Sylvia Schecter –
The Ohio Jewish Chronicle April 11, 1991/27 Nisan 5751, Page 1
By Ina Horwitz
On April 15, Bexley resident Sylvia Schecter will celebrate her 80th
birthday. Thus, it would seem timely for members of the community to reflect
upon the life of a woman who has given 60 years of volunteer service to the
major Jewish organizations in Columbus.
It comes as no surprise that Schecter is included in Who's Who of American
Women. Many of her positions and many of her recognitions were given to very
few women, and in some instances, to no woman other than herself.
She said that it has been a hard life at times but a very full and rewarding
one. "My life has been changed by everything I've done," she added. "I'm a
different person today."
A Columbus resident all her life, she started work at age 11 as a stock girl
at Reiser's, an area retail store. At 12, she was a salesgirl in the
Bornheim Cahn Department Store. At 13, she was secretary to an attorney,
Goldie Kantor. Her responsibilities in childhood, as well as a "wonderful
family life," contributed, she explained, to her desire to help others. Most
important, her family set a pattern, a way of life for her to follow.
She graduated from Central High School at 16, one of two youngest graduates
in the entire Columbus school system. She married her husband, Joseph, at
age 19. They were married for 57 years, until his recent death from
complications of Alzheimer's Disease.
Schecter worked with her husband in his businesses. She remembers his great
motivation and aggressiveness and said that being with him gave her the
inspiration and abilities to accomplish her volunteer work.
Very early, she became involved in volunteering. As a teen, she belonged to
Junior Hadassah. When she married, she became a charter member of B'nai
B'rith Women. "I was a shy young woman then," she said.
Schecter is well known for her leadership and commitment to her synagogue,
Agudas Achim, and to Judaism, represented by her dedicated work in the
Jewish community. Her recognitions and awards are so numerous that listing
them all here would be impossible.
B'nai B'rith Women is one of the beneficiaries of Schecter's volunteerism.
She founded the Columbus Chapter, which she served as president. Later, she
became president of the State Association and District #2 Grand Lodge BBW,
participating on National Commissions about Hillel, ADL, adult education,
BBYO and the Children's Home in Israel.
During WWII, Schecter organized and set up the B'nai B'rith Women's
Production Shows, 1941-43. During that period she also organized the Jewish
Blood Donor program and was made honorary chairwoman of the Community Blood
Donor Program in 1989-90. In 1959, she was one of only 17 women to attend
the International B'nai B’rith convention in Israel, the first of its kind
On May 15, 1977, Schecter was presented with the National Men's B'nai B'rith
Guardian of the Menorah award. She is one of only two Columbus residents to
receive this recognition.
She has devoted a great deal of time to the OSU Hillel Foundation,
especially during the construction of the present building. She remembers
sewing drapes by hand for the original small house, where the present
facility now stands.
She was a member of Boards of Hillel and the Jewish Center. She also helped
organize, over 50 years ago, the Women's Division of the Columbus Jewish
Federation, as well as the Columbus Torah Academy and the Women's Chapter of
Brandeis University. From 1984-87, she was the co-chair Woman of Cash
Mobilization for the Federation.
At Agudas Achim, she's instituted many programs and projects. She was
elected the first woman member of their Board of Trustees and the first
woman officer of the congregation.
A large painting of Schecter hangs in her living room that was a gift from
Agudas Achim Sisterhood. It was painted in 1972 by artist Fay Ruben, who has
also done portraits of notables, such as former Governor James Rhodes. The
Sisterhood has never presented another portrait to anyone.
On June 11, 1967, the Agudas Achim Brotherhood honored her with the "Flowers
for the Living” award in recognition of her "deep concern for traditional
Judaism" that "led her to serve her congregation with zeal and devotion."
Schecter said that her association with many “great people" has given her
broader outlook on life. She is a very caring person and very proud of her
family. "My children," she said, "have always supported me in my work" and
she always included them in everything she did. They are Beverly Feiges of
Milwaukee, Elaine Grossman and Benson Schecter of Columbus, plus five
Schecter is a Zionist, who has visited Israel several times, and would like
to go back. She said that she is not afraid of being in Israel and would
travel there anytime. If she could have gone, she said, even the Gulf War
would not have stopped her.
Perhaps her most continuous devotion to any Jewish organization has been her
35 years of service to what started as the Columbus Jewish Home for the
Aged, became Heritage Village and is now Wexner Heritage House. She's been
an Auxiliary president and served an unprecedented three-year term as
president of the Board of Directors, only one of two women to have held that
She said that she enjoys training and instructing others and has done much
in the coordination of Heritage House volunteers. She also helped pick the
fabrics and furnishings for the recently remodeled building, not going with
the more traditional dark colors, but using bright colored fabrics and
plaids instead. “We selected decorating ideas that we could enjoy, using 35
to 40 different wall coverings alone,” she said. “After all, it could be me
In fact, her mother, once a resident, brought some of her own items and
furniture from home. Now, touches of home can be seen in almost every room.
Schecter also helped with the building of Heritage Tower and the restoration
of the assisted living facility, Heritage Manor. She was the first recipient
(March 19, 1976) of the Eleanor and Jack Resler “Life with Dignity” award
for outstanding devotion and commitment to residents of Heritage House.
Her newest project is Woods at Heritage House, a proposed apartment building
for the elderly who may need access to daily amenities, such as a meal
system, but who don’t need nursing home care.
“Volunteering for Heritage House these last 35 years has really been my
life,” Schecter said, “and a very exciting one. We are very fortunate to
have such dedicated, caring people in the Jewish community to allow Heritage
House to create and provide services for the elderly that many Jewish
communities do not have.”
Executive Vice President of Heritage House Gerald N Cohn called Schecter "an
incredible woman. In everything good on our campus, she has played a major
role. She is an inspiration to our staff and is never one to stop and rest
on her laurels."
Retired executive vice president of the Columbus Jewish Federation and
director emeritus of the Columbus Jewish Foundation, Ben Mandelkorn, said,
"If ever there was a model volunteer who personified all that is good in
contributing to a community in every facet, that's Sylvia. She's a loving,
kind, highly respected, self-disciplined person . . . an innovator . . . who
stirs people up and stimulates them. . . .”
Rabbi Alan G. Ciner of Agudas Achim said of her: "It is Sylvia Schecter's
rooted-ness in the traditions of her faith that have made her the driving
force behind so many worthwhile projects in the Jewish community. The ideal
of 'Chesed' has been the value that encourages Sylvia to continue to exhibit
the boundless energy that is her."
Ina Horwitz is a local free-lance writer and a frequent OJC contributor.