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Sylvia Finger

The Standard Times

A longtime member of the Sisterhood of Tifereth Israel Synagogue, Sylvia (Levy) Finger (1895-1982) worked hard to keep the Jewish community flourishing by building on Jewish rituals, values and customs. Her activism strengthened the community and its connections to Judaism. Alongside other local Jewish leaders, Sylvia contributed to the planning of the New Bedford Jewish Convalescent Home, including its 1964 groundbreaking and 1966 opening.

Her work with the Sisterhood of Tifereth Israel Synagogue was just the start of dedicated service that Sylvia (Levy) Finger (1895-1982) provided for New Bedford’s Jewish community. Sylvia worked tirelessly in support of her local synagogue and women’s groups. She received many awards and certificates, including the Torah Fund Award and the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanities Award. 

Sylvia was born on March 22, 1895 in Wilmington, New Castle, Delaware. Her mother was raised in New York while her father was from Russia. Sylvia married Samuel Finger in 1920 and the couple had three children, Daniel, Louis and Morris. The family moved from Delaware to New Bedford, where Sylvia joined the Tifereth Israel Congregation and became very active in the local Jewish community. 

A longtime member of the Sisterhood of Tifereth Israel Synagogue, Sylvia served as its president from 1936 to 1937. The Sisterhood worked hard to keep the Jewish community flourishing by building on Jewish rituals, values and customs. Sisterhood friendships strengthened the community and its connections to Judaism. In 1939, Sylvia co-chaired the Sisterhood’s dance held on Thanksgiving Day evening at the New Bedford Hotel. She hosted Sisterhood Cultural Group meetings in her home, including a gathering that discussed “Jews in America from the Founding of the Republic to the Civil War.” She was active in the planning of other Sisterhood sponsored programs, including a concert and a play. 

With a vision for her community, Sylvia met frequently with other local Jewish leaders to plan the New Bedford Jewish Convalescent Home. Incorporated in 1961 with a 1964 groundbreaking and 1966 opening, this home for the aged continues to be one of the most highly regarded skilled nursing facilities in southeastern Massachusetts. Sylvia was also a member of the Greater New Bedford Women’s Division for the State of Israel Bonds, a charter member of Hadassah, and a member of the Brandies University Women’s Auxiliary.   

For her leadership, Sylvia received many awards during her lifetime, including the Standard Bearer Charm for the Bar Mitzvah Year, Jewish Advocate Award, Torah Fund Award, Community Leadership Award of the National Benefactors Society of Torah Fund, and the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanities Award. The annual Sylvia Finger Torah Fund Study Day at Tifereth Israel Synagogue is named in honor of Sylvia, who served as its first Torah Fund chair. The Torah Fund, a unit of the National Women’s League of the United Synagogue of America, held a $600,000 campaign for the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. The Torah Fund Award was given to Sylvia for “exemplary leadership in endeavors to enrich the life of her community.” She also received several awards of merit from the United Jewish Appeal and congratulatory certificates from the National Jewish Welfare Board.

After a long life of caring for the New Bedford Jewish community, Sylvia passed away on October 21, 1982 at the age of 87. She kept several scrapbooks full of photos, newspaper clippings and awards, all part of the Sylvia Finger papers in the Archives of the Center of Jewish Culture at the Claire T. Carney Library Archives and Special Collections of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

Katelyn Borges, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Class of 2023 (Elisabeth Arruda, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Faculty Sponsor) with Ann O’Leary, Emily Bourne Research Fellow

Information from

  • “Board Members Discuss Concert.” The Standard-Times, 22 Apr. 1940.

  • “A Community Leadership Award.” The Jewish Advocate, 1 Mar. 1962.

  • “Mrs. Finger Given Torah Fund Award.” The Standard-Times.

  • “Mrs. S. B. Finger to Be President of Sisterhood.” Sunday Standard-Times, 26 Apr. 1936, p. 10.

  • “Plans Dance.” The Standard-Times, 19 Nov. 1939.

  • “Play Presented at Synagogue.” The Standard-Times, 29 Feb. 1933.

  • “Sisterhood Cultural Group Holds Meeting.” The Standard-Times, 21 Dec. 1939.

  • “Sisterhood Has Impressive Rites at the Synagogue.” The Standard-Times, Dec. 19 1935.

  • Sylvia Finger Papers, MC 175. Archives of the Center of Jewish Culture, Claire T. Carney Library Archives and Special Collections, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. UMass Dartmouth ArchivesSpace, https://archivesspace.lib.umassd.edu/repositories/3/resources/161.  Accessed 24 Nov. 2021.

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