Ronni Handelman, 62, was tireless volunteer

Ronni Handelman

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

Ronni Handelman, described by family members and friends as a tireless volunteer leader, past president of the St. Louis Regional Chapter of the American Jewish Committee and a 2007 Woman of Achievement, died last Friday (May 13) at Barnes- Jewish Hospital after a five-year battle with cancer. She was 62 and a longtime resident of the St. Louis metropolitan area.

Mrs. Handelman was born in Chicago in 1948, the daughter of Esther and the late Foster Schlutz. She was a graduate of Washington University with undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work. She became a licensed clinical social worker. Mrs. Handelman deployed her skills not only professionally, but also to her volunteer work.

Alice S. Handelman, Mrs. Handelman’s sister-in-law, said, “Compassion for others was the key to her volunteerism. Whether she was hosting foreign visitors, raising money, building bridges between diverse communities or initiating exciting new programs, Ronni Handelman made the task a pleasure and she always did it with a smile.”

Barry Rosenberg, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis said, “The passing of Ronni Handelman is an enormous personal and communal loss. For decades, Ronni provided warm, inspired, energetic and selfless leadership to the Jewish and larger community. Her reach was enormous and her impact was monumental.” Rosenberg also noted, “Ronni was a past president of the Women’s Division and played important leadership roles in numerous St. Louis Jewish organizations including the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Community Relations Council, Cultural Leadership and St. Louis Hillel, among others.”

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Mrs. Handelman was a Lion of Judah awardee for her generous support of the Annual Jewish Federation Campaign and Israel. She was also a vice president of the Jewish Federation board, a member of the National Women’s Board of United Jewish Communities (now Jewish Federations of North America), vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council and chaired the Government Relations Office of the Missouri Jewish Federations.

Both Nancy Lisker, regional director of the St. Louis Chapter of the American Jewish Committee, and former AJC director Rosalyn Borg warmly remembered Mrs. Handelman.

“For those of us who had the privilege to work alongside her, Ronni will forever remain in our hearts and memory as the intelligent, pioneering and committed Jewish community leader who paved the way for generations to follow,” Lisker wrote in an email to AJC supporters.

Among Mrs. Handelman’s many community activities was her role as co-founder (with Karen Kalish) of Cultural Leadership, a program that promotes understanding between Jewish, African-American and other youths of varying ethnic and religious backgrounds. “She repeatedly demonstrated that she had a deep sense of social responsibility and was committed to social action,” said Kalish. Mrs. Handelman was also Kalish’s successor as chair of the Cultural Leadership Board.

Mrs. Handelman also coordinated an interfaith program for Bosnian relief designed to help war victims through the Jewish Community Relations Council. “Ronni was always wholly engaged and wonderfully effective,” said Batya Abramson-Goldstein, executive director of the JCRC. “Her compassion for others was expressed through her outstanding service as chair of the JCRC Refugee Relief Effort and the JCRC International Human Rights Committee.”

Mrs. Handelman was a board member of St. Louis Hillel and a member of the National Hillel Board of Directors. She was a member of the African American/Jewish Task Force of St. Louis and took part in several missions to the State of Israel and Russia.

In addition to being named a 2007 Woman of Achievement by the Journal Newspapers and KMOX Radio, Mrs. Handelman received the Netzach Award from the American Jewish Committee, and the Brotherhood/Sisterhood Award of the National Conference for Community and Justice of St. Louis.

Among Mrs. Handelman’s survivors are her husband of 43 years, Gary Handelman of Frontenac; two sons, Michael Handelman (Karen) of Phoenix and David Handelman of New York City; a daughter, Amy Handelman Garland (Burt) of Ladue; her mother, Esther Schlutz (the late Foster), of Chicago; a sister, Leslie Nadler (Melvin) of Chicago, and five grandchildren. She was the sister-in-law of Howard and Alice Handelman of St. Louis and Neil and Natalie Handelman of St. Louis.

The funeral was at Temple Israel, where Rabbi Amy Feder officiated, and Mrs. Handelman’s children spoke of how their parents stressed being kind to others. Burial at New Mount Sinai Cemetery was private

Memorial contributions preferred to the Ronni Handelman Lung Cancer Research Fund, Barnes/Jewish Hospital Foundation, 1002 Highlands Plaza Drive West, Suite 140. St. Louis, Mo. 63110.