Penny Parker doesn’t remember when or why she and her late husband, Harold, got involved with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. But once they did, she never saw a reason to stop.
“I just remember going to meetings,” said the woman who used to design children’s clothes for a living, after doing it for her own kids. “I appreciated all the things they were involved in, even though I wasn’t directly involved.
“I just think being Jewish has a lot of merit. It’s a religion that cares for people, and I care for organizations that care for people.”
As a young woman, she remembers her husband being so impressed with the way his father was treated at the then-Philadelphia Geriatric Center (now the Madlyn and Leonard Abramson Center for Jewish Life) that he felt compelled to do something.
“My husband thought his dad got such good care, he decided to become a friendly visitor,” she explained. “He’d volunteer to spend time with people who didn’t have any visitors.”
Back then, the Parkers lived in West Oak Lane, which enabled their sons, Eric and Robert, to attend Central High School, while daughter Janet attended Girls’ High and youngest son Garry headed off to Friends Select School. They belonged to Adath Jeshurun Congregation, which was then located on North Broad Street.
The family history at Adath Jeshurun goes way back.
“We first joined around 1910,” said Parker, whose ancestors came from Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. “The neighborhood was heavily Jewish.
“Going all through school, I never noticed anti-Semitism because we lived in a mixed neighborhood and just about every other house was Jewish.
“But we were always members of the synagogue. I was confirmed there because they didn’t have Bat Mitzvahs for girls back then. When my daughter had her Bat Mitzvah, it was on a Friday night because they didn’t have them on Saturdays.”
Times have changed considerably since then, especially for Parker, who became involved with Hadassah Greater Philadelphia and spent hours volunteering there since her husband’s death in 1987.
“People are needed,” she said of that experience. “I was happy to help out.”
While known to everyone as Penny, Parker confessed reluctantly that it’s not her given name, which is Henrietta.
“When I was in school they used to call me Henny Penny. Then I went to Camp Reeta and was a counselor. They call the counselors aunt or uncle something. So I picked Penny. I’ve been that since I was 15.”
She was even younger than that when her grandmother, Rebecca Baylson, taught her to sew. It came in handy when she began making her children’s clothes, which triggered a professional career.
“I took a course in pattern drafting and was able to get a job,” she said.
Since then, she’s kept busy with the volunteering at the Abramson Center in Horsham, as well as her work with Hadassah, ORT and Deborah Heart and Lung Center.
This article is part of an occasional series of profiles of Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia supporters.
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