Kappa Guild is built on lasting friendships

From left: Kappa Guild members Wilma Samuelson, Sheila Mentz and Miriam Stern
From left: Kappa Guild members Wilma Samuelson, Sheila Mentz and Miriam Stern (Provided)

While social distancing has tested many relationships, the members of Kappa Guild have had many occasions to build and maintain their friendships while staying engaged in their mission of supporting children going through medical treatment.

“We are an organization that helps children in need,” said Sallie Rifkin, a current member of Kappa Guild who became its first president when the organization was founded in the 1950s.

Named after Rifkin’s high school sorority, Kappa Guild was formed after a number of its original founders experienced seeing their own children in a hospital. Its founders created the organization with the goal of providing children in hospitals with what they needed, such as rocking chairs to sit in while holding an infant.

Rifkin was one of the founders whose child spent time in a hospital. When her son needed a heart operation, the hospital lacked any facilities or amenities for children, such as televisions, toys or play rooms.

“Helping children in need, that’s our theme, that’s our byword,” said Rifkin, a Pikesville resident who has previously taught Hebrew school at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, Bolton Street Synagogue and the former Temple Oheb Shalom.

Currently, Kappa Guild has over 70 members, said Miriam Stern, 80, the group’s vice president, who joined in the early 1980s. Before the pandemic, at many of Kappa Guild’s functions such as luncheon meetings, up to 25 or 30 members would often attend. The majority are Jewish, Rifkin said, though non-Jews are also welcome, and many of their members are seniors.

Pre-pandemic, Kappa Guild would organize fundraising events such as their annual fashion show, which was normally held in area synagogues, Rifkin said. During the shows, members would dress up in different outfits provided by local purveyors. Audience members would buy tickets to the show, and also purchase outfits they were interested in, with a percentage of the sales of both the outfits and tickets going to the charity fund.

In addition to events focused on fundraising, Kappa Guild would also organize social outings, such as bus trips to New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., Rifkin said. She emphasized that events such as these are paid for by the members themselves, rather than from donations.

Pre-pandemic, meetings commonly involved a great deal of lively banter back and forth, Rifkin said.

“I don’t think anybody has any secrets,” Rifkin laughed. “Yes, everybody talks a lot about their lives. It’s very personal.

“I wanted to call it the chit-chat club, because they all talk so much,” Rifkin added.

Among the friends she has made during her time at Kappa Guild, Rifkin noted Sheila Mentz, the group’s current president.

“[She’s] the most admirable of people,” Rifkin said of Mentz, explaining that it was during the pandemic that Mentz showed her true mettle, sending out messages to all of the members each day except Shabbat.

“She was determined to keep all of our spirits up,” Rifkin said. “She’s just [a] magnificent person.”

Former Kappa Guild President Roz Caplan, 88, recalled being in the hospital for the birth of her third son at the same time that Sallie Rifkin was giving birth at a separate facility. Afterward, the pair compared notes on their experiences.

Stern noted her friendship with Beverly Rifkin, a current member and past president of Kappa Guild.

“Beverly and I have been friends for over 40 years,” said Stern, a resident of Pikesville and member of Beth Israel Congregation. “We share each other’s joys. We share each other’s sorrows. We are [just] a very good fit for one another. And if I haven’t talked to her in a while, and we pick up the phone and we speak to each other, it’s just like it was yesterday.”

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