SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Harriet Felper, of West Orange, has been a member of South Orange’s Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel community since 1961. For many years, she was busy with her teaching career and, later, working with her late husband, Everett, in his company, so finding time to volunteer while juggling work and family life was difficult. She found retirement to be the perfect time to get more involved in synagogue life.
“Volunteering at TSTI happened easily,” said Felper, who taught first and second grade in West Orange. “I’d been thinking about how to devote my time to something meaningful when Rabbi Cohen approached me about participating in the preschool. I said yes right away.”
Every Monday, Felper comes to TSTI’s preschool program, the Iris Family Early Childhood Center, to read to the youngsters. Depending on the age group — 3 or 4 years old—she reads one or two stories. The active great-grandmother enjoys her weekly visits with the preschoolers.
“I studied early childhood education in college and I love the preschool,” Felper said. “This came at a good time for me and now I’m hooked.”
Of her nearly 60-year commitment to the synagogue, Felper said, “I think being part of a religious community is very important. But TSTI is more than that; it’s a true community whose members are interested in so many different aspects of life. Together, we explore what we experience not only as Jews but as Americans, through the entire life cycle.”
TSTI has been an intergenerational family affair for the Felpers. Their three daughters grew up at the Reform synagogue, attended its religious school and were confirmed there. One daughter, who lives in the area, is a temple member and her children, now grown, also attended the religious school. Felper and her husband celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a party in TSTI’s historic mansion.
In recent years, she and Everett — who had served on the temple board for several years — became more involved in the synagogue and began sponsoring the Hebrew High’s annual civil rights trips to the South.
“I treasure the thank-you letters we received from the children who went on the trip, especially the first one several years ago. The letters we got were just fantastic and the students are so articulate. I see that the trip was so meaningful to them. I’m so glad we could do something meaningful to all of us,” Felper said. Felper continues the annual trip sponsorship in celebration of Everett’s memory and to ensure all students who wish to go can do so.
In her leisure time, Felper enjoys painting watercolors, especially flowers and nature — which remind her of her garden at the family home in West Orange — and places to which she has traveled. She has been painting for about seven years and is currently showing three of her photos in the newly launched TSTI Gallery.