Doris Brickner, Activist and Founder of Jewish Organizations, Dies at 99


Doris Brickner, a leader in the Reform movement who championed feminism, archaeology and historic preservation, died June 29, a month shy of her 100 birthday.

As wife of the late Rabbi Balfour Brickner of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan, she was a fixture at the synagogue and his partner in social activism.

An organizer and activist, she had a hand in founding four organizations: The Community Synagogue in Sands Point, N.Y.; American Jewish World Service; the American Friends of the Jewish Museum of Greece, and Gomez Mill House, a historic Jewish home in Newburgh, N.Y.

She also raised millions of dollars for People for the American Way.

Brickner was founder of the Heritage Committee of the World Jewish Congress, which in 1981 financed the excavation of a vast Jewish catacomb outside the southern Italian hill town of Venosa.

In 1983 she was part of a team that facilitated the contribution of the records of the New York office of the WJC to the Hebrew Union College archives in Cincinnati. The items included the Riegner Telegram, sent to the U.S. State Department and British Foreign Office, which contained the first authentic news about Hitler’s decision to exterminate the Jews.

Doris Siff was born in 1921 in Brooklyn. She married Dr. Manuel Gottlieb, a dentist, in 1943. He died in 1972.

She is survived by her daughters Leslie Gottlieb and Beth Gottlieb, her grandchildren Lauren Singer and Jason Rabinowitz, her son-in-law Cantor Daniel Singer and her great-grandchildren Aiden and Ariel.

In 1975 she married Rabbi Brickner, a leading light in the Reform movement and an activist whose causes included civil rights, opposition to the Vietnam War, the homeless, women’s rights and Jewish-Christian dialogue. They divorced after 27 years of marriage; Rabbi Brickner died in 2005.

In a tribute to her on the synagogue’s website, Doris Brickner remembered their marriage as “a true partnership. He was courageous about pursuing new ideas — like supporting women in the rabbinate — and we were very much in sync.”

Active in Democratic politics, she ran an unsuccessful campaign for local office in 1960 in Port Washington, N.Y.

Brickner had planned on celebrating her 100th birthday on July 26 by presenting the Doris Brickner Centennial Social Justice Award to Liam Elkind, a Yale University undergraduate who is the co-founder and CEO of Invisible Hands. The group, formed during the pandemic, delivers groceries, prescriptions and other necessities to the elderly and other needy people. Her family will present the award in her memory.