Handelman, Lipkin honored by NCCJSTL

Two active members of the local Jewish community, volunteer activist Ronni Handelman and playwright/theater director Joan Lipkin, were among four St. Louisans honored by the National Conference for Community and Justice of Metropolitan St. Louis (NCCJSTL), at its 64th Annual Brotherhood Sisterhood Dinner last week at the Ritz Carlton in Clayton.

Also honored were William Alan Donius, former chairman and CEO of Pulaski Bank and Valerie Patton, director of the St. Louis Business Diversity Initiative.

Founded in 1930 as the regional chapter of what was formerly called the National Conference of Christians and Jews, NCCJSTL is “dedicated to fighting bias, bigotry and racism in America, promoting understanding and respect among all races, religions and cultures through advocacy, conflict resolution and education.”

Denise DeCou, executive director, said the four honorees “exemplify the values and mission of NCCJSTL.”

Terry Bloomberg, a past president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis and of the St. Louis Jewish Light Board of Trustees, received the NCCJSTL Brotherhood Sisterhood Award in 2007. “I am particularly pleased that Ronni Handelman is being honored,” Bloomberg said. “She’s been serving the underserved in our community for a long time. She was president of the American Jewish Committee, which seeks to preserve rights for Jews, and she was board chair of Cultural Leadership, which is concerned with leveling the playing field for blacks and Jews together. So, the fact that the community is choosing Ronni for this award is long overdue.”

Lipkin is the founder and longtime artistic director of That Uppity Theatre Company in St. Louis, and co-founder with Fran Cohen of the DisAbility Project, a performing company of people with and without disabilities. “Joan is able to use theater to reach into people’s hearts and grab them quickly so that they can do then the mind work of understanding diversity. Her work moves the process along,” said Phillip Deitch, who has worked with Lipkin on the DisAbility Project.

Paula Knight, associate superintendant of elementary schools for the City of St. Louis Public Schools, served as mistress of ceremonies for the evening, which was attended by more than 200 people. Knight introduced members of the DisAbility Project, who performed a brief sample of their work in tribute to Lipkin.

Handelman was introduced as one who “takes her responsibility seriously as an advocate who bridges cultural barriers. She exemplifies NCCJSTL’s mission to promote mutual respect and understanding among all races, religions and cultures.”

Among her many volunteer efforts, Handelman is co-founder with Karen Kalish, and past chair of the board of Cultural Leadership, a year-long program predominantly for African-American and Jewish high school students.

In accepting her award, Handelman said she was grateful for the work of Cultural Leadership, the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Federation for giving her the opportunity to volunteer her services in the community. “None of us know how much time we have here on this earth. We can use our time to make a difference,” she said.

Lipkin said that she deeply appreciated the award, and the special performance of the group from the DisAbility Project. “I really love you guys, and thank you so much for being here,” she said to the performers. “Really, I am just so honored to be included with the other terrific honorees. The real reason all of us are here tonight is that we can and that we want to make a difference.”