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Stern, Malcolm Henry


STERN, MALCOLM HENRY (1915–1984), U.S. Reform rabbi, historian, genealogist. Stern, who has been called "the father of Jewish genealogy in America," was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He received his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1935, and was ordained at *Hebrew Union College in 1941. In 1957, he earned his D.H.L. from huc-jir, which also awarded him an honorary D.D. in 1966. He began his rabbinic career as assistant rabbi at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Philadelphia (1941–47), interrupted by three years of service as a chaplain in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War ii (1943–46), including more than a year in hospital recovering from a near fatal plane crash in North Africa. In 1947, Stern was appointed rabbi of Congregation Ohev Sholom in Norfolk, Virginia, where he remained for 17 years. His activity on behalf of civil rights and the Jewish community earned him the 1964 *B'nai B'rith Man of the Year Award in Norfolk. In 1964, he became the unanimous choice of his colleagues in the *Central Conference of American Rabbis to create their placement office and served as the first director of rabbinic placement for Reform Judaism, a position he held until his retirement in 1980. He also chaired ccar committees that published three hymnals for Reform Judaism: Union Songster (1960); Songs and Hymns for Gates of Prayer (1977) and Shaarei Shirah: Gates of Song (1987).

In 1981, Stern joined the faculty of the New York campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, initially as counselor for student field work and subsequently as adjunct professor of American Jewish History. There he continued his research, begun in 1950, as genealogist for the American Jewish Archives and the American Historical Society. He was a founding member and president emeritus of the Jewish Genealogist Society, the first organization of its kind. He was also the first and only Jewish member elected a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists, eventually rising to become that organization's president as well. In addition, he was a Fellow of the National Genealogical Society, and a board member and vice president of the Federation of Genealogical Societies. In 1978, he was appointed Genealogical Representative on the U.S. National Archives Advisory Council, where he served until the year of his death. In 1980, he organized the Genealogical Coordinating Committee, comprising the nation's major genealogical organizations; under their auspices, he established the National Archives Gift Fund, seeking $1.00 per year per genealogist to create finding aids for genealogical research at the National Archives and its regional branches. He was also president of the Jewish Historical Society of New York, and served on the Board of Trustees of the American Jewish Historical Society.

Stern compiled the pioneering volume American Families of Jewish Descent (1960), an eight-pound tome containing 26,000 names researched over the course of 10 years of labor. It was the first genealogical survey of Jewish families who settled in the United States between 1654 and 1840, and was lauded as an invaluable research tool in the fields of American and Jewish history. Many American Protestants and Catholics first learned of Jewish roots and branches in their family trees from Stern's data, which served as an important source for Stephen Birmingham's best-selling novel, The Grandee. For the United States Bicentennial, the American Archives and American Jewish Historical Society published a revised and enlarged edition, entitled First American Jewish Families: 600 Genealogies, 16541977. The latest updated third edition, First American Jewish Families (1991), contains 50,000 family trees of every Jewish family established in North America by 1840, traced to the present. Stern became such a popular lecturer at genealogical conferences that his speaking engagements were booked as far as 12 years in advance.

In addition to the three celebrated editions of his magnum opus, Stern contributed numerous articles to academic journals and co-authored two books: American Airlines' Guide to Jewish History in the Caribbean (with Bernard Postal) and Life Begins at 40 (1980).


The Nearprint Files of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati.

[Bezalel Gordon (2nd ed.)]

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