A few weeks ago our Jewish community was rocked by several notable deaths. This column is neither a eulogy nor obituary, but an attempt to sort out two lives of incredible merit and inspiration.
I am still thinking through what it is like without Stan Wax and Regina Brenner. They were both, in their respective ways, giants in our community. Their lives were dedicated to strengthening Jewish life in the Lehigh Valley. They were staunch Zionists. They were active in several synagogues. They were giving of their time and resources, and they were uniquely focused on the future.
Regina was an early supporter of our Partnership2Gether relationship with Yoav, Israel. She joined the steering committee, visited Yoav on a “volun-tour” program and returned to Yoav on a leadership mission tasked to define a partnership program which would transcend time. She helped us focus on children and youth and made sure the program always included Israeli teens who would visit the Lehigh Valley each year and work in our day camp and develop friends with their peers. Get the kids involved, she knew, and the parents will connect.
Regina was a Holocaust survivor and a frequent speaker in our Holocaust Resource Center’s outreach program to middle and high schools. She was a regular visitor to these schools and spoke about her and her family’s experiences during some difficult times. She was motivated to remember the past and honor those who perished through educating a future generation on the perils of evil unchecked. She was a powerful public speaker and cherished the interaction with these youth so they would make the right decisions when faced with bigotry, racism, or intolerance. She knew the importance of education and that investing in the youth was the only way to insure a future free from hatred.
Stan Wax never asked anyone to do anything that he was not prepared to do himself. Among his numerous leadership positions he was Jewish Federation past president and lifetime honorary officer. His efforts helped solidify our Lehigh Valley Jewish Foundation, the Federation’s community endowment program. He created the first family supporting foundation, the Wax Family Fund, and was a financial whiz who helped many agencies maintain policies of fiscal transparency and accountability. He reminded board members that we can do whatever we want with our own money, but when we become the custodians of communal charitable funds, we have a higher level of fiduciary responsibility.
I travelled to Israel with Stan on seven or eight trips. While he loved touring, nice hotels and a really good shawarma, he was in another world when visiting with children, teens and young IDF soldiers. His philanthropy was varied: he supported youth Aliyah villages, college students, programs at the Murray Goodman-Allentown ORT Maalot High School and lone soldiers in the IDF, among many others. He was motivated by supporting programs that impacted children because that impacted the future.
In the Lehigh Valley those priorities materialized in his support for the JCC, the Jewish Day School and as a co-founder and co-funder of the Lehigh Valley’s PJ Library program. Prior to his death, the PJ Library program had been responsible for distributing over 15,700 free Jewish books and CDs to children in the Lehigh Valley.
Stan’s love for Israel, his commitment to fierce pro-Israel advocacy and his commitment to the future manifested itself in the Wax Family Fellows program. Stan and his wife Vicki crafted a program of high level speaker experiences, the AIPAC Policy Conference, and a special mission to Israel for selected young leaders. The goal of the program was highlighted from its beginning: get involved; if involved, get more involved; advocate for Israel; advocate for overseas needs; and don’t just be donors who give money, but be philanthropists who give money and work toward insuring our Jewish community’s and Israel’s future.
Regina and Stan never forgot their personal and Jewish pasts. But they were focused on the future, focused on educating and engaging younger people to be involved and to insure a stronger and better future. Their lives were lived with purpose and with merit.
We often lament the passing of those whose involvement and philanthropy were exemplary, perhaps because they were, in fact, so exemplary. Perhaps because it seems harder today to find enough people to carry on those values that built our community and are essential for its future. And perhaps because we understand that they are no longer among us and our memories of them obligate us to continue the higher purposes which defined their lives.
It is for us to fill their shoes, just as they did for those who preceded them. We’re going to need big feet.