Harry M. Offenbach, 96; was past president of JCRC and honorary chancellor of Jewish Chatauqua Society

Harry M. Offenbach, a past president of the Jewish Community Relations Council and honorary chancellor of the Jewish Chautauqua Society.

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Harry M. Offenbach, a past president of the Jewish Community Relations Council and honorary chancellor of the Jewish Chautauqua Society, died Wednesday, Jan. 23 of cardiac complications.  He was 96 and had been a longtime resident of University City before moving to The Brentmoor in Ladue. 

Mr. Offenbach was executive vice president of H. Siegfried & Sons, Inc., a manufacturer of men’s slacks, until his retirement in 1980, and was also a clinical psychologist. He was active for many years in the local Jewish community and was widely admired for his leadership skills, intellect, Torah scholarship and interfaith work.  He was honored in 2010 as one of the St. Louis Jewish Light’s inaugural class of ‘Unsung Hero’ award winners for his dedication to community service.

After many years of service with the Jewish Chautauqua Society, which promoted understanding of Judaism through interfaith educational outreach, Mr. Offenbach was named Honorary National Chancellor. He received the society’s Alfred E. and Genevieve Weil Medallion Award in recognition of his long service at a special program at Temple Israel in 2008.

Mr. Offenbach served as President of the JCRC from 1973 to 1979 and was also active with Jewish Family & Children’s Service, the Jewish Federation and its campaign, the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and the Brodsky Library.  He was president of the Temple Israel Brotherhood and served on the congregation’s board of directors.

Rabbi Mark Shook, Emeritus of Temple Israel, said Mr. Offenbach — whom he met soon after he arrived in St. Louis in 1972 — was one of his mentors. “Fresh out of rabbinical school, I encountered this layperson who knew more about Judaism than I did… His love of Torah was infectious.  We all caught the fever.  His life combined a heart of gold and an inquiring mind never satisfied with simple answers.”

Batya Abramson-Goldstein, executive director of the JCRC, said Mr. Offenbach — through his time as president and in the years that followed —  was in “ceaseless pursuit of understanding and cooperation among St. Louis various religious, racial, ethnic and civic groups…with warmth and with love. 

Offenbach was born in the northwestern Pennsylvania town of Bradford on May 15, 1916, the son of Solomon and Shulamit Laska (Jennie) Offenbach, Polish immigrants. He earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from the University of Michigan, and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Chicago.  He intended to earn an M.D. and become a psychiatrist, but as he put it in a 1996 interview with the Jewish Light: “Hitler put a stop to my plans for medical school.”  During World War II he served in the U.S. Army as judge advocate general and clinical psychologist at the military hospital closest to the Battle of the Bulge.

He married the late Enid Gella Siegfried on the day of the Pearl Harbor attack, Dec. 7, 1941. The couple had three children, daughter Jan Nykin and sons Stefan and Sigi. Enid died Sept. 26, 1981, just short of the couple’s 40th wedding anniversary.

During a funeral service last week at Temple Israel, where Rabbi Amy Feder officiated, each of Mr. Offenbach’s three children shared warm memories of their father, who always emphasized learning and always made learning enjoyable.

Following the funeral service at Temple Israel, burial was at the New Mount Sinai Cemetery, 8340 Gravois Road.

Survivors include Mr. Offenbach’s longtime companion, Helen Schwartz; three children, Stefan Offenbach (Carol) of Kansas City Jan Offenbach Nykin of St. Louis and Sigi Offenbach (Sheri) of Chicago; seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. 

Memorial contributions preferred to Temple Israel for the Offenbach Fund for Interfaith Education, 1 Rabbi Alvan D. Rubin Drive, St. Louis, Mo. 63141.