With a record number of first-time attendees, the Main Event brought women together over good company, good deeds, good food and drink — and Jewish guilt with a dollop of humor.
The annual program of the Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County was held May 11 at Congregation B’nai Tikvah in North Brunswick, drawing 170 women — 33 attending for the first time — an increase of 20 from the previous year.
Women’s Philanthropy director Audrey Napchen attributed the rise to the efforts of the program’s three chairs, Wendy Friedman and Debbie Friedman of East Brunswick and Melissa Jerushalmy of Edison.
“They did a fabulous job of recruiting their friends and getting federation’s message out,” said Napchen.
That message of caring for Jews locally and around the world resounded with many first-time attendees. One of them, Anne Erlich of Monroe, said, “I’m very, very interested in becoming involved with federation. Women’s Philanthropy really promotes professional women, and I look forward to attending many more events.”
Debra Fisher, another first-timer, has chaired a number of federation committees since moving to East Brunswick from London two years ago following her husband’s transfer.
“I feel very passionate about what federation does, not just locally, but also in Israel and around the world,” she said. “I am about to go on federation board and have so far given of my talents and skills and now I feel like I’ll finally be contributing even more.”
The women started the evening shopping at vendors selling a host of products, including jewelry, accessories, and Judaica, as they enjoyed appetizers and drinks.
Afterward, Lisa Kudish, an alumni of Jewish Federations of North America’s Young Leadership Cabinet, told of the help and support she received from another federation when she faced a family crisis. After the sudden death of her mother, she told the gathering, she left her home and business in the Chicago area and relocated to Miami where she had a family member with special needs.
From the moment she stepped off the airplane, she said, the local Jewish federation helped her settle in. While Kudish had seen the vital work federation does in providing medical assistance and support for Jews overseas while on missions to Ukraine and elsewhere, she said, her experience in Miami gave her firsthand evidence that “federation is community and community is family.”
While Kudish’s presentation brought some of the attendees to tears, keynote speaker Ruth Andrew Ellenson evoked peals of laughter as she told stories from the best-selling book she edited, The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt.
Ellenson, whose father is a rabbi and mother a convert to Judaism, said the book had special appeal to Jewish audiences, but said one of her most memorable experiences involved an audience of non-Jews.
Her maternal grandmother, a member of Daughters of the American Revolution in Virginia, had the book club at her church read the book and invited Ellenson to discuss it.
“In some ways Jewish life and Southern life are analogous,” Ellenson said. “Southern women are very assertive about their opinions but say it softer than Jewish women.”