I have been blessed with a joyful and fulfilling rabbinate I served one congregation for all but two years of my career. I came to Congregation Shaare Emeth, then in University City, Missouri as Assistant Rabbi following my ordination from 1965-68. I then served as Associate Rabbi of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation from 1968-70. I learned much from my mentors and senior colleagues Julius Nodel and Morris Lieberman, both of blessed memory.
In June, 1970, I returned to Shaare Emeth as Co-Rabbi with the promise of succession. Julius Nodel left for Honolulu in August 1971 and I became Senior Rabbi of the 1300 family congregation at the age of 32. The congregation had been involved in a bitter dispute over moving to a new location. During my two years in Baltimore, members defeated a resolution to move to a more suburban location which the congregation owned. Divisions were still emotional when I returned. My rabbinic “honeymoon” was short lived, as the lay leadership and I had to assure a future for the congregation. I was able to broker a compromise by moving the school to our suburban location and leaving the sanctuary in place. Membership immediately began to grow. A music conservatory bought old building in 1978, and we moved into our new synagogue, now called the Stiffman Sanctuary, in 1980.
I worked to build a congregation of warmth and personal relationships. Shaare Emeth subsequently grew to about 2,000 families by the time of my retirement in 2004. My partner of twenty-eight years, Cantor Edward Fogel, my Assistant and Associate rabbis, my educator, and a dedicated lay leadership which we had cultivated helped to make Shaare Emeth a family of families. We offered a variety of worship experiences, social action projects, adult education opportunities and outstanding lecture series. I led over a dozen trips to Israel, Eastern Europe, China, and the former Soviet Union, where we met our Refusenik family who now live in St. Louis.
I was active in the Jewish and general community, emphasizing social action and interfaith activities. I served as an officer and board member of our Jewish Federation, JCRC, JCC, St. Louis Interfaith Clergy Council and many other organizations. On a national level, I served as a member and then Chair of the CCAR Committee on Ethics and Appeals, and later as the head of the CCAR delegation to the Joint Commission on Synagogue Music. I was on the board of the UJA Rabbinic Cabinet and participated in their missions.
Arlene and I recently celebrated our fifty-fourth anniversary. She had a distinguished career as the Barbara A. Bailey Professor of Social Work in the George Warren Brown School of Washington University in St. Louis. We are the parents of Dr. Michael Stiffman of St. Paul, a physician; Marti Stiffman Zuckerman, an attorney; and Cheryl Stiffman Maayan, (RHSOE) Head of School of the Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School of St. Louis. We are blessed with eight wonderful grandchildren aged 12 – 18.
In retirement, I have continued my community involvement, my piano lessons, increased our travel and deepened our quality time with family. Thanks to my successor, Jim Bennett, I remain active in our congregation as well. Arlene and I feel blessed to have shared such a wonderful life together.