Meet Long-standing Member and Past President Doris Katz

Meet Long-standing Member and Past President Doris Katz

by Joshua Rosenheim

As part of the Building Bridges Initiative, it was my very great honor and pleasure to speak with Doris Katz, a longtime member and past president of Congregation Beth David.

Born and raised in the predominantly Jewish community of Brooklyn, New York, Doris recalls going to synagogue and taking part in Jewish youth group activities from a young age. “Communal Judaism came into my life very early,” she says. It was easy, in Brooklyn, to fall in line with the practice and custom of the community—even the less observant celebrated their children’s Bar and Bat Mitzvot—and so for Doris’ family, Judaism was more a passive way of life than an active decision.

Doris married Stan Katz, and they moved westward, following Stan’s job. As they moved—first to Arizona, where Stan worked for Motorola, and thence to California’s Silicon Valley, when Stan accepted a position at National Semiconductor—Judaism became a much more active choice for the Katz family. Doris and Stan realized that they would need actively to seek out a strong Jewish community, especially if their children were to grow up in a Jewish environment. And so in Arizona, as they would later in California, the Katzes joined a synagogue, and threw themselves into synagogue life with enthusiasm, while their children participated in USY and BBYO.

Beginning in Arizona, where the Katzes lived for a decade, Doris was increasingly involved with sisterhood, eventually serving as co-president of her congregation’s local sisterhood. When, upon moving to California in 1982, the Katz family joined Congregation Beth David, Doris recollects that she was “almost immediately” on the board of sisterhood; she subsequently became sisterhood president.

Around this time, Doris also took a job as administrative assistant to the Rabbi of nearby Congregation Beth Am (a position she would hold until retiring in 1999).  “When I got the job,” recalls Doris, “I was told that the one thing I probably shouldn’t do while I was working at Beth Am was become president of my synagogue.” But as president of CBD sisterhood, Doris was automatically a synagogue board member, and thus in line to become a future congregation president. In 1992, when the board member who was expected to be the next president moved back East, Sandy Meyer (z”l) approached Doris. Sandy began: “I know you don’t want to do this now—or ever…” After much convincing from Sandy and other board members, Doris reluctantly accepted the role.

Doris recalls that an “incredible highlight” of her time as CBD president, and indeed, of her whole involvement in synagogue life, occurred on Yom Kippur, 5754 (1993). During Kol Nidre, she and Rabbi Pressman delivered a speech together, combining sermon and annual appeal in an exploration of “Bethdavidville,” a “conceptual village” that comprised “the Jewish community that we want our synagogue to be.” In a Beth David first, the appeal was not merely for funds, but also for “commitment.” For with cash and no commitment, “you have an institution where services are done for you, not a community.” Doris, who was in charge of the financial side of the appeal—or what she dubbed her “sermon on the amount”—was quick to point out, however, that the concept of Bethdavidville could only go so far, saying: “Were this truly a village there would be many ways of raising the [necessary] capital … Maybe along with finally installing the new lighting for our parking lot, we should also install parking meters? That’d bring in revenue.” But with all joking aside, Doris talked about the personal responsibility of every citizen of Bethdavidville to see to the needs of the community, noting that, if nothing else, “we are people wealthy.”

Doris has been many times to Israel. I myself was spending a gap-year in Israel when the pandemic was declared, and though I returned home prematurely just after Purim, my time in the Holy Land was nothing short of magical. So I was most eager to hear about Doris’ experiences there. “Each trip was different,” she says. The first was on the occasion of her 25th wedding anniversary. The second was for The Year of Torah, a year-long program which Doris co-chaired, and which she describes as “probably the most meaningful volunteer experience of my life.” Most recently, Doris went to Israel as part of The March of the Living. On another memorable occasion, Doris’s extended family (which includes the Troderman-Grinspoon Family) fulfilled the dream of celebrating Passover in Jerusalem: they had their family Seder in a hotel overlooking the Old City, and during the Seder Harold Grinspoon described his vision for a Jewish children’s literacy program modeled after Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Soon thereafter, the PJ Library program was born. Today, PJ Library sends free Jewish children’s books to more than 620,000 families all around the world.

Quite apart from that memorable Seder in Jerusalem, Doris says that Passover is her favorite Holiday: “I know that could be anyone’s response—it’s almost trite,” she says, “but it’s true!” (As an aside, Passover is also my favorite Holiday, so I sympathize.) Doris loves that the tradition of the Passover Seder brings people together through family creativity and individuality, and also notes that it is often “the first real communal connection for converts.”

Confident that the future of CBD is bright, Doris says that it is important to encourage young families to be more involved in synagogue life. “What makes CBD special is the people,” Doris says: “Conservative Judaism is not monolithic, and the Congregation has always been a blend.” And though over the years CBD has undergone many changes, through it all, Doris reflects, “CBD has dealt with change with maturity.” In the midst of a global pandemic, CBD has had to reimagine services and programs in the context of physical-distancing, but being “a blend of Silicon Valley,” it is no surprise to Doris that the Congregation has risen to the challenge: “I am thrilled with our Rabbi and with our community,” she says; “being able to attend services virtually has been absolutely wonderful.” “I’ve always thought of the synagogue as the heart and soul of the Jewish people,” says Doris; “it has been, and always will be.”

As soon as I heard about the Building Bridges Program, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I believe that my generation has an immense amount to learn from those who came before. More than that, the idea of building cross-generational bridges through conversation is one which deeply resonates with me, not least because of my own experience at CBD, which began with, and has ever been framed by my wonderful grandparents, and the extraordinary men and women of their generation, who built a congregation from the ground up—or, as Doris put it in 1993: “step by step, deed by deed—hand in hand.”

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Building Bridges is an exciting new initiative at Congregation Beth David formed to connect teens and college students with longstanding Beth David members. For more information, please contact Helaine Green and Bonnie Slavitt, Building Bridges coordinators at BuildingBridges@beth-david.org

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