Richard Sternberger, a rabbi at Falls Church’s Temple Rodef Shalom, passed away Monday, January 11, from brain injuries resulting from a fall two weeks ago. He is mourned by his family, many close friends, the members of Temple Rodef Shalom, his congregation, the Mid-Atlantic region which he served for many years, and the Reform Movement to which he was devoted.
Sternberger grew up in Philadelphia. He was ordained as a rabbi in 1952. From 1952-54, he served as a Navy Chaplain on active duty and continued as a reserve Chaplain for 30 years. He became assistant rabbi at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation in 1954 where he remained until 1958. In 1958, he was appointed as rabbi of the Jewish Community Center of White Plains, later to be called Kol Ami.
During the summer of 1964, he worked in Macomb, Mississippi to help register black voters. A staunch civil rights supporter, he continued to march in Washington for equal rights for all citizens. In 1967, he joined the UAHC (now URJ) as the Assistant Director of the New York Federation of Reform Synagogues, later moving up to the position of Regional Director of the Mid-Atlantic Council. During his years in Washington, he served as an adjunct rabbi at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church. Also during that time, he helped to form a new congregation in Ocean City, Maryland, Temple Bat Yam. Upon his retirement from the URJ, he became Bat Yam’s first rabbi.
In 1999, he retired fully and moved to Falls Church to be among his friends at Rodef Shalom. As a tribute to his contribution to social action, Temple Rodef Shalom established the Rabbi Richard Sternberger Social Justice Award, which is given annually to a group or individual working on social justice issues.
In addition to being active in civil rights, Rabbi Sternberger was a major force in NFTY, the Reform Movement’s youth organization. He cared deeply about Jewish camping. Richard was also committed to supporting AZRA, the Reform Movement’s Zionist arm, and other causes in Israel. At the time of his death, he was a resident at the Chesterbrook Residences where he brought his spirit, intelligence and positive energy to many who live there.
A funeral service will take place at Temple Rodef Shalom, 2100 Westmoreland Street, Falls Church, on Thursday, January 14 at 10:30 a.m. A mourner’s meal will follow; burial will be in Brownsville, Tennessee. Contributions in memory of Rabbi Sternberger can be made to the Rabbi Richard Sternberger Memorial Fund of Temple Rodef Shalom. A shiva service will be held at the Chesterbrook Residences sometime after Shabbat with the date and time to be announced.