Decades after Julius Halpern extended his last loan, the Pittsburgh Jewish community is still collecting interest. Although Halpern, a banker, toy manufacturer and community activist, died in 1962, his family remains committed to upholding a standard set by him and his wife, Lillian, generations ago.
Acknowledging and saluting that paradigm rested at the heart of a Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh donor appreciation event held on May 31 at the Pittsburgh Opera in which Steven Halpern, Julius and Lillian’s grandson, accepted the PNC Community Builders Award on the family’s behalf.
“We’re now into the fourth generation of a family that has been quite devoted to community service and community building and philanthropy,” said Halpern.
The nearly 400 people who attended the sold out event learned more of the Halperns’ history.
“When talking about the Halpern family’s involvement in community service and philanthropy, I should start in 1907, when Julius Halpern came to Pittsburgh from Galicia in Eastern Europe and later resettled five of his siblings here,” said Louis R. Cestello, head of regional markets and regional president of Pittsburgh and Southwestern Pennsylvania for PNC Bank. “Julius had a tremendous influence on future generations, both through his drive in business and his early leadership roles in the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, which became the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, as well as the American Jewish Committee and Beth Shalom synagogue. Julius’ sons Bernard and Irving; Bernard’s wife, Ethel; grandchildren Eileen, Rick and Steve; and Eileen’s husband, Nick Lane, continued Julius’ legacy of Jewish community involvement and leadership.”
“There are things that are important to us. We’re willing to give our time, and talents and at times money and that has been passed on as a legacy through the generations.”
“We feel as a family, collectively, a responsibility to continue to do what we do,” echoed Halpern, explaining that the goal is to “give of our time and engagement as opposed to just writing a check.”
Throughout the years, many members of the family have taken on leadership posts.
Those roles have always been rooted in a “shared commitment to community,” said Lane. “My father was president of his synagogue. I was president of a synagogue. My father was head of the Jewish Chronicle. My husband was head of the Jewish Chronicle.”
Both Lane’s mother and brother also headed Jewish Family & Children’s Service (now Jewish Family and Community Services).
Taking on such tasks is who the Halperns, said Cestello. “Members of the Halpern family have served as board chairs of the American Jewish Committee (Pittsburgh Section), Beth Shalom and Rodef Shalom synagogues, Bikur Cholim, the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, the Jewish Association on Aging, Jewish Family and Community Services, the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, Montefiore Hospital and the Pittsburgh Conference on Soviet Jewry.
“The Federation has seen seven members of the family over three generations serve on the board, with many of those chairing either the funding committee or the campaign.”
Halpern praised the younger members of the family who remain “involved in helping others.”
“The Halperns are very fortunate today to have five members of the next generation involved in community service: Alexandra, Allison, Jonathan and Stephanie Halpern and Adam Lane,” added Cestello. “Some are here in Pittsburgh, while others live in different cities around the country. Each is involved in various causes as a volunteer or board member, including Beth Tikvah Congregation in Boston, Allegheny Youth Development, Friendship Circle and Social Venture Partners in Pittsburgh and the Kelly Writers House of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.”
Jeffrey Finkelstein, the Federation’s president and CEO, was equally effusive in his praise.
“A multigeneration family of sustained involvement at all levels of Jewish and general communal life is what the Halpern family is all about,” said Finkelstein. “As one looks at a record of all the places and institutions that have been the lucky recipients of their individual and collective energies, and then look at the impact each of those has had on our community, the Halpern family is a natural choice to receive the PNC Community Builders Award.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.