Remembering Sir “Siggy” – Reflections from a Fellow Traveler for Interfaith Understanding

Queen Elizabeth II is presented with the Interfaith Gold Medallion Peace through Dialogue from Sir Sigmund Sternberg, joined by Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks (right).

Sir Sigmund Sternberg presents Queen Elizabeth II the Interfaith Gold Medallion Peace through Dialogue, as Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks watches. Credit: Catholic Herald

I join friends and colleagues in mourning the death of the legendary — but very real and very human — Sigmund Sternberg. As long as I have worked in the field of interreligious relations, well over half a century, “Siggy” was there, offering support, encouragement and discernment. In addition to a common concern that dialogue should lead to changes in attitudes, behavior and institutional policies, we shared an attachment to Hungarian Jewish history. Like Siggy, my husband was Hungarian; unlike Siggy, he didn’t get out in time, was deported as a youth and survived a slave labor camp. They had a very sympathetic relationship.

When my former boss and colleague, Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, died untimely, it was Sir Sigmund who pressed his widow, Dr. Georgette Bennett, to establish an organization that would preserve his memory and extend his work. The Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding is about to celebrate its 25th anniversary, thanks in part to his foresight and tenacity.

Sir Sigmund Sternberg, one of the first Jewish papal knights, was knighted by both Queen Elizabeth II (1976) and Pope John Paul II (1988)

Sir Sigmund Sternberg, one of the first Jewish papal knights, was knighted by both Queen Elizabeth II (1976) and Pope John Paul II (1988)

I fondly recall Lady Hazel somewhat ruefully complaining about the weight of the black velvet costume and plumed hat signifying Sir Sigmund’s papal knighthood that had to be packed for meetings involving a papal audience. I only saw him wear it once, but it was a most gratifying sight.  

They were an endearing team. Sir Sigmund was a gracious host, a generous donor and man who used his many resources to make the world a better place. Our world is poorer without him. May his memory be for a blessing.    

Judith Banki
Senior Advisor, Interreligious Affairs

Brewing Up a Controversy: Tanenbaum’s Top Five News Stories

Samuel Adams unnecessarily brews controversy • Was the American Revolution a holy war? • Egypt's Christians face arson, beatings and forced conversions amid upheaval • Swedish sisters skip 'sinful' dance class • Religious freedom is under attack in the military

Last week's top stories from Tanenbaum's perspective:

Samuel Adams unnecessarily brews controversy
Over the past couple of weeks, Samuel Adams has been brewing up a little bit of controversy with an advertisement they unleased to the airwaves right before the Fourth of July holiday. In the ad, their spokesperson recites the Declaration of Independence except for four words the copyrighters cut: "endowed by their Creator." Although the company cut the lines from the quote to adhere to alcohol advertising guidelines, some consumers are outraged. Click here for Religion News Service's analysis

Was the American Revolution a holy war?
Speaking of the American Revolution, an opinion piece in The Washington Post asks the question "Was the American Revolution a holy war?" Read it and let us know what you think in the comments below.

Last week, Haaretz reported Egypt's Christians face arson, beatings and forced conversions amid upheaval. From the article: "Since the beginning of the 2011 revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak, they have suffered constant harassment, and dozens have lost their lives to violence. Their churches have been torched. Coptic women have been beaten, forced to wear hijabs, or forcibly converted to Islam, according to human rights organizations." Read the whole article here.
In Sweden, Laestdianism, a branch of the Lutheran denomination of Christianity, dancing is consideed to be a sin by some members of the church. Learn about the parents of three girls who claimed that their daughters were exempt from the dancing in physical education. 
Conservatives are saying that religious freedom is under attack in the military. In fact, Rep. John Fleming, R-La., added an amendment to a military spending bill that states, “Except in cases of military necessity, the Armed Forces shall accommodate the beliefs, actions, and speech” of service members."  Read more here.