JUJ to honor civil rights activists

by organizing neighborhood districts in West County for African-American professionals. Sam and Georgia worked closely together to create many programs to serve the poor, including the establishment of Gateway Centers, which allowed people to access needed services directly in their own neighborhood.

Jews United For Justice will hold its fifth annual Rabbi Heschel/Dr. King celebration from 3 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 15 at B’nai El’s former location, 5574 Delmar at Clara (now The Grace & Peace Fellowship Church).

Every year, JUJ honors activists from the St. Louis Jewish and African-American communities who have worked together for social justice. This event is always held during the season of the birthdays of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (whose yahrzeit also falls during this period) and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, two iconic religious leaders who forged a partnership and friendship as they provided moral leadership for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. Past recipients have included David Lander, Sister Antona Ebo, Rabbi Bernard Lipnick, Norman Seay, the late Rabbi Jerry Grolllman, Bill Kahn, and Dr. Henry Givens.

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This year’s honorees will be Sam Bernstein and Georgia Rusan, who were both leaders at the Human Development Corporation during the 1960s War on Poverty. Mr. Bernstein oversaw efforts in various neighborhoods in St. Louis City, while Mrs Rusan worked in areas in the county, which were less well known but equally disadvantaged. Mr. Bernstein also spent many years as the Executive Director of the Jewish Employment and Vocational Services (later renamed the Metropolitan Employment and Rehabilitation Services, or MERS). In addition to her many years of service at the HDC, Mrs. Rusan and her late husband Dr. Thomas Rusan fought against segregated housing patterns in the St. Louis suburbs by organizing neighborhood districts in West County for African-American professionals. Sam and Georgia worked closely together to create many programs to serve the poor, including the establishment of Gateway Centers, which allowed people to access needed services directly in their own neighborhood.

The program will include words from Norman Goldberg, a B’nai El board president during the years the shul was on Delmar; music and tribute poetry from Rabbi James Stone Goodman; an invocation by Father Emory Washington (himself a committed local activist, and also Mrs. Rusan’s longtime pastor); introductions of the honorees by Bob Cohn of the Jewish Light and current HDC Director Ruth Smith; and remarks by the honorees themselves.