Marvin Beckerman

Lisa Mandel
Marvin Beckerman outside the Jewish Community Center. Photo: Lisa Mandel 

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

For some, civic involvement is a way of life. For Marvin Beckerman, promoting civic involvement in the lives of others is the only way forward.

“We’ve influenced the voting of hundreds of thousands of kids and, we hope, their parents as well,” said Beckerman, 73, a retired educator. “The idea is to not only get kids informed about election issues, but also for the kids to influence their parents to go out and vote.”

That defines Beckerman’s work with Kids Voting Missouri, a program administered by the Citizenship Education Clearing House (CECH), where Beckerman chairs the advisory board. Since 1988, Beckerman has held various positions with CECH, which partners with schools to teach about local government in conjunction with area officials. Kids Voting allows youngsters to receive sample ballots so they can decide for themselves on propositions and candidates.

“It is good to see them get excited about issues that affect their lives and the lives of others and to try to become more informed and learn about different perspectives on these issues so they can take action,” Beckerman said.

The kids aren’t the only ones who have reaped rewards from Beckerman’s volunteerism.

“It has also influenced my wife and I in terms of our own involvement in the community,” said Beckerman, a father of two. “It has inspired us to see that if kids can do it and can get excited about it and have public officials listen to you whether you win or not, it is something that we ourselves have to be good role models for.”

But when it comes to bolstering involvement, Beckerman works at both ends of the age spectrum. He’s also president of the Older Adult Community Action Program (OACAP), which has educational programming and an advocacy component, both of which help seniors to stay tuned in to issues.

“OACAP is very dear to my heart in the sense that there are a lot of issues at the local, state and federal level that should be of concern to seniors having to do with health care, safety, hunger and the like,” he said. “What we do is primarily advocacy at the state level to identify specific pieces of legislation to focus on every year.”

For many years, Beckerman was chairman of the social action committee he helped establish at Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel and was involved in a wide variety of activities, from interactions with the Jewish Social Action Network and Interfaith Partnership to serving meals at Ronald McDonald House.

He also headed the adult education committee at BSKI and is co-chairman of that group at Kol Rinah, the synagogue’s successor institution.

“It gives me the opportunity to contribute to my congregation and to become better informed myself as a Jewish person,” he said.

Beckerman is also treasurer of the Midwest Jewish Congress, an organization that focuses heavily on constitutional issues.

Previously, he served as part of Missourians Against Handgun Violence and did volunteer work for the GED program here. At one point, he worked at Upward Bound, where he prepared disadvantaged students for college. In addition to his time as president of Northside Education Unlimited, he also served on educational advisory committees for the Missouri Bar Association and the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center.

Beckerman says it’s difficult for him to choose any one thing he does as his favorite.

“They are all different and they are all favorites,” he said.

But some of his passion for civic involvement has deep roots in a troubled time in American history. Beckerman is a graduate of Soldan High School and was there in 1954 when the decision in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision was handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court. It declared that separate public schools for blacks and whites was unconstitutional.

“I was at Soldan during the time of desegregation, and it had a very big impact on my life,” he said. “Soldan was featured nationally on the ‘NBC Nightly News.’ ”

He went on to become part of intergroup-relations work during his college years and met the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Nikki Goldstein, who nominated Beckerman, said she feels that Beckerman’s experiences in high school played a big part in his desire to see social justice triumph. They also helped shape his belief that involvement and education are vital, she said.

“Marvin is somebody that provides leadership in whatever kind of volunteer role he is involved with,” said Goldstein, executive director of Crown Center, a senior housing facility where Beckerman leads the Shabbat services group.

“He has the ability, in a gentle, diplomatic way, to deal with important issues and concerns, and get involved.”

It is all part of Beckerman’s lifelong commitment to making a better world for others.

“He’s just continued that in a whole new realm of the community,” she said.

Marvin Beckerman

Age: 73

Residence: Creve Coeur

Quote: “The idea is to not only get kids informed about election issues, but also for the kids to influence their parents to go out and vote.”