Sof History – Gertrude Serata

From the Sof History Project – A Key Leader

By Mat Sgan


In 1979–1980, Gertrude Serata succeeded Jordan Popper as president of Sof Ma’arav. She was elected at the Annual Dinner meeting in May 1979. She had come to Hawai`i to be with her daughter’s family.


Gertrude had been active in leyning and leadership roles from her start at Sof. Member records reveal that she joined Sof in 1976. She returned to the mainland in 1998. During that period, she wrote book reviews for the Hawaiʻi Jewish News and was often called upon to represent the “Jewish point of view” on various interfaith and civic panels.


Gertrude had been a librarian at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS). She and fellow librarian Sally Morgan had inventoried the Sof library in her early membership days. She had played various official board roles and chaired several committees. Sof, ever the party shul, recognized her eightieth birthday with a surprise Shabbat party and planted a garden of 160 trees in Israel in her honor.


Sof also had a party to celebrate her eighty-fourth birthday. Gertrude donated back her gift from Sof toward the purchase of a new Torah. She hoped that her act would stimulate further donations to that cause.


Most prominently, she had promoted the role of women at Sof by encouraging them to participate as fully as possible. She was readily available to teach and tutor all in matters of Jewish ritual and history. Gertrude also made a special effort to be part of programs aimed at assisting refugees from Vietnam and the Soviet Union. Gertrude was a prominent part of Sof History during 1970’s, 80’s and part of the 1990’s.


Gertrude Serata: A Postscript

by Sally Morgan and Fran Margulies


Last month, as part of Mat Sgan’s Sof history Project, we remembered past Sof President Gertrude Serata. Sally Morgan and Fran Margulies have added their own postscripts to Mat’s story.


A postscript by Sally Morgan


Gertrude Serata served as a mentor to many Sof members. Though her voice was soft, her thoughts were an inspiration.  The memory of both Gertrude and Rabbi Goldfarb’s teachings served as a guidance for what the Levinson Krupp Library should be. Her own comprehensive Judaic Library served as a model for how the L-K Library should grow.  After her death some of that library went to Hamilton Library at UH, and some to Maui, L-K Library has a few of her books as the rebirth of that library did not happen until after her death. Yet even until till today, her demand that we do our very best influences the book selections for the L-K Library.


Before Gertrude moved to Hawaii to be with her daughter and her family, she worked at the Jewish Theological Seminary as a Reference Librarian. In Hawaii, she served as the Children’s Librarian in Kalihi – Palama Public Library and in Kaimuki Public Library where she played a role, with all the Children’s Librarians in selecting books for the children’s collection in the Hawaii Public Library System. She also conducted Story Times, leading her patrons to the very best of children’s literature.


A postscript by Fran Margulies


It was Gertrude Serata’s invitation and the magnetism of her personality that brought me to Congregation Sof Ma’arav. I would like to add my memories to Mat’s profile from last month’s newsletter.


Gertrude had a driving intellect made stronger by adversity. Surgery for throat cancer left her disfigured and without a voice box. Her head was permanently bent forward, and her voice was an artificial breath whistle that she taught herself to use with vigor and without embarrassment.


Her husband’s death and her only daughter’s marriage to a doctor in Honolulu brought her to Hawaii where she continued her career as a librarian. She had worked at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and there she helped writers and philosophers like young Robert Alter and older Abraham Joshua Herschel.


Talking to her was inspiring. I met her at Temple Emanu-El, and she invited me to her apartment where she maintained a sophisticated library of Judaica. My visits with her reignited a rudimentary knowledge of Hebrew and started me on the path to Torah leyning.