Before I became co-president of the Village Temple four years ago, my dog Maggie and I stopped by Harriet Zimmer’s house to ask for advice. Harriet was 94 years old at the time, and had been a member of the VT for 62 years, so I figured she could tell me what I needed to know about the Village Temple.
What was the secret ingredient that has made it tick all these years?
Harriet didn’t hesitate. “It’s the people,” she said.
At first, that surprised me. Surely it was the rabbi, the music, the range of programming, the services. Surely Harriet would focus on the soup kitchen, which she ran for many years.. But recently Rabbi Hirsch introduced me to a book called Relational Judaism. The author Ron Wolfson summarizes his thesis like this: “What really matters is that we care about the people we seek to engage. When we genuinely care about people, we will not only welcome them; we will listen to their stories, we will share ours, and we will join together to build a Jewish community that enriches our lives.”
Harriet has always understood what makes a temple work. So with the Village Temple approaching its 70th birthday I decided to record one of our conversations. Our educator Alex Tansky will be posting excerpts on the front page of the website, where you can meet Harriet, who is now 98 and vibrant as ever. You can hear her talk about how the Village Temple got started. She’ll tell you why the synagogue was important to her late husband Dr. Max Zimmer—who never went to services—and to her, who went every Friday night with her sons Robert and Richard. Both of Harriet’s boys became b’nai mitzvah here. Richard grew up to become a psychiatrist and lecturer at Columbia Medical School; Robert is the president of the University of Chicago.
Thank you Harriet, for being the secret ingredient who makes a difference.