‘Sis’ Eisman, 90, Jewish Federation Pioneering Spirit

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Ann "Sis" Eisman, a pioneering communal activist, died Feb. 18 at age 90.

Ann “Sis” Eisman, a compassionate and pioneering civic leader who put the Jewish community front and foremost on her agenda of causes and concerns, died on Feb. 18, just days before her 91st birthday.

Her legacy is one of loving devotion to the welfare of the community as she etched a prominent profile serving it for years. Indeed, Eisman was known as a generous spirit filled with a firm kindness to get things done that would benefit Jewish programs, and was devoted to helping secure the future of the Jewish people.


Her activity with the precursor to what is now the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia was wide and deep, including serving as the agency's first female vice president and as chair of its Allied Jewish Appeal campaign back in the 1960s and early ’70s.

Mimi Schneirov, a past president of Federation, recalls Eisman as an early inspiration, “the primary reason I became involved with the Federation and became president of the Young Women’s Division that she created, my first official role in the Federation.” She was “an early and important mentor to me.” Indeed, when Eisman chaired the forerunner to what is now Women’s Philanthropy at Federation, “she was concerned that there were no young women involved in the Federation. There was a Young Men’s Service Committee and an award for young men but nothing for young women.

“She knew my sister, Susan, and me from synagogue and approached us about creating a Young Women’s Group, which we did with our friends and her support. She supported our programing and even got us funding for a film we created to involve young women and get them to support the campaign.”

Indeed, Eisman was a woman of “firsts,” dating back decades, adds Schneirov: “Under Sis’s leadership, we held our first-ever FAJA luncheon for Young Women and the minimum gift was $500!”

“Sis remained a mentor, good friend and supporter.”

Ellyn Golder Saft, secretary of Federation’s Board of Trustees, remembers the late communal icon as “a stunning, lovely lady” who was “a mentor of my mom’s as well,” she says, referring to the late  Cis Golder. “Just think of all the wonderful leaders she helped create.”

Eisman’s efforts to benefit the lives of others wasn’t limited to the Jewish community. Her many other positions included being chairwoman of the Council for International Visitors; director as well as vice chairman of the Board of City Trusts; and a member of the executive committee of Girard College. She also was president of the Doctors Wives at what is now Penn Medicine; with her late husband, prominent internist Dr. Sylvan H. Eisman, the two formed a formidable couple on the social and communal scene.

Activity hit home for her as well: Eisman put together a computer club at the Philadelphian, the apartment building where she resided, and also organized book clubs and eco-committees there. She was known as a “can do” woman who rarely said no to a challenge or opportunity to help others.

It was a Jewish tradition she was carrying on, recalls her son, Jerry Eisman, a college professor now living in Oakland, Calif: “Mom deeply understood the power of social capital. When we look at our traditions, both intellectual and historic, there are tremendous stories we repeat and share. These are the assets of our history as Jews. You need to catalyze those assets to change people’s lives for the better. Few knew how to power those energies for good better than Mom.”

And tzedakah energized her, agrees her daughter, Amy, also a college professor, from Washington, D.C.: “From childhood, Mom taught us about giving back. She was a lifelong learner, giver, networker. If we didn’t try to make a difference, in whatever we did, we weren’t fulfilling our potential.”

“She was the kind of mother who let us grow by making our own mistakes,” notes another daughter, Marian Forman.

Which meant not painting her kids into corners — no matter the color. “So I painted my room black and white with yellow stripes —and it was hideous,” says Forman.

“But it was mine. That was typical of Mom, letting us grow into our own selves.”

In addition to her daughters aand son, Eisman is survived by eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Contributions in Eisman’s name and memory can be sent to the Development Fund at Girard College, 2101 S. College Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19121.

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