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The Eulogizer: Gay rights support group founder, Shoah survivor, Conservative movement leader

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JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Eulogizer is a new column (soon-to-be blog) that highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org. Read previous columns here.

Founder of gay rights support group for parents

Adele Starr, a one-time stay-at-home mother who became "an important but unacknowledged figure in gay rights" as the first president of a national support group for parents of gays and lesbians, died Dec. 10 at 90.

Starr founded the Los Angeles chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays in 1976. Three years later she spoke at the U.S. Capitol at the first march on Washington, which is seen now as a seminal event in gay rights activism. She became the group’s first national president two years later and remained a forceful advocate for civil rights and the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Starr, born Ida Seltzer in Brooklyn, moved with her husband to Los Angeles in 1951 and primarily was a stay-at-home mother with four sons and a daughter. Philip Starr told his parents that he was gay in 1974; he and his husband, Michael Simengal, now have a 19-year-old son.

"Parenting was often blamed as the cause," Philip Starr said. "So parents really felt bad — they felt like they were bad parents."

Philip Starr directed his upset mother to a nascent support group, and Adele Starr launched the Los Angeles chapter of PFLAG two years later. In the days following her death, the group turned its website into a memorial for Starr.

PFLAG, which now has more than 200,000 members, has created the Starr Award, a prize given to a PFLAG leader who has displayed exemplary leadership in their community. Starr’s passing brought an outpouring of commentary and reminiscences from gay rights’ organizations.
 
“May Adele’s family be comforted at this time of loss by the history she created and with the knowledge that the struggle for LGBT on a national scale began with her,” said Rabbi David Horowitz, the current national president of PFLAG. "May her memory be for a blessing."

Auschwitz survivor whose story was told in a book

William Schiff, a Holocaust survivor who danced and celebrated Chanukah last week at the Dallas Holocaust Museum where he was a frequent speaker, died Dec. 10 at 91.

Schiff met his wife, Rosalie, at a dance and married in the Jewish ghetto in Nazi-occupied Krakow, Poland. He risked his life to smuggle food to his wife and their families.

Schiff snuck aboard a prison train that he hoped would take him to his wife after they were separated on their way to forced labor camps. Instead it delivered him to Auschwitz, and neither Schiff nor Rosalie knew whether the other was alive. After the camp was liberated by American soldiers in 1945, Schiff found his wife back in Krakow after World War II.

They spent three years in a displaced persons camp, where their oldest son was born, before finding sponsors that brought them to the United States. They moved to Dallas in 1949.

Schiff frequently spoke about his experiences after he retired from his real estate business. His and Rosalie’s stories were told in the 2009 book "William & Rosalie: A Holocaust Testimony."

United Synagogue leader

Bruce Greenfield, a longtime professional leader of Conservative movement organizations and activities in the metropolitan New York area, died Dec. 12 at age 64.

Greenfield had been head of the Conservative movement’s activities in the Greater New York area and regional youth director for 35 years. His innovations, such as lobbying missions, were copied by Conservative congregations and United Synagogue Youth chapters across the United States, said Norman Korowitz, chairman of United Synagogue’s Metro New York chapter, which remembered Greenfield on its website.

“They followed our lead. Bruce put us on the map," Korowitz said. "Bruce gave us the brand."

Greenfield grew up in Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, and lived on Long Island.
 

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