This year’s mitzvah stars light up the sky


The 2007 class of Mitzvah Stars represents volunteers who help others from all ends of life’s spectrum: from volunteering at preschools and tutoring bar and bat mitzvah to working with the elderly. Along this continuum, each award winner has made a significant contribution to his or her community.

Frank Altman


When Frank Altman got out of the service in 1945 he began teaching bar and bat mitzvahs…for free. During the past 60-plus years that he’s been tutoring the Jewish community’s youth, he also has been donating his time and talents to other organizations. In 1967 he joined the board of directors for the Jewish Center for the Aged and then served as its president 1981-1983. “I first got involved when the JCA was on Grand Avenue when I was needed for a minyan,” Altman said. He never stopped going because for the past 40 years, every Tuesday and Thursday, unless he has been sick, he has led services and held the hands of the residents.

Altman’s commitment to the Jewish community included serving as president of the Jewish Federation of Southern Illinois, Southeast Missouri, Northwest Kentucky. He was president of Epstein Hebrew Academy, and is a life member of CAF É and JFCS. He also volunteers for the Jewish Federation of St. Louis.

After surviving two open-heart surgeries, Altman felt he should give something back so he began volunteering with the American Heart Association. His philosophy about helping others, which he credits his father with teaching him, has influenced his family: His wife of 63 years, Ilse, is a speaker for the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center; his son, who lives in Washington D.C., gives to charitable causes and his two daughters are involved in the St. Louis Jewish community. Altman sums up his life-long stint as a volunteer: “There are certain things you do in life to help others.”

Janne Burch

Most mothers of four children are busy enough taking care of their family. But for Janne Burch, that concept extends beyond her home and continues into her congregation and community.

Burch’s involvement in her synagogue, Shaare Emeth, began when her kids attended the preschool. Now in her 12th consecutive year volunteering for the Shirlee Green Preschool at Shaare Emeth, she has coordinated various activities including Teacher Appreciation Dinners, Parent Relations, Purim Carnival, Shushan Bakery, and the Parent Advisory Council’s (PAC) dinner. At one point she was the co-chair of PAC. Directing her efforts at other areas within Shaare Emeth, Burch joined the programming committee. She has chaired Passover Possibilities which included the participation of Shaare Emeth’s entire religious school and is a Mitzvah Day leader this year. Burch also serves on Shaare Emeth’s board.

“Janne is a pleasure to work with,” reported Jerri Livingston, a member of Shaare Emeth’s programming committee and on WRJ’s board. “Any job she is asked to do she gives her all.” Livingston credits Burch with coming up with the idea, and then chairing, Shaare Emeth’s Tu B’Shevat Chocolate Oneg.

In addition to her activities at her synagogue, Burch is involved at Bellerive School where her children attend. She has served as Vice President of School Services for the past two years and chaired the school’s Trivia Silent Auction. Burch was in charge of Staff Appreciation and chair of Heritage Day. Not content to stop there, for nine years she served as Cookie Chair for her daughters’ Girl Scout troops, including two years where she held this position for two different troops because her daughters’ participation in scouting overlapped. “At one time I had 2,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies in my home,” Burch recalled.

Burch’s spirit for helping others has become contagious in her home: three of her daughters, along with Burch, grow their hair for Locks of Love, making their ten-inch donations during Lag B’Omer.

“I volunteer almost every single day of my life because I really like it,” Burch said. “I have four kids and enjoy being involved in their lives. It’s fun.”

Edie Sobel

For someone who will be 85 years old in August, Edie Sobel is always on the go. Monday through Friday, at 8 a.m., she opens the office at the Crown Center for Senior Living. Sobel turns on the computers, records the day’s activities on the phone line, checks the mail, does some bookkeeping, and puts out puzzles for the residents. And she does all of this as a volunteer five days a week and on weekends and evenings if needed. “I’m not one to sit around…I want to keep busy,” Sobel said. “Even before I moved in I talked to Nicki Goldstein (the executive director) and told her I’d have some free time if she needed someone to help. ” Six years later she’s still helping.

In addition to her “job” Sobel participates in a bell choir and is part of a group that is knitting blankets for homeless babies. Two to three mornings a week, at 5:30 a.m., she goes to the gym to exercise. After a shower and breakfast, Sobel’s in the office ready to start the day. To borrow a popular phrase: she “does more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day.”

Sobel was recognized for her volunteer efforts in 2005 when she was chosen Volunteer of the Year by the St. Louis Chapter of A.D.A.M. at Crown Center.

Cory Spielberg

It’s a special kind of person who volunteers to help others. It’s an extraordinary kind of person who starts not just one, but two, philanthropies to help others. Cory Spielberg is that extraordinary individual.

His journey into the area of volunteering began when he was a 19-year-old student at Saint Louis University: Spielberg decided to become a Big Brother. “Coming from a family of older brothers, I had always wanted a little brother,” Spielberg explained. “I really feel that having somebody who’s older, with some life experience, that person can mentor someone.” Fast forward to the present, Spielberg’s Little Brother now is 16, doing well in school, and starting his first job. “I have seen some of his friends and members of his community who have gone in a different direction,” Spielberg said. “This is one organization that I feel you can really make a difference in and change the direction of someone’s life.”

Spielberg’s enthusiasm for Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) motivated him to start an organization to raise awareness and money for BBBS. The philanthropy, The Friend’s Group for Big Brothers Big Sisters, began in February 2006. Currently he’s working on a fund raising event, Big Brothers Big Sisters 2007 Summer Fantasy Camp, for July 2007 with a goal to raise $100,000. With the cost to match each “Big” with a “Little” at $1,000, Spielberg hopes enough people participate to help him reach his goal.

The genesis for Spielberg’s second philanthropic fund is sorrow and loss. “Two months ago, one of my best friends, Alan Green, passed away,” Spielberg said. “We decided we wanted to start a fund to carry on his name and his tradition of giving.” The Alan Green 4 Chesed Philanthropic Fund honors Spielberg’s friend. Green was partial to four charities in particular, hence the “4” in the title of the fund. Managed by the Jewish Federation, the beneficiaries of the fund are: BBBS, Ronald McDonald House, Center for Human Nutrition at Washington University, and Siteman Cancer Center’s breast cancer efforts. The fund’s kick-off event is a party on June 23, 5 p.m.-10p.m., at the clubhouse at the Summit Lofts in Creve Coeur. Spielberg is suggesting a minimum donation of $50 to enjoy an evening of food, entertainment, and learning about the organizations about which his friend Alan was passionate.

In addition to these two philanthropies, Spielberg donates his time on two committees at Siteman: Celebrate Fitness and CUREiosity. He attributes his interest in helping others, and in having the ability to start two organizations, to his parents and others who have encouraged him.

For information about any of the events Spielberg is organizing for his two funds, contact him at [email protected] or call 314-504-6219.