Twenty years ago, while he was sitting shiva for his father, Israel Stern, Jules Stern of Spring Valley received a visit from Rabbi Moshe Tendler, the religious leader of his late father’s synagogue, the Community Synagogue of Monsey.
“My father had been a longtime member and president of the congregation,” Mr. Stern said. “I asked Rabbi Tendler if he could suggest a continuing memorial for him. He came up with the idea for a lecture series.”
The idea was readily accepted. Indeed, on March 19, the Israel and Pearl Stern Memorial Lecture series will present its 20th annual speaker. (When Mr. Stern’s mother, Pearl, died some nine years ago, her name was added to the program.)
The series, funded by the Stern family, has brought the community many distinguished speakers. This year’s talk will feature Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman and CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Mr. Hoenlein, a repeat presenter, spoke in 2010. The talk’s title then was “Assessing U.S.-Israel Relations: Is the Special Relationship Still Intact?”
That’s the same thing he’ll be speaking about this time, said Mr. Stern. He and his wife, Lila, are affiliated with Shaaray Israel, formerly the JCC of Spring Valley. The only difference between the last talk and the upcoming one is the Roman numeral “II” in the talk’s title. “We’ll hear what has taken place in the seven years since the first lecture,” Mr. Stern said. Generally, about 150 people attend each lecture, hailing not only from Rockland County but from northern New Jersey, Westchester, and Long Island as well.
His father clearly made a mark on the community, Mr. Stern said. “In May 1997, an op-ed in the Rockland Jewish Reporter was basically an obit of my dad; and after dad died I got a letter from Rabbi Nachum Muschel, principal of the Adolph Schreiber Hebrew Academy of Rockland, full of beautiful things about my father.” As it happens, Rabbi Muschel was the third speaker in the lecture series.
Mr. Stern chooses the speakers. “I choose two types of speakers for the series — people who are deeply involved in the rabbinate and in religion, prominent names in the community and worldwide; and people who can give us a broad feeling with reference to Israel and the Jews at large.” The lectures draw attendees from all streams of the Jewish community, he said.
A list of past lecturers reads like a Who’s Who of the American Jewish community, including such noted rabbis and scholars as Rabbi Tendler, as well as his son, Mordecai; Richard Joel, former president of Yeshiva University; Rabbi Meir Yaakov Soloveichik, and Rabbi Abraham Twerski. (“I remember that when Rabbi Twerski walked into the room — with his black suit and long beard — everyone thought he would speak Yiddish,” Mr. Stern said. “But he spoke the King’s English.”)
David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, Wall Street Journal writer Brett Stevens, and Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, have represented other parts of the wider Jewish community. After each lecture, which is followed by brunch, Mr. Stern conducts a survey to see what people thought of the presentation. At least once, a speaker was so popular that he was invited back the following year.
“We do everything we can to attract as great a number of people as possible from the community at large,” Mr. Stern said. “That’s what my father was — a community person. A Jew was a Jew, and a human being was a human being.” Among his other efforts, Israel Stern was a founding member of Good Samaritan Hospital’s Foundation for Better Health. Twenty-five years ago, Jules and Lila Stern dedicated a Jewish meditation room at the hospital in honor of his parents.
Who: Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman and CEO of the Conference of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations
What: Will speak on “Assessing U.S.-Israel Relations II: Is the Special Relationship Still Intact?”
When: Sunday, March 19, at 10:15 a.m.
Where: At The Community Synagogue of Monsey, West Maple Avenue at the corner of Cloverdale Lane
Why: For the 20th annual Israel and Pearl Stern Memorial Lecture