Women’s League for Conservative Judaism mourns the passing of its revered former president, Selma Rapaport Pressman. Serving as president from 1970 to 1974, she led the organization during a turbulent period in Jewish history, encouraging efforts on behalf of Soviet Jewry and mobilizing women across the continent to demonstrate their solidarity and support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War. Her commitment to community service and concern for all Jews helped formulate the Women’s League social action agenda. May her memory be for a blessing.
Cory Schneider, President
Ann Goldman, Executive Director
From “75 Years of Vision and Voluntarism”, Published by Women’s League in 1992
Selma Rapaport embraced Women’s League members worldwide through her extensive travels during her term as president. A gracious hostess, Selma encouraged out-of-town League members to visit the 74th Street offices. Commitment to community service coupled with her concern for the Jewish community-at-large propelled her to take an active role in the effort to extricate Jews from the Soviet Union.
In the early 1970s, Jewish prisoners-of-conscience in the Soviet Union called upon their brothers and sisters abroad for assistance and support. Jews demonstrated across the United States to raise the consciences of all citizens and to put their deplorable situation on the public agenda. Conservative congregations encouraged Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrants to choose Soviet “twins” to accentuate the need to stand solidly beside their Soviet cousins.
A top priority for Selma’s first administration was to demonstrate the League’s commitment to Soviet Jews. She attended conferences in Washington, DC and Brussels underscoring the severity of the situation. As president of Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, Selma coordinated the activities of the National Women’s Plea on Behalf of Soviet Jewry through the Leadership Council of National Women’s Organizations. Her objective was to utilize the media to a broad audience: radio talk-shows, news releases, and bulletins to the general and Anglo-Jewish press. Action Alerts and special feature articles encouraged women to become actively involved in the Women’s Plea for Soviet Jewry. Moreover, beginning in Selma’s tenure and continuing for the next 15 years, Women’s League convened more national conferences and events concerned with the plight of Soviet Jews in order to educate and to organize women to act on their behalf.
Women’s League of the United Synagogue of America officially became Women’s League for Conservative Judaism at the 1972 biennial convention. The change in name reflected the assertion of an autonomous identity for the League as well as a fundamental ideological stand. To augment the organization’s name change, convention delegates unanimously adopted the policy of dropping husbands’ names from the membership roster. Every member’s name was listed as her name. Acting on the convention theme of a New Heart and a New Spirit, Selma initiated an examination of emerging changes in society and their implications for sisterhood women.
The solemnity of Yom Kippur 1973 was shattered as the Egyptians initiated all out war against Israel. Women’s League members across the continent mobilized their communities to demonstrate their solidarity with Israel and to raise funds to meet its pressing needs. Immediately following the war, Selma attended a mission to Israel sponsored by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to witness first-hand what had happened…
After completing her term, Selma served the League by coordinating its affiliations and activities with other communal organizations.