The Rabbi Richard S. Sternberger Endowed Scholarship Fund has been established at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) to support the studies of a rabbinical or cantorial student preparing for military chaplaincy. This scholarship fund was created by a bequest from Rabbi Sternberger, z”l, a 1952 ordinee of HUC-JIR/Cincinnati, and was formally announced at a meeting of HUC-JIR Board of Governors on June 13, 2011 by Rabbi Laszlo Berkowits, Founding Rabbi of Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, where Rabbi Sternberger served for many years as Adjunct Rabbi, and Sam Simon, a congregant and friend of Rabbi Sternberger and member of HUC-JIR’s Eastern Region Board of Overseers.
Rabbi Ellenson stated, “Rabbi Sternberger was an esteemed alumnus of the College-Institute, whose life and career were dedicated to the Reform Movement, the Jewish people, and the larger world. His staunch advocacy on behalf of civil rights took him to Mississippi during the summer of 1964 to register African-American voters, and his commitment to equality and social justice remained a significant cause for the duration of his life. As a Navy Chaplain for thirty years, serving in Korea and as Jewish chaplain at the Pentagon and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, he brought counseling and comfort to enlisted men and women of all faiths. His leadership of the Union for Reform Judaism’s New Jersey Council, New York Federation of Reform Synagogues, Mid-Atlantic Council, and Department of Small Congregations strengthened the vitality of congregations and communities in those regions and throughout North America, while his pulpit rabbinate was imbued with devotion to his congregants. Rabbi Sternberger’s exemplary rabbinate will endure as a source of inspiration to our students for generations to come.”
A native Philadelphian, Rabbi Sternberger received his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania (1947) and pursued graduate study at Johns Hopkins University and Columbia University. He received the honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in 1977 from HUC-JIR.
Rabbi Sternberger served as a Navy Chaplain on active duty in Korea (1952-54) and continued as a reserve Chaplain for thirty years, reaching the ranks of Captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve and commanding officer of the U.S.N.R.’s Washington Chaplains Company. He served as a spiritual leader of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation (1954-58), the Jewish Community Center (today known as Kol Ami) in White Plains, NY, (1958-67), and then went on to work for the Union for Reform Judaism until his retirement in 1991. During his years in Washington, he served as an adjunct rabbi at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, VA. Also during that time, he helped to form a new congregation in Ocean City, Maryland, Temple Bat Yam and later, upon his retirement from the URJ, 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 S. Sternberger Social Justice Award, which is given annually to a group or individual working on social justice issues.
Rabbi Sternberger served as Chairman of the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights during the 1970s and organized an AIDS education campaign in the 1980s. 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. He was also committed to supporting ARZA, the Reform Movement's Zionist arm, and other causes in Israel.