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.
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.
Senior Advisor, Interreligious Affairs