Blanche Meisel, Giver Community Leader, Art Lover and Philanthropist Blanche Meisel is an eshet hayil (Hebrew for a woman of valor and wisdom) by all standards. Married to Phil Meisel for 63 years, she raised four sons and has 10 grandchildren; she has been a pillar of strength, generosity and contribution for 57 years to her family and in the communities she’s served. She and Phil retired to Las Vegas from New Jersey 14 years ago, but Blanche has continued to give her time, leadership and financial support to such organizations as AIPAC, Temple Beth Sholom, Jewish Federation of Las Vegas, Solomon Schechter Day School, Jewish Family Service Agency, Adelson Educational Campus, Florence Melton School for Adult Jewish Learning, Hadassah, Jewish Community Center, Las Vegas Art Museum, Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival. Blanche is honorary chair for the 2012 Women’s League (WL) for Conservative Judaism’s biennial convention (held this year in Las Vegas). She has been a WL board member since 1978, including a stint as president of the former Northern New Jersey Branch, including vice president and Torah Fund patron chair supporting the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS). Unfazed by her numerous recognitions, she prefers to focus on the needs and deeds of others.
MEISEL: No. Prior to the Temple, a neighbor suggested I go to a Hadassah meeting. I loved it! One night a week I got to leave my darling children at home to attend meetings. It was a nice break! I eventually became a vice president. But Sisterhood is where I contributed and held leadership roles at the local branch (now called regional) and national levels all these years.
DAVID: What’s the driving force behind your years of dedicated giving?
MEISEL: Soviet Jewry introduced me to broader social action issues. We don’t live solely in our own small or large communities. Helping our fellow goes beyond our backyards.
MEISEL: I would have to say gratitude. I was raised by loving immigrant parents in a beautiful, historic neighborhood of Chicago, and (I am) grateful for the opportunities they gave me. Gratitude fuels giving. I’m also blessed with a caring and responsible husband, who’s made it possible for me to do what I do. DAVID: How did you and Phil meet? MEISEL: At college at the University of Illinois. We got married in 1949 and for a while moved around either for Phil’s education or work. I worked … as a nutritionist, social worker and teacher … and our boys were born. Eventually, we settled in Springfield, N.J. We joined Temple Beth Am, a Conservative congregation. Our children attended Hebrew School there and I joined the Sisterhood, which is what it was called back then … now it’s Women’s League. DAVID: Your volunteer resume reads more like a Ph.D in Tikkun Olam (Hebrew for “repairing the world”). Did your career begin with the Sisterhood?
DAVID: Any eye-openers along the way? MEISEL: Our WL branch was involved with a division of the Jewish Federation that was helping Soviet Jewry. We learned of their plight from speakers, including Avital Sharansky, who was fighting for her husband Natan’s freedom from imprisonment in Siberia. A few years later, I traveled to the Soviet Union with a dieticians group. Of course, I ventured beyond and met with Jews in Moscow and other cities, bringing back information and smuggled out their notes and letters. Locally, I later helped to resettle those who came here. DAVID: Did this have an impact on your sense of social justice?
DAVID: Much of what you support involves Jewish education. MEISEL: Education at all levels defines our moral and ethical behavior and thus how we choose to live our lives. That’s why I also supported The Las Vegas Art Museum as a docent and board member for 10 years before it closed. The best part was taking the schoolchildren around, many of whom had never been to a museum, and for whom this was a revelation. I was also thrilled to have brought the Prate Hagaddah from the JTS Library to the museum for a very successful exhibit. DAVID: You and Phil continue to stay involved with so many worthy causes. How do you manage it? MEISEL: Sometimes I feel like Barbra Streisand’s character in The Way We Were — one project after another. But, then again, isn’t that what life’s all about?
58 DAVID KISLEV / TEVET 5773
11/21/12 10:56 AM