“I have a sudden awareness of providing history to my great-grandchildren,” says Doris Brickner, Stephen Wise Free Synagogue’s former rebbetzin, who is celebrating her 100th birthday this July. “At seven and nine, they can already recite all the Shabbat prayers without any help.”
“That’s no accident,” Doris explains. Their father, Cantor Dan Singer, “is an excellent teacher.” Doris is somewhat of an authority on excellent teachers: Jewish study has always been very important to her. “She has a great love for learning and learning for its own sake,” says Rabbi Dr. Martin A. Cohen, a professor of Jewish history at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and a distinguished member of our synagogue, who’s known Doris for some 60 years. “It was a tremendous privilege to be part of Martin’s graduate classes for many years,” says Doris. “That’s actually how I met Rabbis Sam Natov and Tobias Moss, when they were graduating seniors.”
Rabbi Balfour Brickner’s widow remembers him as “a galvanizing and charismatic force.” She was an important influence on many of the programs and activities he initiated, she recalls fondly: “It was a true partnership. He was courageous about pursuing new ideas — like supporting women in the rabbinate — and we were very much in sync.” Close with our Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch’s parents, Rabbi Richard Hirsch and Bella Hirsch z’’l, Doris and Balfour first met Ammi when he was a teenager. “How fortunate we are that he developed into such an excellent, effective leader for the synagogue and progressive Judaism internationally,” she says. “We all are enriched by the beautiful music and the powerful sermons.”
One of Doris’s true passions is the pursuit of social justice — from the civil rights movement to helping raise millions of dollars for People for the American Way. During the Brickner rabbinate, our synagogue became the first in the city to open an on-site homeless shelter. Still active on our Social Action Committee — along with her daughter Leslie — for more than 30 years, Doris was named Stephen Wise’s Volunteer of the Year in 2013 for her inspiring and impactful leadership.
One hundred years leaves time for a variety of interests. Another of Doris’s passions is the preservation — and discovery — of history. She facilitated the contribution of 1 million documents to the HUC archives in Cincinnati and arranged for the World Jewish Congress to be a major funder for the first excavation of the Jewish catacombs outside of Rome, where she participated on the dig. She also recruited the project’s lead archeologist, Duke University Prof. Eric M. Meyers, who — according to the front page of The New York Times on July 26, 1981 — called the find “exceedingly important.”
Among her numerous personal and professional achievements, Doris is especially proud of her family — her daughters Leslie and Beth, her grandchildren Jason and Lauren (our Cantor Singer’s wife), and her great-grandchildren Aiden and Ariel — and its four generations of involvement at Stephen Wise. “I often wonder how much of me my great-grandchildren will remember,” she reflects as her centennial approaches. “Recently, I let them hold an ancient statue from my archaeology collection, which gave them a sense of awe and Jewish history. I’m trying to create memories for their future.”