Many of the legion of women who were inspired by community activist Merrye Shavel Hudis’s leadership and dedication to Jewish causes will be there to pay tribute to her at the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks Women’s Philanthropy luncheon on April 30. Sadly, Hudis did not live to receive the Woman of Valor Award that will be conferred upon her at the event.
Hudis will be recognized for “the legacy she leaves, the example she set, the moral and ethical bar she raised, and how that goes hand in hand with becoming engaged in and supporting federation in your own right to advance the interests of the broader Jewish community,” Women’s Philanthropy director Paula Joffe told NJJN.
Also at the event, Wendy Soos, executive director of JCC Abrams Camps, will receive the Women’s Philanthropy Leadership Award for “the way she has revitalized the camp, injected new spirit into it, created new programs for the youth of our area, and continues to grow our community’s camp,” said Joffe.
For Joffe, the loss of Hudis was also personal. When Joffe was new to the community, she said, “Merrye was the first person who picked up the phone and said, ‘Let’s go out to dinner.’ She brought her own friendship circle to me and made a point of making girlfriend shidduchs.”
A resident of Princeton and an active member of The Jewish Center there, Hudis died in November 2014. She was survived by her husband, Stephen, and adult children, Loel and Suzanne. Her husband and son; her father and stepmother, Matthew and Hedy Shavel; and her two brothers, Jon (Ruth) and Doug (Marcie) Shavel, all live in Princeton.
Federation past president Marissa Treu spoke about Hudis’s contributions as a federation volunteer, most recently as vice president of community relations and allocations.
Hudis was also on the board of the federation’s Women’s Campaign for many years. “Merrye really believed in women being involved and understood the responsibility of women to make their own gifts to federation,” Treu said.
Treu said that when Hudis served as cochair, with Rebecca Sarett and Staci Wilson, of the Women’s Philanthropy spring luncheon in 2012, “she brought in lots of new young faces: first-timers who came to the luncheon and learned about the positive impact of federation on the community.”
Hudis also hosted the federation’s Knitzvah group. “She graciously opened her house up to us every month, even while she was ill,” Joffe said. “She was so regal, joining us in knitting chemo caps for donation to the hospital, even when she was dealing with her own illness.”
Andy Frank, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks, captured both Hudis’s fashion sense and the sense of humor she used to connect with others, with a little story about the new suit he wore to his daughter’s bat mitzva. “I don’t dress in sartorial splendor,” he said, but when he wore that suit to a federation event shortly after the bat mitzva, Hudis noticed. “Merrye came up to me and said, ‘Oh, you got a bat mitzva suit.’ She had a big smile on her face, recognizing the simha I just went through.”
Listing some of Hudis’s other community involvements and support — Friends of the IDF, The Jewish Center of Princeton, and the Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County, Frank said, “The qualities that drove her to do so much work with the agencies in the community were part of her upbringing and part of her everyday life. She was literally beloved by everybody she came into contact with.”
Hudis’s longtime friend Martha Rossman is cochairing the Women’s Philanthropy luncheon this year with Holli Elias. “Merrye threw her heart into whatever she did,” Rossman said, “and Jewish causes were very near and dear to her heart.”
In choosing a speaker for the event, the planners kept in mind Hudis’s love of reading. “We decided to go with an author, but an author with a twist,” said Joffe.
Jeannie Opdyke Smith will talk about In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer, the memoir of her mother, Irene Gut Opdyke, who was a Righteous Gentile. The book tells of a 17-year-old Polish Catholic nursing student who, after suffering and being raped at the hands of the Russians during World War II, eventually became housekeeper to a German major and managed to hide 12 Jews in the basement of his villa. Opdyke’s story was the basis of the Broadway play Irena’s Vow that starred Tovah Feldshuh.
Summarizing Hudis’s relationship to federation, Treu said, “She understood community and that federation was really the umbrella organization that took care of the Jews in our community. She was a shining star, and we all loved her, and she is very missed.”