Pittsburgh ‘transplants’ to be recognized for decades of community service
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Pittsburgh ‘transplants’ to be recognized for decades of community service

Marlene Silverman and Stefanie Small will be honored by Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh at annual meeting

Image via iStock
Image via iStock

Pittsburghers often boast about their generational ties to Western Pennsylvania.

Two community members who consider themselves transplants demonstrate the possibility of contributing greatly to Pittsburgh Jewish life even without ancestors from the Hill District, forebears who led congregations or parents who met at Cheat Lake.

Marlene Silverman and Stefanie Small are receiving two of the community’s highest honors during the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s upcoming annual meeting. Silverman will receive the 2023 Emanuel Spector Memorial Award. Small will receive the 2023 Doris & Leonard H. Rudolph Jewish Communal Professional Award. Both awards will be presented at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh on Sept. 6.

Marlene Silverman

For the past 60 years, Silverman has volunteered across the community. She served as head of Hadassah — when the group had more than 4,000 members — held numerous leadership positions at the Federation and was a board member of Congregation Beth Shalom.

“I really feel that I’ve gotten so much more than what I have given,” she said. “The more I do, the more I appreciate how much the community is working on our behalf.”

Silverman — who was born in St. Louis — and her husband moved to Pittsburgh in 1960 after the two met on a blind date in Memphis.

“He was in the Army, stationed in Memphis, and when he was discharged we moved to Pittsburgh, which is where he was born and raised. And I’ve been here ever since,” she said.

Marlene and Arthur Silverman are joined by their four sons. Photo courtesy of Marlene Silverman

Since making Pittsburgh her home decades ago, Silverman has dedicated herself to many women’s causes. She was initially drawn to the charge because she was searching for friends, she said, but she quickly learned the tremendous good that comes from volunteering with others.

“I am a member of every Jewish women’s organization,” she said. “I have been to Israel more than 24 times, and I have dear friends in Israel that I visit and they visit me.”

Creating partnerships and relationships with others both locally and internationally made her realize that “the more I do, the more I love and the more I want to continue,” she said.

Silverman, 82, is just starting to slow down.

“I don’t have quite the time or energy anymore to do what I did before, but I’m hanging in there,” she said.

Still, Silverman volunteers at Family House once a week and hopes younger people can lend their time and talents to bolstering the community.

“It’s important to give back,” she said. “If you have been blessed with good things happening, or you reap the benefits of the work of the Federation or an agency then I think it’s your responsibility to give back — and I’ve always felt that as I’m giving back I’m getting more. I have made some amazing friends, traveled to great places and done a lot of things because of my involvement that I wouldn’t have probably had otherwise. So it’s a win-win.”

When asked what she’d like people to know about her, the Churchill resident replied, “I am a person who cares deeply. This award means a lot, and I’m a very happy person. I have a phenomenal family. My life is good. We all have issues and, unfortunately, not all things are happy, but I consider myself a happy, blessed person.”

Stefanie Small

Former Long Islander Stephanie Small has worked at JFCS for the past 23 years. After completing her social work internship (also at JFCS), she joined the staff.

That “seamless” transition, she said, was just the beginning of a meaningful professional experience.

Since starting as a geriatric social worker, Small has done case management, therapy and facilitated a caregiver support group. She still performs those duties but has adopted greater administrative responsibilities over time. About nine years ago, Small became director of clinical services, overseeing the organization’s counseling department and seniors department.

Going from “micro to macro,” she said, gave her a greater understanding of community.

“My eyes are opened in a different kind of way,” she said. “When you’re working one-on-one, you really just see the daled amos (6 feet) around you. You only see the problems of that particular client: the issues, the challenges and how to help them reach their goal. But as you delve more into the community itself, you see patterns, you see trends, you see traditions.”

Pittsburgh is proud of its past, but one thing that’s great about working for the community is helping others recognize when “maybe it’s time we change,” she said.

Small, 45, said she understands fears and concerns spurred by newness.

Stefanie Small. Photo courtesy of Stefanie Small

“Change is scary, but change isn’t bad,” she said. “I had to change my whole life when I moved here from Long Island. I picked up and moved, and I still miss the ocean at times. But you realize that change is not bad.”

That attitude has netted professional success, she explained.

“I always have to be aware that just because we’ve done it that way doesn’t mean we continue. Outside forces — like funding and government involvement — push you along, so you have to either go along with the waves of change or you get thrown off to the side,” she said.

Small credited JFCS with being like-minded: “Through our work, we’ve been able to always innovate. Whenever something happens in the community, we respond to it and then see what is the next trend.”

She also credited the organization with helping her reach this point.

“I love what I do and I love where I work. People should know that where you work does matter,” Small said. “The reason I’ve been able to be at JFCS for 22 years — 23 years if you count my internship year — is because of what JFCS stands for, who works at JFCS, who supports you at JFCS and that they continue to be there, for their employees and for the community, from time immemorial. I could not have done this in another place.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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