SMDS-RJA honors Grazman, receives $1 million

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

The Saul Mirowitz Day School-Reform Jewish Academy Gala event honored retiring head of school Marsha Grazman, along with school supporters Randy and Nancy Green, teacher Janet Goldman and administrative assistant Carol Erbar with entertainment by Rabbi Bob Alper, America’s only practicing rabbi who serves as a stand-up comic and author. Nearly 300 people attended the event last Sunday at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Clayton.

Grazman, who was the first head of school at SMDS-RJA at the time of its first group of students seven years ago, received the Melvin Dubinsky Visionary Award, named after the late Melvin Dubinsky, one of the school’s founders and early benefactors. Grazman’s son, David Grazman, presented the award to his mother, stressing her exemplary qualities not only as a teacher and administrator, but as a mother, wife, grandmother and mentor to many students over the years.

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Rabbi Jeffrey B. Stiffman, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Shaare Emeth, presented the Isadore E. Millstone Community Service Award to Nancy and Randy Green, longtime generous supporters of SMDS-RJA, the Jewish Federation, the Shirley Green Pre-school at Shaare Emeth named in honor of Randy Green’s mother, and many other community activities and programs.

Carol Rubin, assistant head of school, presented the staff and faculty awards to longtime teacher Janet Goldman and administrative assistant Carol Erbar. Rubin praised Janet Goldman’s ability to connect with her students through the years, her teaching skills and her spiritual qualities which have endeared her to them and to her colleagues at the school. Erbar was praised for handling numerous challenging administrative tasks at the school, often “multil-tasking” many at the same time, “but always with her warm and welcoming smile and willingness to help in any situation.”

Marc Bluestone, president of the SMDS-RJA School Board, extended a warm welcome to the crowd, and thanked “all of the volunteers who put this gala evening together, including Dr. Arlene Stiffman, who served as event chair and Susan Bosse, the ad book chair, “and all of the many others who made this event possible.”

Bluestone added, “This seventh year is a very special anniversary for our school, which started with an enrollment of five students and has grown to nearly 100 students.” He congratulated Marsha Grazman “for her exemplary leadership as our first head of school, and our founders, including Saul Mirowitz. Saul and Barbara Mirowitz have decided to add a gift of $1 million to the school, in addition to their previous generous gifts, and Saul and Barbara all of thank you very much.”

Upon receiving with his wife Nancy the Isadore E. Millstone Community Service Award, Randy Green said, “Nancy and I want to thank Rabbi Stiffman for his extremely generous comments, and it is an exceptional honor for us to receive an award bearing the name of Isadore Millstone, whose vision and generosity have been the hallmark of Jewish community leadership. Green recalled with fondness, his late mother, Shirley Green, “who loved being Jewish, which she learned from her grandmother and taught our family.”

Nancy Green said, “Even though we are not originally from St. Louis, we call this community home, and Randy and I are very proud to share this award.”

In introducing his mother Marsha Grazman, David Grazman recalled “I was 9 years old and my friend Micah died. Tears were streaming from my eyes, and I asked Mom what I should believe about this terrible moment. Typically, she used this as one of her great teachable moments, asking me what I believed, not just giving me an answer but encouraging me to take responsibility to find out my own answers. She brought this concept of constructivist learning and the creation of self, and built it into the DNA of the Saul Mirowitz Day School-RJA.

In her remarks, Marsha Grazman said, “These last seven years have been so wonderful. From the vision and determination of Buddy Lebman, one of our founders and our first seven families, we set out to prove that the Reform Jewish community could create a school, where children could beome self-confident, knowledgeable and happy members of the Jewish community.”

She paid tribute to her children and grandchildren and to her husband, Ted Grazman, whom she met when both were camp counselors when they were 19. “With humility, pride, sadness, joy and maybe a little relief, I say thank you all, and todah raba.”

The gala evening concluded with a stand-up comedy routine performed by the popular Rabbi Bob Alper, a native of Providence, R.I., a graduate of Lehigh University, and who was ordained as a Reform rabbi at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati in 1972. He also became the first person of the Jewish faith to receive a doctor of ministry degree from the Princeton Theological Seminary. Alper, who has served pulpits in Buffalo and Philadelphia, and who has been telling jokes since he was a small child, now performs internationally, billed as “the world’s only practicing cleryman doing stand-up comedy — intentionally.”

Alper, who was described by The New York Post as “a Jewish Bill Cosby,” bases much of his humor on his many years as a pulpit rabbi, and other Jewish topics.

Alper has performed all over North America, including appearances in St. Louis. He sometimes partners with Arab or Muslim comedians in events co-sponsored by campus Hillels and Muslim Student Associations, using humor to build bridges of understanding. He recalled that on one occasion he met former President George Herbert Walker Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush. “Barbara Bush asked whether George should order the corned beef or the pastrami, and I found myself in the position of being a presidential adviser. I suggested that he order the corned beef, but be sure to ‘hold the mayo.'”

Alper added his own congratulations to the school and to Marsha Grazman and the other honorees. The evening, which started with a buffet dinner, concluded with a gourmet dessert reception.