How a Friendship became a Legacy
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.