Ann Sullivan: Beth Am Women President 1985-88 | Congregation Beth Am

Ann Sullivan: Beth Am Women President 1985-88

Ann Sullivan: Beth Am Women President 1985-88

Watch Ann's video interview or read the edited highlights from her interview below:

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Why did you join Beth Am Women?
To connect with other women and feel closer to this community. I live in Sunnyvale and wanted to meet more Jewish women and families to share holidays with.

What was your history at BAW and Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) Pacific District?
I enjoyed being on the Beth Am Women (BAW) Board for over 20 years. It was great training, because I decided to spread my wings and become active on the Pacific District Board.

I have just retired from being on the WRJ Pacific District Executive Board. I was on the Pacific District Board for over 20 years, first as an area director, then corresponding secretary, VP of Area Directors in Northern California including Oregon, Washington and Hawaii and my last position was VP of Development.

At Beth Am, I’ve been working with the Poltava Committee for 10 years and now I’m helping on the New Member Committee. The Poltava Committee raises money to support a young congregation [in Ukraine] that has 70 members now. It is growing and we are so proud of them.

What did BAW do during your tenure as president?
We accepted newcomers warmly into Beth Am Women and worked to support the Beth Am Board, making sure we met with the rabbis so they were updated with that was happening. We wanted them to support us and, when possible, participate in some of our events.

When I served as BAW president, the presidency was shared—one year with Geri Gould and Faith Gobuty and the next with Geri and Karen Nierenberg.

We wanted to do a large fundraiser and I remembered my parents’ temple in Charleston had done a wonderful variety show. I was able to get the information from my mom and we contacted the production that put on Be A Star. Be A Star One was during Cherie Half’s administration and Be A Star Two was during Geri’s, Karen’s and mine. It was so much fun and so many people participated.

We worked on WRJ projects to raise funds for them, especially scholarships and the YES Fund.
A few years ago we used some of our funds to create the Meditation Garden next to the Beit Kehillah.

What changed during the time that you were BAW president?
The BAW president became recognized as a voting member of the temple board. We finally had a voice and voting rights during the board meetings. Previously we were only able to sit in on the board meeting, which gave us insight as to how it was run and what was happening. Becoming a voting member gave us respect at Beth Am and I feel it still does. 

What was BAW’s connection to WRJ?
In today’s world, we are blessed by Beth Am Women belonging to the national organization called Women of Reform Judaism. We also belong to the WRJ Pacific District and the district gives us a lot of encouragement, support and help for all the different things we can do here at Beth Am.

A number of BAW past presidents made the decision after we left office to still be connected to WRJ in New York and to the Pacific District. Thus we were able to bring back lots of ideas to help our own congregation, and to keep us connected, and that’s a very important word. We want to be connected. Another way to look at it is it takes a village to do all the work that we need to have done or to raise our children or to raise a community.

Some of the work is to keep Reform Judaism alive and well. Women have many desires and hopes not only for our community, but also for the greater community. When you belong to a larger organization, you can reach out to help make this possible. In the larger community, you can get ideas to help out not only Beth Am Women, but also the whole community here in this part of the Bay Area. And if sometimes we don’t know how to do something, we can reach out to WRJ and get ideas. In WRJ, each sisterhood president belonged to what’s called a “listserve,” and she could go to that listserve and say to the other WRJ local sisterhood presidents, I need help—have you had this problem, or how have you solved something? She could get all kinds of ideas. By going to the Summer Institute, which was like a mini-convention, there are workshops she could participate in. She could go to the district conventions that were held once every two years here on the West Coast. And then during the other years—because everything was biennial—she could go to the national conventions.
Once every two years WRJ had a convention and they invited all the member sisterhoods to join them. We had lots of wonderful workshops and that taught us how we could participate here at home with our own local sisterhoods and have different kinds of programs or fund-raisers. Or if it were a political issue like medical marijuana, we raised awareness to the states or at the national level to accept its legalization. We get lots of benefits from belonging to these organizations.

How have WRJ and BAW benefited you personally?
They have helped me to reach out beyond Beth Am. I enjoyed being with a group of women who want to do many different things for not only our communities, but for the national or district organization. As a member of Beth Am Women and the district, I made a decision that I wanted to be on the district board. That allowed me to help out other sisterhoods as an area director, which was one of my duties: to help them when they were struggling. Struggling comes in many different forms. Some of them had trouble getting board members; some of them had trouble getting members to belong to their organization. It’s a great way to reach out and help these organizations so they can stay as a group. Because as a sisterhood, we help to raise funds for our congregations. We help send our children to camps. And we feel we’re vital.

In 1988, I joined the district board and I became an area director in Northern California, a two-year commitment. The district president at that time was Ruth Ann Begin from Southern California. The districts were divided up into even smaller groups, and since I live here in Northern California, I was assigned 4 or 5 local sisterhoods to look after. I was an area director for many years.

Then, when Cherie Half became president of the Pacific District, I was one of her photographers and made a memory book for her. After that, I became an area director again. You’re allowed to do this on a two-year basis. Then I was asked to be one of the secretaries.

I’ve enjoyed being on the Beth Am Women Board for many years and I just left it. I was on it, off and on, since 1985—mostly on. It’s been a wonderful learning experience; it’s been a wonderful way of being part of an organization and a community. I feel I’ve grown and gotten a lot out of it. The most important thing is I’ve made so many great friends and I think that is one of the most important reasons why we join an organization.

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