By Adam Grobman
Alyce Spector’s Jewish identity is rooted in compassion.
While she attended Hebrew School three times a week between the Harrisburg JCC and Beth El Temple, she says she learned more about the values of Judaism by watching her parents in their Paxtang home. In the 1940s, as a result of the depression, she became accustomed to seeing itinerant travelers knocking on the family’s backdoor and asking for a bite to eat.
“My mother would open the door and bring them into the kitchen and feed them dinner,” she says. “It opened my eyes to people who were suffering.”
She quickly felt the responsibility to improve the world. Her drive led her to be noticed by Albert Hursh, the longtime Executive Director of the Federation/JCC, who asked her to help raise money among the youth groups which she had influence over as the President of her sorority.
“Albert Hursh was quiet and modest,” she says. “But he recognized leadership qualities in people – and what he helped to produce was a great outcome. We have a very high standard of not only raising money, but education.”
Now, more than 70 years after being spurred to take on leadership responsibility by Albert, Alyce is being recognized as the 2020 Albert Hursh Leadership Award recipient. Her husband, Morton (Z’l) was a previous recipient of the award.
Ed Beck, the most recent recipient of the award, has known Alyce since moving to the area in the early 1970s. “She was already a respected leader within the Jewish and general community, working on many projects in education, health care, and within Jewish community relations,” he says. “Alyce drew me into Jewish communal leadership, mentoring me as she did others. Her talent, energy, perseverance, and legacy of community improvements are a record long overdue in recognition.”
Alyce’s leadership has been felt throughout Harrisburg in both the Jewish and secular communities. Throughout the years she has been President of the Women’s Division of the United Jewish Appeal, Beth El Temple Sisterhood, Harrisburg Bridge Club, and Mental Health Association of Central PA, and has held leadership roles with many more. She is also the founder of the Kidney Foundation of Central PA.
Alyce’s legacy is perhaps most felt through her involvement with Israel Bonds.
“The founding of the State of Israel was amazing to me – that impacted me,” she says. A couple of years after getting married, her husband Morton accompanied Albert Hursh to Israel. While the state offered a safe haven for Jews who needed a place to go in the years following the Holocaust, Mort reported that there was much work to be done.
“There was starvation, danger, and a lack of everything,” she remembers. “Mort became instilled with the effects of the downtrodden and he came back wanting to raise money.”
So, that’s what they did, helping to impact the lives of the Jews living in the fledgling state.
“I never had any difficulty asking for money,” Alyce says. “I would tell the people I work with ‘you’re not doing it for yourself, you’re doing it so that Jewish people can live, thrive, and go forward.”
Alyce says that while Jewish life, both at home and abroad, has come a long way, there is still much work to be done.
“I want to be surrounded by meaningful things,” she says. “Like good people. Like a fabulous Jewish education. Like a strong knowledge of Judaism – where we came from, how we’ve gotten here, and where we’re going. These are very meaningful things to me.”
In a plaque displayed in Legacy Hall at the Harrisburg JCC, Alyce’s children and grandchildren share that “our Mom lives a life worth living.” In her formal roles throughout the years, Alyce aimed to inspire others to do good. In 1976 while teaching school, she realized the problems she faced in the schoolroom with racism and Anti-Semitism. As a Board Member of the Jewish Community Relations Council, she invited 35 school superintendents to meet for lunch at the JCC to discuss the problems of social justice within the school system. That was the beginning of her new program teaching tolerance and diversity to school teachers of which she had the approval of all the superintendents in the local school districts.
She hopes her story can continue to inspire others to work for the good of the community.
“I want to see the institutions that have been established continue and create more,” Alyce says. “I want people to come forward and add their own creations, ideas, and thoughts for the future – the community is very receptive to that.”
Alyce has high ambitions that Harrisburg will continue its high standard in the years to come.
“I hope that the Harrisburg Jewish and secular community grows, thrives, and is successful in anything and everything it wants to do. If I had a second chance, I would do these things all over again.”