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A legacy of uniting the Jewish community

Connie Birnbaum and her husband Herbert in 1986.
Connie Birnbaum and her husband Herbert in 1986. handout

It has been a dozen years since Connie Spear Birnbaum lost her battle with breast cancer at age 48, but her lifelong dedication to uniting the Jewish community lives on through the efforts of her husband, Newton dentist Herbert Birnbaum, and Synagogue Council of Massachusetts executive director Alan Teperow.

At 7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 22, the 12th annual Connie Spear Birnbaum Memorial Lecture will feature the presentation “Together We Stand: Responding to the Challenges of Our Times” by Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, and Ofir Shaer, the father of one of three Israeli teens abducted and killed by Palestinians last summer. The free event will take place at Temple Emanuel, 385 Ward St. in Newton Centre.

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“As a community of Jewish people, we have to know each other, respect each other, and love each other,” Birnbaum said. “That was Connie’s message.”

Faith, however, was only part of what made his wife special. Birnbaum, who said they connected through shared experiences as children of Holocaust survivors, remembers Connie as a genuinely caring, take-charge person who set aside her own health issues to help a newly widowed friend organize her son’s bar mitzvah.

“Connie felt every day was a bonus, and she wasn’t going to waste a single minute,” said Birnbaum. “There wasn’t anything she couldn’t do.”

In 1987, Connie Birnbaum was hired by Teperow to coordinate the Newton-based Synagogue Council’s annual Unity Mission to New York City to build bridges of understanding among Judaism’s denominations. Even after leaving the position to run her husband’s dental practice in 1995, she continued to attract participants representing Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist congregations.

According to Birnbaum, the impressive list of past speakers, members of the Birnbaum Lecture Tribute Committee, and cosponsoring synagogues and organizations offers a snapshot of the widespread impact of the memorial lecture.

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Connie’s legacy is also carried on by their three children: Ben, 30, a foreign affairs journalist; Ilanna, 28, who works for the Orthodox Union; and Arielle, 24, a nurse whose career choice reflects admiration for her mother’s caregivers.

“The fact they have followed in footsteps similar to hers speaks volumes,” Birnbaum said.

Cindy Cantrell

For more information about the Connie Spear Birnbaum Memorial Lecture, visit www.synagoguecouncil.org.


Cindy Cantrell can be reached at cindycantrell20@ hotmail.com.