SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Two members of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange were honored at the Reform synagogue’s annual congregational meeting on May 16. Arlene Brafman of West Orange and Cyndy Wyatt of Short Hills received TSTI’s Volunteer Service Award in recognition of their outstanding contributions to TSTI and the wider community. TSTI Board President Sue Wishnow gave remarks and presented the women with their awards.
Brafman, a TSTI member for more than 30 years, was credited for creating and guiding Second Connection, a group for temple members who, as their children finished religious school and youth group activities, sought a synagogue connection that no longer focused on their children. It was launched in 2005 and still thrives.
“Arlene created something that has provided a way to keep these members involved at TSTI, impassioned about what we do and dedicated to each other,” Wishnow said at the event. “The success of Second Connection laid the groundwork for our other ‘connection’ groups that followed.”
These include Women’s Connection, a multi-generational women’s group; (Re)Connection, for adults at or nearing the empty nester stage; the newly launched ParenTeen Connection; and Prime Connection, for active older adults. These groups gather several times a year for dinners and social and cultural programs around shared interests.
Wishnow noted that Second Connection members not only find renewed meaning at TSTI but also develop friendships that might not have otherwise happened. Those connections have helped strengthen TSTI by fostering participation over many years.
“Arlene has continued to shepherd this group long beyond the years when empty nests were their hot topic; now they swap photos of growing grandchildren,” Wishnow said. “We thank her for her dedication to TSTI and for creating compelling programs that have contributed to our continued success.”
Wyatt was recognized for her dedication to the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom and to the Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges, which is supported by TSTI.
When the local chapter of SOSS was being formed, Wyatt got involved right away, becoming the Jewish co-leader. SOSS brings Jewish and Muslim women together to build relationships and learn from each other as together they fight hate and prejudice. She has brought a variety of SOSS programs to the synagogue in the past two years, fostering inclusion and helping to strengthen TSTI’s bonds with the wider community.
Wyatt is also a founding board member at the Interfaith Food Pantry, an all-volunteer, supplemental food pantry serving food-insecure residents in Orange and East Orange. She coordinated with Short Hills letter carriers to ensure that the IFPO is the recipient of their annual Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive, she started the IFPO’s diaper program, and she has been instrumental in providing clothing, bedding, gifts, books, backpacks and even computers where there is a need.
“So many people have described Cyndy as the most giving, sincere and dedicated woman they know,” Wishnow said. “She knows the personal stories behind the faces, and with empathy and warmth she links clients to a vast network of community contacts, even finding them employment.”
Wyatt’s involvement in Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom has helped expand the interfaith aspect of the IFPO; under her guidance, members of a local Islamic center have prepared holiday baskets for IFPO clients and volunteered at the pantry.
“Arlene and Cyndy are a testament to how our members put Jewish values into action every day,” Wishnow said. “Their work develops meaningful, lasting connections, lifts up the needy and creates a stronger community; we all benefit from their ideas, energy and enthusiasm.”