Hillel holds gala dinner

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

St. Louis attorney Donald Kramer holds Hillel student member card Number One, which he proudly obtained back in 1947, when St. Louis Hillel, based at Washington University was founded as the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation, with Rabbi Robert P. Jacobs as its founding director. For Kramer and his wife, Elaine Phillips Kramer, whom he met through Hillel, and for many others among the 230 who attended last Sunday evening’s 60th Anniversary Gala for Hillel, it was both a trip down memory lane as well as a hopeful glimpse into the future.

Kramer recalls attending the organizing meeting for St. Louis Hillel at United Hebrew Temple on Skinker Boulevard in 1946. He is related to the legendary Abram Leon Sachar, the St. Louis native who was the founding national Hillel director and later the first president of Brandeis University — and also a close friend of Rabbi Jacobs.

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“It was truly a privilege to be part of the first group of students to join and help organize Hillel at Washington U., Kramer told the Jewish Light at last Sunday’s Gala event, which was attended by 230 at the Westin St. Louis Hotel in downtown St. Louis. Kramer became student president of Hillel in 195l until 1952, when he graduated. Also present were other present and past Hillel student and board leaders, and former local Hillel directors including Rabbi James S. Diamond, who became director of Hillel after Rabbi Jacobs retired in 1972, and later went on in 1983 to direct Hillel at Princeton University, and Rob Goldberg, who served from l983 until 1988, when he became vice president for campus advancement for the international Hillel movement. Goldberg was to be succeeded by Margo Hamburger Fox, and later by Carolyn Amacher, the current director.

Blending the themes of a nostalgic look back on Hillel’s history, with a forward-looking emphasis on present and future Hillel leadership, the master of ceremonies for the evening was Gadi Rouache, a Washington University senior, who was praised for taking on the daunting task in the midst of final examinations at Washington University. St. Louis Hillel also serves Jewish students at Saint Louis University and the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and other colleges and universities in the area as needed.

Diamond, Hillel’s second professional director, offered the D’var Torah and invocation, taking note of the spiritual significance of the numerical value of the word Hillel.

Miriam Singer, president of the Hillel Board of Directors, expressed appreciation to the many student members who attended during finals week, and praised Hillel’s mission of helping make “the campus experience a wonderful laboratory to find new and creative ways for students to experience their Judaism. We have forged relationships that are lasting, and Hillel has been a powerful catalyst for social justice and Jewish values. Your continued support helps Hillel to continue l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation.”

St. Louis Hillel honored “seven amazing people, each of whom, as an established or emerging leader, epitomizes St. Louis Hillel’s mission through their actions and commitments,” emcee Gadi Rouache said. The honorees included: Michelle Dorin, who graduated from Washington University one year ago, and who was honored for “her enthusiasm for Israel (which) is demonstrated in her extracurricular activities, her academic focus and now in her career”; Michael and Leslie Litwack, who “from their first trip to Israel 32 years ago, have been involved in every aspect of synagogue and community life in St. Louis, and committed to advocating a passionate commitment to the State of Israel”; Stephanie Kurzman, “who came to Washington University in 1998, where she helped create the Community Service Office, and serves as its current director (who) has taken her passion for social justice and turned it into a meaningful career.”

Also honored were: Rabbi James S. Diamond, director of St. Louis Hilel from 1972-1996, and later of Princeton’s Hillel, where he continues to teach.

“Jim Diamond is one of the most respected and prolific members of the St. Louis Jewish community,” said Rob Goldberg in presenting the award. “He is a legend at Washington University Hillel, and has made an impact on thousands of Jewish students.”

Also honored were Adam Simon, executive director of the Fiedler Hillel at Northwestern University, who “left his mark on the Washington University campus as both a student and a Hillel staff member” and Lynn Lyss, “who all of her life has been committed to social justice and the drive to ‘fix the world’ or tikkun olam, and whose list of accomplishments is long and distinguished. Lyss is a past president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis and past national president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the national umbrella organization for JCRC and other Jewish defense and human rights organizations.

Barry Rosenberg, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, presented the M’Dor L’Dor Award to Alvin Goldfarb, who was unable to attend the gala due too a schedule conflict. “Mr. Alvin Goldfarb, a retired president of Worth Stores, Inc., a St. Louis-based retailer of ladies apparel, and president of the Alvin Goldfarb Foundation, was inducted in 1997 as a life member of St. Louis Hillel,” Rosenberg said. “He, along with his late wife, Jeanette, who graduated from Washington University’s School of Social Work, have been major philanthropists at Washington University. They have supported a range of scholarship programs and several recent building projects at the university, most notably the Alvin J. Goldfarb Hall of the George Warren School of Social Work. The St. Louis Hillel building at 6300 Forsyth is named after the Goldfarbs in recognition of their support.”

The festive atmosphere of the banquet hall at the Westin St. Louis Hotel was enhanced by Washington University Hillel Bears, donated by the Build-A-Bear Workshop as gifts to the student table hosts.

Following the dinner, the guests were treated to vocal performances by Cantors Adina Frydman of Shaare Zedek and Linda Blumenthal of Temple Israel, and by the Washington University choral group Sta’am. Rabbi Hershey Novack, director of Chabad on Campus, joined in offering “warm congratulations and mazel tov to Hillel St. Louis, with which we are pleased to partner to serve the Jewish students at Washington U.”