In 1945 with the war ended, Milly Shrock, the rebbetzin, thought the time was right to form a Ladies Guild to attend to the congregation’s own needs, such as raising funds for Hebrew education, for building Weizmann Hall, for the maintenance and replacement of articles in the Synagogue as well as to foster interest in and attendance at services. Visits to the sick and to hospitals were included in their tasks. The Ladies Work Party was invited to become part of the Ladies Guild.[i] To raise money for the Weizmann Hall, the Ladies Guild arranged and catered for a ball for the Shuls’ 25th anniversary convened by Judith Katzen with debutantes aged between 10 and 17 who were trained by Bertha Marks. Admission was two guineas a double and £5 if one entered a child as a debutante. Then there was a Sukkoth Ball convened by Leah Berzack, Lily Yankelowitz and Sonia Kirsch in which they decorated the Weizmann Hall to look like a sukkah with green plants and trees. [ii]

The Ladies Guild provided a bride’s retiring room in 1953 and taking the wedding a step further they published a charming booklet written by Rabbi Newman called Judaism in the Home, which was so popular that after publication in 1956 it had to be reprinted in 1957 and 1973. They recognised that, for these young brides, there was a difference between growing up in a shtetl surrounded by kosher homes and growing up in Sea Point among non-Jews, knowledge intrinsic to one generation was often lacking in the next. Rabbi Newman also offered to write booklets for houses in mourning, for visiting the sick and for matriculants.

Judaism in the home

By 1970 women were becoming more assertive and Mrs L Marks put a resolution to the AGM on 12.12.1970 that the chairman of the Synagogue Ladies Guild should become a member of the management committee with full voting power.

However, the men were still resistant to the idea of sharing their managerial power and during discussion their excuse was that it would be unfair if the Guild had a committee representative but not the chairman of the Weizmann Primary School, the Talmud Torah, or the Chevra Lomdei Torah, although the Guild was free to nominate its representative for election like anybody else. This notwithstanding that more than half of the congregation were female.

Put to the vote, the resolution was defeated. It was perfectly acceptable for the Ladies Guild to raise money for them and cater for their events. It was, however, not acceptable for women to have a say in the decision making of how that money was to be spent. As a sop, the management committee agreed that it should liaise with the Guild on matters. As an indication of how little concern the men paid to the women, the men turned down a suggestion in 1960 to place a hand rail to make it easier to climb the entrance steps, on the grounds that it would serve no useful purpose! (30.10.1960). Similarly, a suggestion by Rabbi Newman that certain seats be set aside downstairs for those women, who had trouble climbing the stairs to the gallery, with, of course a mechitzah, in accordance with religious custom, was also turned down (11.7.1973). It took forty years before a gentleman considered the convenience of women, or the impracticalities of stairs for arthritic knees.

[i] Newman, Abe, “A special memoir”, G&SPHC Rosh Hashana Annual, 2017-5778, 49

[ii] Irene Gootkin reminiscing in 2006, had clear memories of these remarkable women.. Gootkin, Irene, “A Loved one”, G&SPHC Rosh Hashana Annual 2006-5767, 47