SPOTLIGHT Women’s groups continue spirit of volunteerism


In the good old days, motherhood and sisterhood went hand in hand, especially in the Jewish community. Going back to the World War II era, many women joined forces to benefit a single cause. When they weren’t plucking pinfeathers from kosher chickens, many of our grandmothers and mothers gave their time and talents to a variety of philanthropies, from the Jewish Special Needs Society (JSNS) to auxiliaries of every kind.

These women paid their dues, literally, and they also developed lifelong friendships and provided a vital link to the Jewish community.

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One of these women was the late Dora Bournstein, who founded JSNS 70 years ago. The mission then was to provide emergency care, food, and even coal to the sick, elderly, and poor, in the St. Louis area. Basically, the goal was to help the disadvantaged people in the community, regardless of their race or religion, become more self-reliant.

In 1972, six women formed the LIGHTS of the JSNS to carry on the legacy of their mothers. The LIGHTS, which is an acronym of “Life Is Giving Help Today, ” has come a long way since they raised funds in their pishke cans.

Now 400 members strong, the JSNS offspring performs quiet mitzvahs with dignity, such as when they provide scholarships to the Burn Recovery Camp; prepare and distribute hundreds of meals for Jewish Family and Children’s Services every month; knit lap robes and bed socks for AIDS patients; donate clothing and medicine to Women’s Safe House; and read stories to Shriner’s Hospital patients, who also get to keep the brand new books.

Many members of the parent JSNS have passed away, but they are not forgotten.

Approximately 4,500 names, from 1941 to the early 1960s, are lovingly embroidered in blue thread and preserved on a beautiful tablecloth made of linen napkins hand-sewn together. This treasured piece of history is believed to be an original fundraising project in which names of loved one cost 25 cents each.

Even though the work of tikkun olam (repairing the world) is more important than ever–1,800 St. Louis families a month would go hungry otherwise without help from the Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry–charity work has become a low priority in today’s hectic lifestyles. I mean, really, who has time to schmooze at fancy luncheons and learn how to play mah jongg? Working women are way too busy climbing corporate ladders, schlepping children to soccer practice, and futzing with Palm Pilots. Other than an occasional feel-good social justice project, volunteerism is simply not on the agendas of most modern moms.

Nowadays, raising a family consumes our lives. We have less time for ourselves, let alone helping other people. Yet one of the best ways to teach our children about tzedakah is by example. That’s why moms are obligated to show the future generation of parents how to do their part and help those in need. Whether we reach into our pocketbooks or use our special skills and interests, we definitely can make a difference in the lives of Jews in St. Louis, Israel and overseas.

As women in general continue to make an impact in the workforce and political scene, Jewish women in particular set the standards for creative philanthropic contributions. In 2005, women in the St. Louis Jewish community gave more than $2.5 million dollars in their own names to Jewish Federation’s $10.6 million annual community campaign.

Money talks, and so do women. Our voice is even louder in numbers, which is why becoming an active member of the Jewish community is something to seriously consider. Fortunately, many organizations have changed with the times and now offer flexible programming that fits our crazy schedules, such as evening and weekend meetings and unique opportunities to develop leadership skills, network with our peers, and put the fun back in fundraising.

Don’t know where to start? First, check out area temple websites to learn about newly formed women’s groups and social justice committees. At Congregation Shaare Emeth, for example, the Contemporary Women of Reform Judaism (CWRJ) is ideal for the next generation of sisterhood. Women in their 30s through 50s come together for friendship, service projects, dynamic educational speakers, and, of course, bunco.

Here’s a few other ways to get involved:

Jewish Federation of St. Louis


For more than 100 years, the Jewish Federation has helped feed the hungry, educate people of all ages, care for young and old, fight anti-Semitism, and promote Jewish culture and heritage. In 2005, the Jewish Federation raised approximately $2 billion to help Jews worldwide through a network of 48 local, national and international human and social service organizations and cultural programs. Women play a major role in the success of these annual campaigns, on both ends of the telephone line. Women’s Connection, for example, is a new group that merges two Jewish Federation groups, Women’s Connection and Business & Professional Women. This active branch of the Jewish Federation provides an opportunity for woman of all ages, backgrounds, interests, lifestyles and income levels to affirm their Jewish identity, connect with each other, and inspire other Jewish women to establish themselves as full partners in our St Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Chapter Hadassah


Founded in 1912, Hadassah is the largest Jewish volunteer women’s organization in the United States. Also known as The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, the St. Louis chapter has 1,800 members who are motivated and inspired to strengthen their partnership with Israel, ensure Jewish continuity, and realize their potential as a dynamic force in American society.

Hadassah offers many opportunities for women to socialize, develop leadership skills, advocate, learn, make new friends, and build relationships. For example, Young Leaders is one of the special interest groups that appeals to stay-at-home moms, full-time volunteers, and high-powered professionals alike, typically ages in their 20s through mid-40s. They focus on career issues, community outreach, child rearing, education, and health and fitness, including the latest developments on stem cell research and a free breast health education program available to schools and organizations. Hadassah also offers social activities, such as a chocolate tasting event, ongoing book clubs, and game night.

National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW)


More than 95,000 women belong to the NCJW, and St. Louis is the fourth largest section in the country with 1,800 members. If you want a strong voice in Missouri and Washington D.C., the NCJW is the place to be. This volunteer organization has met the needs of St. Louis women, children and families since 1895 with community service projects, such as the public school milk program, the Scholarship Foundation, Victim’s Service Council, Court Appointed Special Advocates of St. Louis County, and Legal Advocates for Abused Women.

“Mishegas of Motherhood ” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Her stories are inspired by the real life of her family, including her two children, toy poodle named Luci, and her husband, but not necessarily in that order. Feel free to send any comments, prayers or recipes to: [email protected] or visit her new website at