Rabbi Gerald Wolpe, led the pulpit at Har Zion Temple. The two met at a Young Judaea camp — he was engaged to someone else. She even helped him pick the ring until he realized he was in love with Elaine and broke off the engagement.

Elaine Wolpe made women’s voices heard in the synagogue, both in Philadelphia and other congregations her husband led. Paul Wolpe has been told his mother brought Jewish feminism to Harrisburg when she was there.

It was under her influence that Bat Mitzvahs moved from Friday nights to Saturday mornings and that women could be called for aliyot, Paul Wolpe said, adding his mother had the first aliyah on a Saturday morning at Har Zion.

“She was very forward-thinking and progressive in that way, but she was also one of these people who everyone turned to when they wanted to organize an event; she was incredibly creative as well as an amazing organizer,” he said.

While in Philadelphia, she worked as director of continuing education at the University of Pennsylvania Dental School for years before becoming the head of development in the United States for the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design.

A year and a half later, she suffered a stroke at the age of 53 that left her unable to speak, save some words and phrases. However, she continued to go out and go to events. She even went to Atlantic City to gamble, “because she didn’t need speech to play blackjack,” said her son.

“Even though she was robbed of language, she had a remarkable ability to communicate with expression and through the phrases and words she could manage to get out,” Paul Wolpe said. “She was a profile of how to live courageously with a late, onset disability and one that was very, very cruel. … It was a very difficult way to live and she did it with enormous courage and grace.”

After her stroke, she and her husband founded and fundraised for Voices of MossRehab Aphasia Center (VOMAC) at MossRehab, which organizes events, runs group activities, spearheads fundraising events and advocates for aphasia — a communication disorder usually acquired following a stroke — awareness.

She was involved in just about everything, Paul Wolpe said. She was president of many organizations, including a regional chapter of Hadassah, and was involved in sisterhoods and the schools and camps her sons attended.

A memorial service will be held at Har Zion on Jan. 28. She is survived by sons Stephen Wolpe (Deborah), Paul Wolpe (Valerie), Rabbi David Wolpe and Rabbi Daniel Wolpe, and eight grandchildren.

Donations may be made in her honor to VOMAC either online or by mail to MossRehab Aphasia Center, Attention: VOMAC Office of Development, 5501 Old York Road, Philadelphia, Pa.,  19141.

[email protected]; 215-832-0740


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here