Our pluralistic Bet Din is named in memory of Sandra Caplan and has been funded in large part by George Caplan, who was her husband. She exemplified what it means to be a Jew-by-choice — taking on the mantle of Jewish tradition for herself and passing down Jewish values to her children. She demonstrated through the way she lived her life that people who convert are serious about making that major change, and that the positive impact is felt in future generations.
Sandra grew up in a Catholic family, but never truly embraced the religion of her parents. She developed an interest in Judaism while still living at home but was unable to move that forward. Sadly, Sandra’s mother died when she was young, and her father remarried a Jewish woman who had grown up in an Orthodox home. Sandra’s stepmother was more traditional and Sandra benefited from her knowledge of Judaism.
After Sandra met George, they began having Shabbat dinners at home and Sandra embraced his four children. Once they married, the path ahead was clear for her. She attended the conversion program at the University of Judaism (known as “UJ”; now the American Jewish University), studying with Rabbi Henry Fisher. On June 5, 1980, she completed her conversion. There was no mikveh at UJ back then; they used the ocean instead. As she immersed herself in the water, she didn’t even feel the cold — it was such a joyous occasion. All four of George’s children were there to witness the event and celebrate with her. She took the name Shoshana because shin was her favorite Hebrew letter.
George and Sandra had two children together; George continued to be her primary teacher along with Rabbi Harold Shulweis (z"l) from the pulpit. Jewish life in their household revolved around family gatherings for Shabbat, holidays, and attending services at Valley Beth Shalom. Having a sense of community was important. She loved preparing and cooking for Passover and creating an atmosphere that was beautiful and welcoming. Her blintzes, from George’s mother’s recipe, were legendary. Perhaps even more important than the holidays and rituals were the Jewish values that pervaded their home. Sandra taught her children about humility and how to treat people well. When her young son befriended another boy with Tourette’s syndrome, Sandra demonstrated kindness by welcoming him into the house. She gave tzedakah, helped others, and cared for animals. In short, she was a mensch. When asked by her mother-in-law why she had wanted to convert, her answer was simple: Judaism is a rational religion that forms a philosophic basis for being in the world.
Sandra lived that philosophy and tried to ensure that her children would benefit from it too. Sandra died prematurely at age forty-nine, but her legacy lives on in the memories and deeds of her children and family. We honor her with the work of the Bet Din by carrying on Jewish tradition for those, like Sandra, who choose to embrace its wisdom.