How a Friendship became a Legacy

Shalom Bayit

We live in a world abundant with meaningful, worthwhile opportunities to give. Choosing the causes to support can be a challenge. For many, the decision is based on something that has touched them personally. For Helen Marie Stern, who passed away in June 2014, it came down to relationships.
A little background:  Helen, Debbie Levinson and Wendy Lipshutz  grew up  together at The Temple, where they learned the values of  tikkun  olam  (repairing the world),  tzedakah  (charity)  and how to make a difference in the world. 
“It all started  there,” said Debbie.  “We shared these lifelong friendships. Over the years,  we have  been involved in  the community in different ways, but we have continued  to live by the values we were taught when we were very young.”
When Helen  —  a “very giving, loving person” who always thought about how she could help others  —  was  nearing  the end of her life, she  asked Debbie to continue her philanthropic  work on her behalf.   

“Keeping her memory alive  and  supporting the organizations that Helen cared about so much is very  important to me,” said Debbie.  "Helen was always totally  committed  to Atlanta's Jewish community, and she wanted her legacy to be one of enduring  support, even when she could not be here to lend that support herself."  

This was where Wendy came  in. Wendy directs JF&CS’ Shalom  Bayit  program for victims and survivors of domestic violence.  

“Helen  always  supported  what her friends were doing in the community,” said Debbie.  “If I was doing something, she would be there to  back  me  —  or anybody  else. Now,  even though she wasn’t here herself,  I  knew she would want to support  Wendy’s work.” 

Helen had made a legacy gift  to Shalom  Bayit  through her will.  When Debbie  read  a story in the Atlanta Jewish Times about  the  Campaign to Complete the JF&CS Campus, she knew  that was something Helen would want to  champion.  She also knew if she was  going to make this gift to  JF&CS on Helen’s behalf,  it would  be to  honor  Wendy’s work.  

Debbie and Wendy met with Miriam Friedman, JF&CS’ chief development officer, to discuss  ways she could help the campaign while  benefitting Shalom  Bayit  in particular.  Neither Miriam nor Wendy knew  exactly  what Debbie was thinking of giving; they just knew she wanted to do something significant.  The conversation turned to a certain tree  that had been  in danger of coming down with the construction of JF&CS’  new wing. This wasn’t just any tree. Planted in 1998, the  Vitex  memorializes victimsof domestic violence and honorssurvivors for their courage.  As a way to save the tree and preserve its legacy, plans were drawn to include a Shalom  Bayit  garden; that is, if the funds could be found to pay for it.  

It was the perfect solution.  Helen’s legacy gift  would honor  Wendy, support  the work of Shalom  Bayit  and help JF&CS realize its goal of completing its campus through an ambitious capital campaign.  

“I think  Helen  would love the garden,  because it involves everything that’s important to her  —  people,  nature  and beauty,” said Debbie. “It’s such a peaceful spot. I just knew in my heart this was what  Helen would have wanted.” 

For  Wendy, whose focus is the safety and healing of domestic violence victims, the gift  has special meaning.  
“The  garden and the tree serve as legacies of the survivors and victims of abuse  —  those individuals who have come to us and those still silenced by abuse,”  she said.  “ With this garden, JF&CS is providing a place of peacefulness and hope for full lives and homes free from abuse.”

Though she might not have known exactly what her gift would do, Helen probably had an inkling of the kind of legacy it would leave — one of friendship,  oneof generosity,  oneof  community.

Written by Sheri Panovka, Posted in Counseling Services

About the Author

Sheri Panovka

Sheri Panovka

Sheri Panovka is JF&CS' Marketing Communications Coordinator. As one of JF&CS' principal writers, writes for the printed publications, enewsletters, synagogue bulletins, website and many of our events.