St. Louis ‘olim’ honored for contributions to Israel

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BY MICHAEL OBERLANDER, Special To The Jewish Light

I am often asked why Sandy Koufax is my favorite baseball player; after all, he retired two years before I was born. I guess for the same reason that I was rooting for Max Fried to win the last game of the 2021 World Series and cheered when Jacob Steinmetz was drafted in the third round by the Arizona Diamondbacks.  

I take vicarious pride in the baseball exploits of members of my Jewish family. It is that same feeling of kinship that saddens when I think about the 1919 Black Sox scandal and how Arnold Rothstein conspired to fix the World Series leading to the banishment of Shoeless Joe Jackson.  And how ashamed I was of Bernie Madoff’s fraud.

Michael Oberlander was the chief philanthropy officer of Jewish Federation of St. Louis from 2016-2019. He and his family moved to Israel in 2019 after living in St. Louis for many years. He is still an avid reader of the Jewish Light.

Nefesh B’Nefesh, the nonprofit organization that promotes and facilitates aliyah from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, recently announced the 2022 winners of the Sylvan Adams Bonei Zion Prize that recognizes outstanding Anglo olim (immigrants) who embody the spirit of modern-day Zionism by contributing in a significant way to the State of Israel. St. Louis, and in particular the St. Louis Jewish community, can and should be vicariously proud of the fact that St. Louis is well represented amongst the well deserving awardees:  

Pamela and Aba Claman: Community & Nonprofit 

Pamela Fox Claman made aliyah from St. Louis in 1987. Together with her husband, Aba, who made aliyah from California in 2005, she co-founded Thank Israeli Soldiers, a nonprofit dedicated to educating, embracing and empowering Israel’s soldiers from the beginning of their service through transition back to civilian life. 

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More recently, they created IDF MOMENTUM, a premier transition program that emphasizes post-army transition and has reached more than 65,000 soldiers.  

Even after she made aliyah, Pamela Claman has been a passionate and generous supporter of the St. Louis Jewish community, including sponsoring various events for Women’s Philanthropy at Jewish Federation of St. Louis. The Clamans also open their home in Jerusalem to St. Louis groups that visit Israel, including members of the Federation’s Show Me Israel community mission.  

Her parents, Marilyn and Sam Fox, and siblings and family have been extremely generous philanthropists throughout the St. Louis community.  It would be impossible to name all of those who have benefited from the Fox family’s philanthropy, but through the Jewish Community Center, Federation, Washington and St. Louis universities, the Boy Scouts, St. Louis Art Museum, Symphony Orchestra, Science Center, Opera Theatre, Muny and Zoo, we have all benefited directly and indirectly from their generosity.

Dr. Morris “Mo” Hartstein: Global Impact 

Mo Hartstein made aliyah with his wife, Elisa, and their four children, from St. Louis in 2004. He was a professor of ophthalmology and plastic surgery at St. Louis University, and now is a professor at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine and director of ophthalmic plastic and reconstructive surgery at Yitzchak Shamir Medical Center (Assaf Harofeh).  He is also the founder director of Operation Ethiopia, whose mission is to provide quality eye care, including treatment for and prevention of blindness and eye disease, to poor people in Ethiopia.  

In 2014, the Hartstein children suggested going on “vacation” to volunteer in the Jewish community of Gondar, Ethiopia. After seeing the abject poverty and lack of health care, Mo returned to Ethiopia the next year — and has been back more than a dozen times — to provide eye care to Ethiopians in need, including overseeing almost 1,000 sight-restoring cataract surgeries and treating more than 7,000 patients.  

He has also brought 18 Ethiopian ophthalmologists to Israel for training.  He joined President Reuven Rivlin on the first Israeli presidential visit to Ethiopia in 2018 and has addressed several Knesset committees regarding the situation in Ethiopia. 

Hartstein follows in the footsteps of his parents, Jack (z’l) and Merle (z’l) Hartstein. Jack Hartstein was a caring and giving ophthalmologist, and Merle was referred to by the Jewish Light as “an indefatigable volunteer for those in need.” 

Merle reluctantly agreed to be named an “Unsung Hero” by the Light in 2011 in recognition of her leadership in two programs of the Vaad Hoeir for people in need: the Rabbi Sholom Rikin Maos Chitim/Tzedakah Fund and the Barbara Mendelsohn Tomchei Shabbos Fund.

Asher Fredman: Young Leadership

Fredman, who made aliyah from New York in 2008, serves as the director for Israel at the Abraham Accords Peace Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to strengthening and expanding the Abraham Accords. He is also the founder of the Israeli-Emirati Forum, a grassroots platform to bring together Israelis, Emiratis and Bahrainis from diverse backgrounds, and he is a fellow at the Kohelet Policy Forum. 

Fredman served for nine years in the Israeli government — as chief of staff to Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, as senior coordinator for international affairs at the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, and in the National Communications Directorate of the Prime Minister’s Office.

While Fredman may not be St. Louis born and bred, his paternal grandparents, Aaron and Ruth (z’l) Fredman and a large part of his extended family are and were stalwart members of the St. Louis Jewish community, founding and supporting shuls, day schools and the Torah M’Tzion Kollel.  Ruth Fredman, in particular, was passionate in her support of the creative arts and of women celebrating their Jewish heritage. That is one reason why her family founded the Ruth Fredman Bat Mitzvah Program to help girls develop their identities as Jewish women.

Each of these awardees should rightly feel proud for all that they have accomplished.  And, as one of our sages (Rabbi Isaiah Di Trani, c. 1185-1250) pointed out, dwarfs who stand on the shoulders of giants see farther than the giants themselves.  Each of these awardees is a giant standing on the shoulders of the even greater giants.  

And as their families share in the pride, so should the St. Louis Jewish community.