Who was Rachel Wolff Safran?

May 11, 2015
By bethmordecai
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Who was Rachel Wolff Safran?

As you may have heard, Beth Mordecai is hosting a rededication of Safran Hall, our recently-remodeled social hall, on June 7. The hall is named after Rachel Wolff Safran, whose family is intimately intertwined with our congregation’s history. Rabbi Ari Saks had the opportunity to speak with her grandson, Henry Safran, and granddaughter, Susan Hermanos, about their family’s legacy in Perth Amboy.
We hope that you will join us in celebrating the facelift of our amazing hall, named after an amazing woman and amazing family.


Perth Amboy has such fascinating Jewish history. Families played, worked, and went to school together. They celebrated life’s ups and downs together. While the lifestyle of late nineteenth century to mid-20th century Judaism cannot be replicated, looking back at this warm and tight-knit community helps to inspire our 21st century Jewish community.

At the heart of this lifestyle were the Wolff and Safran families, pillars of the Jewish community in the Amboys, and particularly at Beth Mordecai.

Henry Wolff was a German-Jewish merchant who owned a general store in South Amboy at the end of the 19th century. Henry and his wife, Mina, were very involved in Perth Amboy’s Jewish community to its very core: Beth Mordecai, which translates to“House of Mordecai,” is named for Max Wolff, Henry and Mina’s son who died as a teenager from a burst appendix. Their daughter, Rachel Wolff, married Charles Safran, an orphaned Jewish child who Henry hired to work in his store.

Rachel and Charles lived in South Amboy and remained very involved in Beth Mordecai throughout their lives. Charles served two separate terms as president of the congregation and his family helped guarantee the synagogue’s solvency during difficult financial times, particularly during the Great Depression. Both of their sons, Ira (who married into another Beth Mordecai family, Phyllis Shankman) and Melvin, served terms as Beth Mordecai’s president. When Rachel died in 1943, the social hall we are celebrating on June 7 was named for her. When Charles died a few years later, the ark in the main sanctuary was refurbished and the memorial plaque is still there today.

Rachel’s grandson, Henry Safran, fondly remembers his grandparents. He says he spent a lot of time in his grandfather and grandmother’s house growing up. They would take him for rides, eat lots of ice cream and do lots of interesting things in the house. He particularly remembers his family’s big, formal Sunday dinners which Rachel organized and choreographed. They broke out the fine china for a multi-course dinner in the dining room and said special prayers over hallah and wine.

Although those dinners were formal, Henry recalls a warm atmosphere. Susan in particular remembers when Rachel, who died when Susan was 5 years old, would let her sit on a green dressing table as her elegant grandmother put on makeup. She also recalls how her grandfather would read to her or listen to the radio with her while she sat on his lap as a young girl.

These personal memories of ice cream, Sunday dinners, makeup, and radio listening go hand-in-hand with the great acts of hesed (kindness) and tz’dakkah (charity) done by the Safran family, a family that was warm on the inside and on the outside. Perhaps next time you walk into Safran Hall, you’ll feel that warm presence that reverberates l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation, a feeling that is at the heart of this beautiful, historic Jewish community of Perth Amboy.

The Safran Hall Rededication and Silent Auction will take place June 7, 2015, in the shul’s Rachel Wolff Safran social hall, 224 High Street, Perth Amboy. Tickets are $18/advance, $20/door. For more information, including how to purchase scotch tickets, raffle tickets, or an item for the kitchen shower, visit this link.

Category : Beth Mordecai in the News Blast from the Past Events home Safran Hall Rededication and Silent Auction