Traditional honors Altmans

Veteran community leaders Frank and Ilse Atlman were the guests of honor at the Traditional Congregation’s 35th Annual Israel Bonds Tribute Banquet, last Saturday, Dec. 5, an event, which featured remarks by Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist Bret Stephens and was attended by 120 people.

The Altmans, who have held numerous leadership and volunteer positions in the Jewish communities of both Southern Illinois and Greater St. Louis, and who have received numerous previous awards, agreed to be the honorees at the Traditional Congregation Israel Bonds dinner, one of the last such events held at a local congregation, because of their “deep commitment and love for the State of Israel, the Jewish community and Traditional Congregation,” according to Stanley Greenberg, a member of the Event Committee.


The event was co-chaired by Traditional Congregation members Esther Abramson-Krut, who hosted the first such program at her home in 1974, and Dr. Isaac Boniuk. “We are all very fond of Traditional, our synagogue, our shul, and we are grateful to Esther Abramson-Krut, who hosted the first of these dinners in her basement back in 1974,” Boniuk said. “We are also grateful to Frank and Ilse Altman, who with their entire family exemplify love of their synagogue, their community, their country and the State of Israel.”

Boniuk pointed out that in the course of their long careers in community service, Frank and Ilse Altman had been active in both the Jewish Federation of Southern Illinois and Western Kentucky, and read out a letter of congratulations from its president, Burton Zwick and executive director, Stephen Low, which said there could be “no better example of devotion to community, whose service is like the Light of Hanukkah during this season.”

Boniuk added that Traditional Congregation has continued its tradition of hosting an annual Israel Bonds event even after the closure of the St. Louis office of State of Israel Bonds, “to show our continued devotion to the State of Israel.” Shelby L. Goldstein, the Chicago-based field representative of the Israel Bonds/Development Corporation for Israel, who is originally from St. Louis, also attended the event.

Rabbi Seth Gordon of Traditional Congregation praised the committee and its co-chairs for “the largest crowd we have ever had for an Israel Bonds dinner,” which he said was a “tribute their hard work as well as to Frank and Ilse Altman. He added that the Altmans, now in their 90s continue to be active in all aspects of congregational and community life, “across the board, including Frank being available for a minyan each day, leading a service at the Jewish Center for Aged (Cedars), and mentoring bar and bat mitzvah kids.” He added that Ilse Altman, a Holocaust survivor, lectures as a docent at the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center.

Dr. Barry Milder, a member of Traditional said that the Altmans exemplify the answer to the question, “what is the right time for teshuvah, return? Their answer is anytime and everywhere. That is what Ilse and Frank Altman would tell you. In Ilse’s own words, ‘Whenever we’ve had tsuris, G-d has watched over us; He was there to gude us.”

Milder continued, “When Ilse Katz’s family lost their home near Frankfurt after Kristallnacht, when 16-year-old Ilse disembarked from the last freighter carrying Jewish children from Nazi Germany to the United States to find that the family sponsoring her wanted a boy and not her; when she was offered one night’s lodging by the Jewish Federation representatives who met her at the wharf, when she struggled to learn English to get through her high school in America, that is when the Jewish roots imbued by her parents gave her the strength to push ahead…

“When Frank’s father lost his life’s savings in the bank failure of the Depression, and his St. Louis household fell abruptly from the middle class; when there was nolonger family money to send Frank to college and most people could barely put food on the table, that is when the Jewish roots imbued by his parents gave him strength. Frank literally save his pennies from the $18 monthly stipend he received as a Federal-financed supervisor of youth activities, and paid his own way through Washington University.”

Altman became a successful accountant and with his wife, Ilse became active with the Agudas Achim synagogue in Southern Illinois before moving back to St. Louis, where they became immersed in synagogue and Jewish community life. Among several community positions held by Frank Altman, he served as president of the Jewish Center for Aged, now the Cedars at the JCA, and has continued to conduct worship services for the residents for their well-being and the continued fulfillment of the mission of the agency to serve the needs of the frail elderly in the Jewish community.

Jean and Stanely Estrin, long active at Traditional, amused the attendees with a clever satire on the Megillah of Esther, re-naming it the “Altman Megillah,” in which they re-worded the Book of Esther, based on the lives and works of Frank and Ilse Altman, chanted in both Hebrew and English.