Jewish Community Mourns the Loss of Long-time Federation Director

By Stephanie Smartschan
JFLV Director of Marketing

Mark L. Goldstein, beloved husband, father and leader of the Lehigh Valley Jewish community, passed away on October 11, 2018, after living with cancer for an extended time. He was 60 years old.

Mark served as the executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley for the past 16 years.   

The son of a Holocaust survivor, Mark committed his entire professional career to Jewish communal service and his life to Jewish causes. At 6-foot-3, he acted as both a literal and figurative pillar in the Jewish community and was an inspiration to all who knew him. Many of those people have shared their memories of Mark for this article.

“Mark really loved the community and the members of the community,” said Bobby Hammel, past Federation president and long-time friend. “He worked hard for us. He inspired us, he motivated us and he was a great orator both in what he said and what he did.”

“He was always kiddingly called the ‘king of the Jewish community,’” said close family friend Cantor Kevin Wartell. “He just was all-encompassing. As a Jewish professional, his heart was as large as the universe. He was special as a professional, he was even more special as a friend, and I considered him my brother.”

“Mark was a mentor and a very dear friend,” said Eva Levitt, current Federation president. “I will miss him greatly.”

With his signature mustache and Starbucks cup in hand, Mark worked tirelessly to bring the Lehigh Valley Jewish community together, to raise money, to strengthen programs and to build relationships.

“He allowed me to be the lay leader while, at the same time, coaching and tutoring me in what it meant to be a community leader,” said Mark Scoblionko, immediate past president of the Federation. “The community has lost its true leader.”

He was a committed member of Temple Beth El and a committed supporter of the Jewish Community Center, Jewish Day School, Jewish Family Service, Jewish summer camps and all local synagogues. His greatest passions included leading the community on missions to Israel and dressing up for Purim. His leadership has had a lasting impact on the past, present and future of the Jewish community.

“One of the recurring themes in Jewish prayer is that G-d is ‘ozer dalim,’ ‘helper of the weak,’” said Rabbi Moshe Re’em of Temple Beth El. “As human beings, we aspire to model ourselves after that Divine characteristic. Far too often many of us fall short. Mark Goldstein did not … Whether it was coming to the aid of those in need in Israel, Morocco, Ukraine, hurricane victims, or more locally, Mark was always someone you could rely on to help. He cared deeply.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Mark Goldstein’s family as our entire community mourns the loss of our beloved Mark,” Jewish Day School Head of School Amy Golding wrote in an email to parents and the community. “He was one of those individuals you would describe as being larger than life. His presence was a present as he interwove childhood memories with current events, passion for building community with an equal dedication to helping individuals, always ready to share a joke and to provide a shoulder to lean on.”

“He was a mensch. He treated me like I was really somebody he valued and you don’t always have that,” said Debbie Zoller, executive director of Jewish Family Service. “He was always really supportive of me and of JFS. Even if I didn’t always agree with his interpretation of something or his strategy, it didn’t matter because he did it with sincerity, he did it with caring. He felt what he was doing was right, his intentions I think were to do good things and I always felt that.”

“Mark was the true sense of community. His reach was far and wide: the Lehigh Valley and Israel and beyond,” said Sandy Newman, acting managing director of the JCC.  “I am especially thankful for the relationship we had, and with the JCC and Jewish Federation. His presence will be missed, yet his strength and knowledge will continue to teach all of us.”

Even before coming to the Lehigh Valley, Mark had already made a name for himself in the Jewish world. He came here in 2002 after a nine-year term as executive vice president of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater.

Ross Born was instrumental in bringing Mark to this community. “In 2002, the Federation Board of Directors made a concerted effort to recruit an executive director that had the following qualities: impeccable character; committed to Jewish values; ability to nurture relationships – staff, colleagues, community; appreciation of the diversity within the community – and ability to bridge gaps; conviction to do what is the right thing to do, courage to take bold steps to advance an agenda designed to serve the community in the future; familiar with Jewish experiences – religious rituals and communal activities; supportive of the State of Israel; understanding the need to collaborate with community partners, even tempered   . . . and a mensch!,” he said. “The Board of Directors delivered.”

Prior to his work in Virginia, Mark worked at the Jewish Federation of St. Louis for nearly 10 years, serving the Federation in a variety of capacities. He also worked professionally for the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and was a regional program director for United Synagogue Youth.

“He was an incredible person, as committed to the Jewish cause and as accomplished as it gets,” said Yaron Sideman, former consul general of Israel for the mid-Atlantic region.

“I started working with Mark several years ago – what a sweet, pleasant and delightful person he was, both personally and professionally,” said Hal Applebaum, senior vice president and managing director of Israel and global philanthropy for the Jewish Agency for Israel. “Warm and welcoming, always kind and incredibly smart. I will truly miss him. May his memory be a blessing always.”

Through his Federation work, he met some of his closest friends, including fellow Federation directors Mark Freedman, Sam Asher and Alan Margolies. Together, they considered themselves the “four horsemen.” The three spoke together at his funeral.

