AJC honors Stiffman family with Netzach Award

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

The family of Rabbi Jeffrey B. Stiffman, Emeritus of Congregation Shaare Emeth and Arlene Stiffman, Professor Emeritus of Social Work at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University, received the Netzach Award of the St. Louis Regional Chapter of the American Jewish Committee Monday, Oct. 19. More than 120 people attended the 19th annual Netzach Award dinner at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Clayton.

The prestigious Netzach Award is presented annually by the local AJCommittee to families whose work and activities contribute to the progress and well-being of the Jewish and general communities.

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“Certainly no family in St. Louis better exemplifies the values of the Netzach Award than that of Rabbi Jeffrey Stiffman, Dr. Arlene Stiffman and their children Cheryl Mayaan, Marti Stiffman and Dr. Michael Stiffman,” said Charles Eisenkramer, past president of Congregation Shaare Emeth. “Rabbi Stiffman has been there for every occasion in my family and so many other families, helping us celebrate happy occasions and comforting us on sad occasions. Arlene is a tremendous leader on the faculty of the GWB School of Social Work at Washington University, and their children carry on the family’s commitment to service.”

Similar sentiments of admiration, affection and respect were expressed by many others who attended the event, including Ken Birenbaum, current president of Shaare Emeth and by David and Robert Bohm, who with their mother, Lee Bohm were co-chairs of the event.

“I first met Rabbi Stiffman when I was only 8 years old, a Sunday school student at Shaare Emeth back in 1965,” said David Bohm. “Whether it was confirmations, bar mitzvahs, weddings, or my father’s funeral, Rabbi Stiffman has been with us every step of the journey of life, as has been the case with so many others.”

In addressing the audience, Robert Newmark, president of the AJCommittee Chapter, praised the Stiffmans for always going beyond what was expected of them. “Rabbi Stiffman, you never seem to have been content merely tending to your own congregation; your role in numerous community-wide endeavors exemplifies leadership itself,” he said. “Dr. Stiffman, your leader ship in education stands on its own as well. Marti and Cheryl, you have clearly followed in your parents’ path, but in your own ways, making our community a better place in the process.” Dr Michael Stiffman was unable to attend the reception.

Rabbi Andrea Goldstein of Shaare Emeth, before offering the hamotzi, said that she was honored to join in the tribute to Rabbi Stiffman, “my rabbi, my mentor and my friend,” and to his entire family. Co-chair David Bohm added: “As if Jeff’s role as the spiritual leader of Shaare Emeth for almost 35 years did not keep them busy enough, Jeff and Arlene have been engaged in civil rights, social justice and educational issues, and Arlene has been a leader in the academic community. They have passed their love of Judaism and their commitment to social justice and education on to their children, truly exemplifying the spirit underlying the AJCommittee’s Netzach Award.”

Bohm noted that Rabbi Stiffman has been involved in many local and national organizations, including serving on boards of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. He is also a vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council, where he serves as chair of its Task Force on Iran. He is a past president of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association and of the St. Louis Jewish Historical Society. On the national level, he has served as chair of the Committee on Ethics and Appeals of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, as a representative of the CCAR to the Joint Commission on Synagogue Music of Reform Judaism and on the national board of the United Jewish Communities Rabbinic Cabinet.

Bohm pointed out that Arlene Stiffman has garnered many accolades as well. She was named the Woman of Valor for 2000 by the Business and Professional Women’s Division of the St. Louis Jewish Federation. The next year Washington University named her as the Barbara A. Bailey Professor of Social Work while the GWB Alumni Association honored her as the Distinguished Faculty Awardee in 2001.

Bohm’s brother, Rob Bohm, talked about the Stiffman children saying, “they are a perfect example of the younger generation following in their parents’ footsteps, devoting their time to serving the community.”

“For Michael, Marti and Cheryl, being Jewish has meant a chance to make a difference in people’s lives, inside and outside the Jewish community,” he continued. “For Michael, it has meant applying the Jewish values of compassion and tikkun olam (as a physician) when caring for AIDS patients in Minnesota. For Marti, it has translated into applying her knowledge of the law on behalf of abused women for Legal Advocates for Abused Women, and for Cheryl, it has meant lending her passion to the wonderful institution that she heads, the Saul Mirowitz Day School/Reform Jewish Academy.”

Bohm added that while “it is true that our communities are confronted with many challenges, it is also true that there is a generation of young leaders emerging in our communities. One that will continue to lead us and generations to come from strength to strength as exemplified by the Stiffman family.”

In accepting the award, Rabbi Stiffman told how touched he was that it recognized his entire family. “Family is the center of Jewish life, Jewish education, Jewish commitment,” he said. “This sounds like a clich é. But the longer I live, the older I get, the more I feel that family is the center not only of our personal lives, but also of carrying on our tradition.”