Milton Movitz, passionate supporter of Jewish education, Israel, dies at 82

Above, Galia and Milton Movitz at their home in 2011. 

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

Milton Movitz, a successful businessman who applied his entrepreneurial skills as an active volunteer in the Jewish community of St. Louis for over 50 years, died Monday, March 11, after fighting a debilitating illness for the past two years. He was 82 and a lifelong resident of St. Louis.

Among his many community service roles, Mr. Movitz was a past president of the Jewish Light Board of Trustees from 2007-2009, during which he was credited for a major financial turnaround for the publication.

When Mr. Movitz assumed office as head of the Light board in May 2007, he said, “This is my third go-around as a member of the Jewish Light board, and I never wanted to be president; I just wanted to help keep the place clean and play devil’s advocate. My background is as a butcher and a shoe man, but I’m honored to have been asked to take on this task.”

To say that Mr. Movitz hit the ground running is not just a figure of speech. He possessed charisma, dedication and practical leadership skills.  Mr. Movitz indeed started his business career as a butcher and later became owner of the MC Shoe Co. for 30 years, working with his partner, Les Cooper.

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“Milton and Les were more like brothers than just business partners,” said Mr. Movitz’s wife of 36 years, Galia Movitz. “In all of their business dealings they were known not only for business savvy, but for being men of honesty, integrity and loyalty.” 

Milton Movitz was born in St. Louis on Nov. 27, 1936, the son of the late Sam and the late Ethelyn McCammon Movitz. He was a graduate of University City High School, and attended Washington University. He served in the U.S. Naval Reserves.

Mr. Movitz was a mentor to many, including myself. He could always be counted on to be a sounding board in both good and challenging times.  He took the helm of the Light board at a critical time for its financial viability and instated policies that brought in more revenue, reduced costs and increased the involvement of his fellow board members. He also oversaw the move of the Light offices from the Federation building to its present location in the Covenant Place complex. 

In a 2007 interview with the Light, Mr. Movitz said he became deeply involved in the Jewish community after participating in the Jewish Federation’s Leadership Development Council. The three-year program led to Mr. Movitz’s first trip to Israel in 1973 to attend the prime minister’s third economic conference, where he met Golda Meir. 

“From there, I just got more and more involved,” Mr. Movitz said at the time. 

Mr. Movitz loved Israel and took part in numerous Jewish Federation missions to the Jewish State. On one such trip, he was in Israel the day after Israelis accomplished the dramatic rescue of 103 passengers on an Air France passenger plane that had been held hostage by members of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the German Baader-Meinhof Gang. The rescue took place on July 4, 1976, the Bicentennial of the United States.

Before the days of email and even faxes, Mr. Movitz telephoned in his story about the arrival of some of the soldiers who took part in that historic rescue. His compelling story appeared on Page One of the Light’s July 7, 1976 issue under the banner headline: “Rescue Boosts Israeli Morale.” 

Mr. Movitz met his beloved wife, the former Galia Gudai on one of his many trips to Israel. They worked closely together in all of their community activities, supporting a myriad of causes locally as well as those related to Israel. 

In addition to the Light, Mr. Movitz served on boards all over the Jewish community: Federation, MERS, the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, Camp Sabra, Central Agency for Jewish Education, Hillel and others. The Movitzes also are longtime members and supporters of Congregation B’nai Amoona.

“As I think about my dear friend Milton, I  recall the Biblical notion of one — often a patriarch or matriarch or even God God’s-self — who ‘goes out in front of the encampment or the nation.’ You see, there was no one more committed, no one I know who was more willing to step-up and take the lead — especially at liminal moments, moments of crisis, moments of uncertainty, moments that required clear-eyed, strategic, bold, innovative, creative and out-of the-box thinking,” said Rabbi Carnie Rose of B’nai Amoona. “Milton (Meir, the one who catalyzes clarity and  illumination) courageously  ‘went out before the people’ and led us, without hesitation or trepidation, to broader horizons and loftier vistas. His absence, especially at these challenging times, has been, is and will be felt for generations to come.” 

Mr. Movitz had a particular interest in Jewish education. He and his wife were early and consistent supporters of the Jewish Student Union (JSU) and the Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School, and its predecessor school, Solomon Schechter Day School of St. Louis.

“I think education in the Jewish community is really important, because our children are the future, and we need to give them the opportunity to learn who they are in order to keep our community viable,” Movitz said in 2007.

The Movitzes were co-chairs of Schechter leading up to the school’s 2012 merger with the Saul Mirowitz Day School–Reform Jewish Academy, becoming the Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School.

In an email to the Mirowitz community, the school wrote, “Our community lost a treasured visionary today. Milton Movitz, past president of our board passed away this morning. As a team, Milton and Galia have been a powerhouse of energy and complete devotion to Mirowitz.” 

In 2015, JSU renamed its Israel Scholars program the Galia and Milton Movitz Senator John Danforth Israel Scholars program to honor the Movitzes’ support.

In addition to his wife Galia, survivors include children Cheryl Leatart (Brian), Joy Goldberg (Bruce); Talia Bashani (fiancé Gareth Hoernel) and Daniel Movitz; and three grandchildren.

Funeral services will take place at 1 p.m. Wednesday, March 13 at Congregation B’nai Amoona, where Rabbi Rose and Cantor Sharon Nathanson will officiate. Burial will take place at Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol Cemetery, 9125 Ladue Road.

Memorial contributions are preferred to the Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School, or to the Jewish Student Union (JSU) of St. Louis.