Alice Erber: Beth Am Women President 2003-05, 2009-10 | Congregation Beth Am

Alice Erber: Beth Am Women President 2003-05, 2009-10

Alice Erber: Beth Am Women President 2003-05, 2009-10

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

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Why did you join BAW?
Sisterhood to me—through my mother, who was so involved—was everything. She lived and breathed the sisterhood. I grew up in a Conservative synagogue where my mother was in charge of the sisterhood, ran all of the events and the Oneg Shabbats, and my family was really involved in the synagogue. So all of my mother’s friends were in sisterhood and I didn’t think ill of it. It was the norm. But when I got older and got married and came and lived in California and joined Beth Am, sisterhood then became those older women that my mother was friends with, so that could not be me. When you have children, you are certainly not admitting that you might be older, but at some point, you actually realize you are older and you are kind of like your mother and what a great time she had!

At some point I got invited to join Beth Am Women and all of a sudden I looked around the table and these were the people who then became my best friends. We were all just fabulous people, working or not working, creative, so fun and so willing to give to the synagogue. And what’s so inbred in me was giving back. So now, we were that generation giving back to Beth Am—how fabulous was that! And then I could get to lead the women doing that and make them feel good and make them want to do it as well—that was my background. We would make jokes—“This is not your mother’s sisterhood.” That’s why we called it Beth Am Women. And then we would say, “Women from the ‘hood”—anything that would get people to say, “Oh, okay, I’ll join this.”

What did BAW do during your tenure as president?
Although I fought joining sisterhood because I wasn’t sure what that meant, in fact my slogan was, “We take your money to give it back to you”—to help you, to help the synagogue, to help you do the things that you want to do: pay for prayer books, or kiddush cups, or gardens, or furniture even, or charity. To any of the tragedies that went on in the world, we made sure that we gave money from Beth Am Women. We fought against cancer and for mental health. We were always thinking of things in the sisterhood or Beth Am Women where we could help, not just for ourselves, but also for the world. It made me feel good to be able to join in and I could tell my parents I learned a lot from them. I feel good about giving back.

What projects and programs were initiated during your term?
One of the programs I’m really excited about—it was a bug in my ear, so it wasn’t that I thought of it, but I initiated it—was “Count Your Blessings.” The program was a fund-raiser: a flyer that I created, with help from some people, that went out to our membership that would say “Count Your Blessings” on the heading. And then I wrote funny things like, “Happy for the weather here, perfectly perfect weather in Palo Alto,” or “Blessed that I have this many children,” or “My children don’t live with me anymore; they have medical health-care on their own.” Or “They got married,” or “I got married.” And then I would give a little funny price tag to it. People got this in the mail and it would end with, “Count your blessings; this could have been a fund-raiser that you would have had to go to.” People mailed the flyer in, and we’ve made a lot of nice money from it. Even though I’m not on the board anymore, I still do that, and it’s fun to do.

Another thing that I helped with was how to include members. You have to ask for dues … how do you make people want to join? So we planned activities to include everybody. In each of our events, we made sure that we had time for people to get to know each other, which was a fun thing. So we started different events, such as our kick-off dinners, or the YES Tea. Those were two great things in which I participated.

We raised money for the garden out front of the Beit Kehillah, so that was great. We gave a nice donation when I finished my term in 2005 and we felt good about that. We wanted people to notice us.  

At one point I felt that we were a board filled with women who had a lot of history, with similar backgrounds, similar ages, and that we needed new blood. It was hard to get younger people on the board, and even different people. I felt like people thought maybe we were having too much fun and that maybe we didn’t want new people on the board, since we did everything. So we started branching out, asking other people to help us with our events. And we started trying to think about what event might draw a younger person. We were always thinking about what events would draw people in, which was something we thought was important to do.

What other things stand out for you about those times?
All of the communications that we did and the events that took so much time. I’m just impressed that any of us had the time that we had to decide what to do. But also what stood out was the caring: trying to continue to do good things. We did Torah study before every board meeting and every president sits on the Beth Am Board, so you hear about what’s going on in all of Beth Am and you bring that back. And then, you peel away and say, “Oh, well these people need some help, and these things need some help and what can we do?” But at the same time trying to keep it Jewish and philanthropic and not go too far out. If we had to touch the community, we would.

We were always conscious of making sure we helped the temple, had a project, raised money, got ourselves into doing a Shabbat service or got us on the bimah to give kiddush cups away to our Bar and Bat Mitzvah children … really got ourselves out into the world. I feel like we tried to do that. We started a newsletter online. I can’t remember if that was me or not; maybe it was. That newsletter came out every month, the Beth Am Women Cyberletter, so every president writes a column about what’s going and what’s doing and that’s also a way to communicate. We tried to do a web page. All of that went on at those times.

What was the connection with WRJ?
Everybody who wanted to, especially the presidents, would go to the national organization [Women of Reform Judaism] conventions and I went many times. At the national organization you could learn about regional and international synagogues. What did WRJ do? They helped the rabbis who want to go to congregations or study in other countries. Or they had themes every year—children, or health or medical. And we would bring that back to Beth Am. I’m sure they’re still doing that today, even though I’m not as involved. I think it’s really important. We would tell our membership even if you only pay your dues to Beth Am Women and you never show up at an event and you never participate with us, a portion of your money is going to help the world. It’s going out to help Judaism internationally. And did we send money to help Katrina victims to other tragedies that went on in the world? Yes, we would do that, too.

What was most fun for you at BAW?
My most fun was making sure that everybody had fun. With the term Beth Am Women, we wanted to say that we’re not your mother’s sisterhood, so anything we could do to make people want to join and feel like a warm and welcoming community, that was my vision: that we could have as many people as we wanted join Beth Am Women. My whole dream was to have everybody who was in Beth Am Women come to the auditorium and have a party. So we would have the kick-off dinners and invite everybody. I was a little bit of a comedian, so I would stand up and get dressed up as Linda Richman and I would lead the group in skits. I just wanted everybody to have a good time in the name of raising money and giving back to the synagogue. That was one of my missions—to make sure that everyone felt warm and welcomed.

The women in BAW were so dedicated. We had events; we raised money; we had social and political and religious issues we worked on. We were an older group and my dream was to have younger women. I think we fulfilled that and now new and younger women are involved.

How did you become president of BAW and how did it impact your life?
Cherie Half asked me to do a flyer for a Beth Am Women bowling event. She said I should be on the board if I agreed to do the flyer. I watched women taking on projects, thinking, “Oh, I couldn’t do this.” I’ve done other things, but I didn’t know the inner workings. I dropped my kids off at Hebrew school; I went to all the events; I went to everybody’s Bar and Bat Mitzvah, every Oneg Shabbat. I went to a million things, but really did I know anybody in Beth Am Women? I didn’t even know Cherie. And so before I realized it, I was sitting on the board and listening to these women who’ve done this thing and that thing and before I knew it, in a year, maybe two, they asked me to be president. I asked myself, am I ready to take on a board? And I said, “Okay, I’ll do it,” because I had known my friends and seen things, so I was ready to take on that leadership role. Now I know all the women from the board very well. I took that into the synagogue. I know so many people because I was a liaison to the Beth Am Board. And then I joined other committees: I was on the Worship Committee, I was on the Cantor Search Committee and I’m on the Teen Task Force now. Being president of BAW built up my confidence to take on other committees.

Am I the most involved? No, no, no … there are people I see all the time doing so much more than I do. But for me, being able to sit as Beth Am Women President was huge to make me feel able to lead a group of women and make some changes because I love to think of ideas for people to do.

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