“The hole in our hearts is larger and deeper than the larger-than-life presence that was Mark's legacy,” Freedman wrote on Facebook along with a picture of the four. “We will miss him beyond all measure.”

Mark was passionate about many aspects of the Jewish world, but often sunk his teeth into projects where he saw the Lehigh Valley could really make a difference.

“Mark truly believed in the remarkable potential of the Ethiopian-Israeli community, and with all his spirit and unending love, worked day and night to ensure the community’s potential could be fully realized,” the Ethiopian National Project posted on Facebook. “He was especially passionate about enabling Ethiopian-Israeli medical and dental students to pursue their studies without worry: for this reason, he spearheaded and forged partnerships that resulted in the Yanoff Master Ethiopian-Israeli Healthcare Scholarships. He has transformed the lives of so many. May his memory serve as a blessing to all.”

“I like to remember Mark, sitting with a small group at camp scholarship committee meetings; working so intently to ensure that each child from an economically strapped family could go to a Jewish camp that summer,” said Barry Halper, past Federation president.

“I recall Mark’s telling of so many stories where he was able to play his part in the tale of our people,” said Judy Alperin, who worked for Mark for 11 years before going on to lead a Jewish community of her own. “Of course, Mark’s commitment to Holocaust memory and the retelling of his father’s emergence from Maudhausen Concentration Camp was a constant theme and part of the foundation that Mark built upon. But he was also incredibly proud of the role he played in raising urgent funds for Operation Exodus, Operation Moses and Operation Solomon – rescuing our brothers and sisters from Russia and Ethiopia and bringing them to Israel.”

Mark lectured at Washington University’s Graduate School of Social Work on organizational dynamics and human service management. He was a member of the United Jewish Communities Executive Committee and a former chairman of intermediate communities, an association of 60-plus like-size Jewish federations. He recently served on the board of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

“My heart aches and soul cries for this loss,” Cynthia Wroclawski, former chair of the Lehigh Valley’s partnership with Yoav, Israel, a program of the Jewish Agency, wrote on Facebook. “An eternal optimist and man who gave and gave and gave, Mark had a wondrous gift in his ability to bring people together and motivate them to be better and stronger members of the Jewish community.”

In 2009, Mark was awarded an honorary doctorate degree by Hebrew Union College for "his singular and effective leadership to Jewish Federations in Virginia, Missouri, California and Pennsylvania, and for his talents as a fundraiser which have guided federations to new heights of success."

“I loved his passion for our Jewish community, both locally and globally,” said Iris Epstein, who worked with him closely as a campaign chair and member of the Federation board. “I loved that he always seemed to know all the right things to say and do. I loved his optimism. I loved the twinkle in his eyes when he spoke about his family. I loved his ability to see you and know just how far he could push you to be the best that you can be. I loved that he loved Israel. I loved his passion and excitement for life and all that he believed in.”

“Mark was a mentor, advisor, cheerleader and friend to me,” said Wendy Born, former Federation president. In recent months, as his health declined, Born wrote him this note that she shared: “Over the years, you have also been a source of encouragement and smiles for me with your positive attitude and sense of humor. Sometimes when I’ve been worried about something or not confident about how to proceed, you have boosted my spirits and made me feel better about taking the next steps. I appreciate your advice and friendship. They have made me a stronger leader and person.”

“Mark was a wonderful person,” Bruce Reich, president of Temple Beth El, told The Morning Call for a feature story they wrote about him. “It’s a serious loss for us, a serious loss for our congregation and the Jewish community in the Lehigh Valley.”

Mark held a master’s degree in social work from the University of Southern California and a master of arts in Jewish communal service from Hebrew Union College. He was also a graduate of the University of Judaism, the west coast affiliate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

Mark was awarded the Louis Kraft Award from the Jewish Communal Service Association, was a Sherman Fellow from Brandeis University and was selected for the Federation Executive Recruitment and Education Program (FEREP) scholarship by the Council of Jewish Federations. He was also the undefeated “king of kosher ribs” in Tidewater, securing first place at the juried Tidewater Kosher Rib Cook-Off Competition, and an Allentown JCC latke cook-off champion.

In the Lehigh Valley, Mark worked closely with the Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding at Muhlenberg College and many faith communities to spread the message of tolerance and acceptance. He shared his own father’s story as inspiration.

“His memory will echo for years in the minds of many of his community members who knew him,” said Mohammed Khaku, who worked with Mark as a representative of the Muslim community in the Lehigh Valley. “It is a moment of great sadness and shock for the Jewish community. Mark has left magnificent and indelible footprints on the path of the history of the Jewish Federation. “

Mark was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, and was the son of the late Leon and Helene (Kuttig) Goldstein.

He is survived by his wife of 34 years, Shari Spark; his beloved children, daughter Carlyn Piasecki, and her husband Jason, and son Ezra; his sisters Esther Kelly and husband Ted and Marianne King and husband Roland, and many nieces and nephews.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley or the Lehigh Valley Health Network Cancer Institute.

To read the full tributes to Mark submitted for this article, and to submit your own, CLICK HERE.