Lighting candles for the community with Paula Goldman

Paula Goldman. Photo by Mark Poetker.

A member of Adas Israel Congregation, Paula Goldman, believes that women are the driving force behind the spiritual growth of a Jewish family.

At 86, she belongs to one of the most philanthropic and influential groups of women in the D.C. area. Members of the Lion of Judah make an annual gift of $5,000 or more to The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

Goldman, a retired D.C. tour operator and Northwest D.C. resident, has given at that level since 1988 and increased her annual donation to $10,000 in recent years.

She is the widow of Aaron Goldman, a Washington-area businessman, philanthropist and civil rights proponent.

What motivates you to give to Federation?

I knew that there were things that needed to be taken care of within the community. First of all, Israel became very dear to me, but the Women’s Division, as it was called back then, was doing things with women in the community. The Lion designation made me feel like I was a member of the community. Also, I just felt that at that point, I could give more. And so I did.

Who are your mentors?

I had seven women who were probably 10 years older than me in the Women’s Division of Federation. They had meetings and they were just very persuasive about making sure that there was involvement in the community and the belief that if a woman became involved, eventually the family becomes involved.

What does “building community” mean to you?

It means going out and getting people involved, talking to them, telling them what’s available in the Jewish community. It means recruiting them for synagogues and Jewish organizations. I talked to many women when we were helping to start a chapter here of WIZO [Women’s International Zionist Organization], which provides shelter and security for women and children fleeing abusive men here and in Israel.

You grew much more observant than your parents. How did you make your own path?

My father, who was a pharmacist, grew up in a very Orthodox home. He said from the day of his bar mitzvah that he would never walk back into a synagogue until my brother was born.

My mother was non-observant but into Jewish history. The Jews fought in the American Revolution, they were labor leaders, that sort of thing. That was always plugged into my mind.

One day I went to Hebrew school in the third grade and I came home and asked my mother if we could light Shabbat candles. She said, ‘If you want to do that, I’ll get you some candles.’ I was the only one in the family that had any feeling that way for Jewish holidays. Only until I was a little older did we light Chanukah candles.

When my own children were in day school, Solomon Schechter at the time, I realized that for them to have friends over, I’d better have a kosher home. I went to talk to the rabbi at our synagogue, Congregation Beth El, and Rabbi [Sam] Scolnic said it would be very nice. “Just don’t let it keep you up at night. You’re going to make mistakes along the way.” When I told my father I was keeping a kosher home, he said, “I don’t know why you are involved with this mishigas, foolishness.”

Why should people join synagogues?

I’m going to give a very practical reason, because I had an argument with my brother once when he got his dues statement and he said it was so much. Well, you have to pay dues to keep the building going, the heating, to pay the staff, the rabbi etc. But I also think that the congregation represents a stability, a core in this community. I think it’s very important that we have an overt Jewish presence. There are a lot of things going on now in the world that are threatening to the Jews. And I think that if we can get together as a group, then it’s much more effective than one person doing something.

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  1. Fine story about a wonderful person. Congrats to Paula Goldman on her decades of service to the Jewish community.

  2. Paula is such a lovely woman. Mazel tov to her on her philanthropic dedication to Jewish women’s organizations . I have admired her for many years.


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