About Malcolm Henry Stern
Malcolm Henry Stern was born on January 29, 1915, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Stern was the son of Arthur Kaufman and Henrietta Berkowitz Stern and had one brother, Edward. In 1923 the Stern family moved to a seven-acre farm in Fox Chase, Pennsylvania. Stern earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1935 and in 1937 became the fifth member of his family to be ordained as a rabbi at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. In 1941 he received a Doctor of Hebrew Letters from Hebrew Union College and was honored in 1966 with a Doctor of Divinity degree from the same school.
In 1941 Stern became assistant rabbi at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Philadelphia. He ministered to the congregation from 1941-1943 and 1947. From 1943 to 1947 Stern took a sabbatical from his congregation to serve as a chaplain in the Army Air Corps. During World War II he survived a plane crash in Casablanca in which thirteen persons were killed. In 1947 Stern was elected Rabbi of Congregation Ohef Shalom in Norfolk, Virginia, serving there for 17 years. While in Norfolk, Stern spoke out strongly against segregation. In 1964 Stern moved to New York City to become the first Director of Rabbinic Placement for Reform Judaism for the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Stern held this position until his retirement in 1980. In 1981 Stern joined the faculty of the New York campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He served as a counselor for student field work and was an adjunct professor of Jewish History.
Genealogy was Stern’s great interest in life. His love for genealogy started in grade school when he traced the descendants of Charlemagne for an assignment. From 1949 until 1994 he served as the genealogist for the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati. His work contributed to making the American Jewish Archives an internationally recognized institution. In 1960 he published Americans of Jewish Descent in which he traced members of Jewish immigrant families that arrived in the United States before 1840. Two more editions of the book would follow in 1978 and 1991 as First American Jewish Families: 600 Genealogies, 1654-1977 and First American Jewish Families: 600 Genealogies, 1654-1988. This work was the basis for much of Stephen Birmingham’s The Grandees.
Stern served the world of genealogy and American Jewish history in many ways and nearly every Jewish genealogical society in the United States was established with his help. He was known as the dean of American Jewish genealogy. Stern served as secretary of the American Society of Genealogists from 1968-1973, as vice president from 1973-1976 and as president from 1976-1979. Stern was the founder of the Jewish Historical Society of New York. He was also a trustee of the American Jewish Historical Society. In 1989 Stern testified before Congress, arguing that the position of Archivist of the United States should be awarded to a scholar and not an administrator. In 1990 he served on a special commission of the National Archives and Records Administration to prepare four American genealogists for a mission to Russia. The goal of this mission was to educate Russian archivists. Stern was also the vice president of the Gomez Foundation for Mill House in Newburgh, New York, which is the oldest surviving Jewish residence in North America, built by Louis Moses Gomez in 1716. Stern participated in numerous Jewish and non-Jewish genealogical organizations, including: the National Genealogical Society, the Jewish Genealogical Society (president emeritus), the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the Jewish Historical Society of England and the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society.
Stern had a deep love for music. In 1960, he edited the Union Songster for Reform Judaism. He coedited Songs and Hymns for Gates of Prayer and chaired the committee that created Shaarei Shira/Gates of Song.
On May 25, 1941, Malcolm Stern married Louise Steinhart Bergman. Malcolm Stern died in New York City of a heart attack on January 5, 1994, at the age of 78.