Immigrants Join Temple Sholom Sisterhood Kickoff

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Elders Circle and Temple Sholom Sisterhood members
Members of both Elders Circle and Temple Sholom’s Sisterhood hope this is the beginning of a lasting friendship (Photo by Matt Silver)

Each year, the women of Temple Sholom in Broomall get together to kick off the Sisterhood calendar — with food and drink (no booze) and a healthy dose of guitar-led song, courtesy of the ladies’ choir.

This year was no exception: After an abbreviated cocktail hour, the Sisterhood almost spontaneously broke into song. “Yellow Submarine” went into “Sunrise, Sunset,” followed by “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” and, finally, the crowd favorite, “Sabbath Prayer.”

The only thing new this year is that the Sisterhood’s voices were augmented by seven new voices, voices of women with origins many thousands of miles from Broomall. Most were seniors, originally from African nations where violent conflict necessitated that they leave their homes, their communities and, in some cases, their families. Settling in the Philadelphia area has provided a place to live that’s free from war but often absent the parts of home that fill the heart and feed the soul.

That’s where Elders Circle stepped in.

Elders Circle, which operates under the auspices of Upper Darby’s Multicultural Community Family Services, began in 2015 to help provide community for senior refugees (most have been from African nations and the Caribbean, though Elders Circle is open to all). It’s a place to speak in a familiar tongue, eat a familiar dish, maybe crack an old joke that reminds them of home.

It also helps the seniors do things that aren’t quite so familiar — it provides English as a second language classes and counseling services, seminars on basic computer skills and a variety of wellness programs focusing on different aspects of overall health.

But many of the women have taken with greatest enthusiasm to arts and crafts.

Through Temple Sholom’s Yom Tzedek, the congregation’s day of service and social action, and with help from the Impact Center in Haverford, members of the Sisterhood visited MCFS’ campus and Elders Center members during Sukkot. With the Sisterhood kickoff quickly approaching, the ladies of Temple Sholom saw in the ladies of Elders Circle a group of women looking for community and saw in themselves a group of women with sisterhood to provide.

The invitation was proffered and duly accepted and, as an added bonus, the Elders Circle women brought their jewelry and handicrafts to bedazzle the Sisterhood’s “gift garden.”

“I bought this new necklace from the gift garden tonight, and I absolutely love it,” Sisterhood co-president Donna Hendel said.

Of course, the jewelry and exotic fabrics were fun and colorful but only an incidental part of the evening. At the forefront were the values that lend meaning to community and sisterhood.

“Our rabbi, Peter [Rigler], has done a remarkable job over the past 10 years in encouraging our community to go beyond our own four walls,” said Elyse Endy, a past synagogue president. “He’s encouraging our kids to get out into the communities … he’s encouraging that foundation of giving and giving back to the community.”

Temple Sholom’s congregants acknowledge that the synagogue has become decidedly more oriented toward social justice and social action.

There’s a real sense of giving back to the community being a priority and we’re really trying to live it,” said Robin Bender-Stevens. “We’ve had educational forums on gun control, immigration, hate and anti-Semitism. Not to debate them but just to bring issues to light so that there’s a common dialogue so that we can share and give back to the community.”

Those at MCFS and Elders Circle hope the event is the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship.

“We’re grateful that they wanted to support us and celebrate our seniors,” said Hawa Sweetie Moore, Elder Circle’s coordinator and an outreach specialist at MCFS. “Because the Elders Circle program was created mostly for immigrants who came to America and were lonely, with a lot of trauma from war.”

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