Saturday, February 23, 2019 -
Print Edition

Kudos: Four free Jews who personify Passover

Clockwise from upper left: Peggy Lehmann, Esti Schwab, Jackie Wong, Sid Shafner


Every year the IJN salutes people — known or obscure — who bring freedom into our lives. Passover, with its message of gratitude to G-d for our freedom, is the appropriate moment to say thank you.

Sid Shafner: Liberator

Sid Shafner, who at 93 is as mentally sharp as a razor, can recount every harrowing incident he endured in WW II. The Philadelphia native signed up for the US Army right after Pearl Harbor. Like all American soldiers,  Shafner desperately wanted to fight the bad guys. He studied at Regis University for two years with an army program before seeing action. He was 22.

Survival in war is a throw of the dice. You hope you’ll see your home and loved ones again. But it’s just a hope. Shafner understood this. Yet never could he envision a nightmare like Dachau, let alone liberating it.

On April 29, 1945, as the Nazis were losing the war, Shafner was ordered to check out the German city of Dachau with the Rainbow Division. This brave Jewish kid had heard the rumors but was unaware of the massive annihilation of European Jewry until that April day 70 years ago.

Young people wearing striped pajamas started yelling and dancing. Then two kids came up to Shafner and begged him to come to the camp. “People are being killed there! Come quick!” The Rainbow Division followed and did not falter. But it was a terrible sight. Even now, Shafner’s soul is tattooed with the living remnants, skeletons and ghosts of Dachau.

On the 70th anniversary of Dachau’s liberation, we salute Sid Shafner and every serviceman who freed our people from hell. You have our eternal gratitude.

Jackie Wong: Philanthropy

The passion of Jackie Sprinces Wong for Jewish life is palpable, from her words, her philanthropy, her deeds.

Her lifelong commitment to Jewish life was sparked at the Golden Slipper summer camp in the Pocono Mountains. The Philadelphia native got there because of the generosity of an anonymous donor to an anonymous recipient: her. Sprinces Wong has been paying that gift forward ever since.

Her activity has been invaluable to Jewish life in Boulder. She is past president of Bonai Shalom and was one of the founders and then principal for 13 years at Boulder Hebrew High. The Sprinces Wong Family Foundation supports programming at Boulder JCC, particularly activities designed for youth.

Her impact is felt far beyond  local borders. She is development/ campaign chair at JEWISHcolorado and serves on JFNA’s national women’s philanthropy board. For her contributions, she received the federation’s Golda Meir Award in 2010. Other honors have come from Boulder JCC and CAJE.

Perhaps the strongest testament to her commitment is her son, Seth, an emerging leader at JEWISHcolorado.

Her enthusiasm and follow-through make Jackie Sprinces Wong a much needed and appreciated model for Jewish women and future leaders in Colorado’s growing Jewish community.

Peggy Lehmann: Leadership

Peggy Lehmann loves Denver. She loves Denver so much that she has spent every Monday night for the past 12 years sitting in City Council meetings, considering zoning requests, poring over budgetary concerns, listening to citizen complaints and analyzing proposed ordinances. What may sound tedious to many has truly been a labor of love for Lehmann.

Lehmann has channeled her deep love for Denver as the three-term city councilwoman for District 4, southeast Denver.

Dedication to community is in her blood. The granddaughter of the late, great 20th-century Jewish community leader Adolph Kiesler, and daughter of the calm and collected Max Rifkin and the open-hearted and flamboyant Raisie Rifkin, Lehmann was born into the arms of activism. After an early career as a teacher and political aide, she took her genetic predisposition for leadership and ran with it.

First elected to City Council in 2003, Lehmann fought steadfastly and successfully to preserve the neighborhoods and businesses in her district in the face of the behemoth “T-REX” I-25 project, which brought light rail and four more lanes of traffic through the area. Under Lehmann’s watch, both sides of the intersection of I-25 and Hampden were transformed into mixed use residential and commercial centers.

We shall miss Peggy Lehmann’s understated, effective leadership and professionalism.

Esti Schwab: Outreach

Esti Schwab, as director of the Denver Community Kollel’s women’s division, has effectively and endearingly put the feminine touch on the mission of the Kollel, which is to reach out to Jews and show them aspects of their heritage which await them.

Schwab is efficient. She spearheads volunteer catering for countless Shabbatons, annual events and other mass meals. Schwab is unflappable. She manages all these events without letting the stress show.

Schwab is friendly. The recipients of her outreach work become her friends. She is interested in people, not “saving souls.” Beyond classes and planned activities, Schwab socializes with women throughout the community —and beyond. Last summer, the informal, fledgling Jewish community of the Highland neighborhood in northwest Denver expressed its appreciation for the hours Schwab spent there, teaching families how to prepare for Shabbos.

Schwab is innovative. The Kollel women’s division puts on the annual extravaganza, a family fun day on Dec. 25, drawing hundreds, and an annual women’s wellness workshop, addressing contemporary health concerns.

The Denver Kollel operates on a couples basis. The Kollel not only brings male scholars into the community to study Torah; their wives are an important part of the “package” as teachers, role models and friends. Their role model is Esti Schwab.

Copyright © 2015 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Leave a Reply