Harriet Barenfeld dies; educator, longtime JCC, temple volunteer


Harriet Barenfeld, longtime special needs educator and a dedicated and admired volunteer for the Jewish Community Center and Congregation Shaare Emeth, died Friday, Sept. 5, 2008, at her home in Chesterfield, after a brief illness. She was 68 years of age.

Harriet Gomberg Barenfeld was born in St. Louis on May 28, 1940, the daughter of the late Ben Gomberg and the late Dubby Gomberg. She was a graduate of Ladue Horton Watkins High School and of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, with a degree in special education. She taught special education classes in the area and also taught at the Central Institute for the Deaf. Audrey Klausner Montague, who retired after 50 years of teaching and directing the pre-school at Congregation Shaare Emeth, recalls having taught with Mrs. Barenfeld, and then later working under her supervision as a volunteer at the Jewish Community Center.


In addition to her many years of teaching, Harriet Barenfeld was widely admired for her years of dedicated volunteer work, especially for the Jewish Community Center and Congregation Shaare Emeth.

Zelda Sparks, director of the Cultural Arts Department at the JCC, told the St. Louis Jewish Light, “Most people around the JCC associate Harriet with the Used Book Sale, which she chaired for the past 10 plus years. Harriet was always more concerned that the day-to-day unsung heroes of the Used Book Sale, the crew of markers who worked year-round, got the appropriate credit for their work. She was not concerned about herself. Last year, when illness prevented Harriet from being at the August 2007 sale, all of the dealers and regulars who came to the sale wanted to know where she was; she was missed by all….Harriet lined up all the volunteers who staffed the Used Book Sale each year. She hade a huge circle of friends to draw upon and they came back year after year….In addition, Harriet has been an ongoing member of the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival Committee. In addition to being the longtime Shaare Emeth representative to the committee, Harrie served for years as co-chair of the Series Ticket Committee.”

Sparks added, “What few people know is that Harriet appeared in a play called Jest a Second, during the very first season of The New Jewish Theatre. A review by Bob Wilcox in The Riverfront Times said, ‘Harriet Barenfeld and Barry Hyatt deserve their own sitcom as ostentatiously long suffering parents.'”

Marcia Evers Levy, director of the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival, said, “Harriet was my first volunteer chairperson when I started at the JCC in 1996 as the staff coordinator for the JCC’s annual Used Book Sale. Her energetic personality at that event each year welcomed all the shoppers. Harriet was always ready with a personal compliment or a helpful idea. She was also very kind and welcoming to me and my family. She has been an incredibly enthusiastic supporter of the Used Book Sale and the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival, where she co-chaired the Series Ticket Committee for years. It was a true honor to work with Harriet and to have had the pleasure of spending personal time with her. I know I share the thoughts of many when I say I will miss her greatly and our programs will sorely miss her vital presence.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by many of Harriet Barenfeld’s friends and fellow volunteers, including Carol (Cookie) Simon, who told the Jewish Light, “Harriet will be missed by so many people. She was such a special lady.”

Mrs. Barenfeld was remembered with fondness at the funeral services held at Congregation Shaare Emeth, where Rabbi Jim Bennett officiated, and also read a statement from Rabbi Jeffrey B. Stiffman, Rabbi Emeritus, who was out of the city.

“I first got to know Harriet back in the mid-1980s when I was a young assistant rabbi, and she was one of the stars of the Temple shows we regularly produced,” Rabbi Bennett said. “Harriet was so present, so filled with joy and love and enthusiasm, larger than life, as she danced and sang and helped to create the mood of excitement that we all shared. Harriet was literally the life of the show, of the Sisterhood, of the Temple itself. Her energy was contagious.”

`In his remarks in memory of Mrs. Barenfeld, which were read at the service, Rabbi Stiffman said, “Harriet had so many friends. We loved her for her honesty, her openness, her many talents, her singing and acting, her devotion to helping others. No one awed her or forced her to keep silent. Harriet spoke her mind, defended those who needed it, kept us on the right track, and we loved her for it. She was an awesome Sisterhood member, Jewish Book Festival volunteer and chair and loyal member of Shaare Emeth. When she came back to Shaare Emeth after a long convalescence, she was greeted like royalty. Because she extended herself to us, we all loved her. How many of us celebrated our simchas with the invitations she helped to select. How many of us so enjoyed being with her, and will miss her so deeply.”

Burial was at the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemtery on White Road.

Mrs. Barenfeld was the daughter of the late Ben and the late Dubby Gomberg; mother of Frandy (Phil) Raso of Peoria, Ill., and Carrie Merrifield of St. Louis; sister of Sam Gomberg and sister-in-law of Sharon Herlihy; sister-in-law of Rosalie (Stanley) Berger and Dolores (Etzel) Safron. She was the grandmother of David and Adam Raso and Jerra Merrifield.

Contributions in her memory may be made to the donor’s choice.