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Sisterhood Power

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Carrie Obendofer (1872-1961) knew the power, joy and motivation of organized women. Her mother founded and led the Cincinnati branch of the National Conference of Jewish Women (NCJW). It is not surprising that Carrie Obendorfer Simon (she married Hebrew Union College graduate Rabbi Abram Simon in 1896) found herself at the helm of the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods (NFTS).

As a rabbi’s wife, Carrie Simon was heavily involved in synagogue life, first in Sacramento, California, then in Omaha, Nebraska, and finally at the Washington (D.C.) Hebrew Congregation. In each city, Simon found the NCJW caught in the crosshairs between the conflicting views of its Orthodox and Reform members (the Conservative movement was still in its formative years). She therefore chose to focus on organizing women at the congregational rather than at the national level. For instance, she established the Ladies Auxiliary Society of Washington Hebrew Congregation.

Above all else, Simon felt strongly that congregational women’s organizations should strengthen the religious life of the congregants. In 1913, seeing the need for a unifying organization, Simon was instrumental in launching the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods under the auspices of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Simon’s goals are best summarized in her own words from the second biennial session: “How easy it is for the mere platitudes of humanitarianism to replace the austere dignity of Jewish obligation and sacrifice. Too well do we know how philanthropic secular and social service appeals may serve as substitutes for religious sanctions.”*

Simon stepped down from the presidency of the NFTS in 1919 due to the over-whelming demand on her daily life as rabbi’s wife and the mother of two sons. She remained an active participant in the NFTS and dedicated herself to other societal work, such as Jewish Braille Institute of America.  Carrie Obendorfer Simon passed away on March 3, 1961.

This Treat was written in honor of Women’s History Month. Coincidentally, today, 25 Adar, was the Hebrew birthdate of Carrie Obendorfer Simon.

*Source: The Rabbi’s Wife: The Rebbitzen in American Jewish Life. Shuly Schwartz. NYU Press academic (January 1, 2006). Page 30.

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