It wouldn't be a surprise, for example, to see Orthodox Rabbi
Joel Finkelstein of Anshei Sphard-Beth El Emeth sitting among
the mourners at the Temple Israel funeral
It wouldn't be a shock to see Protestant and Catholic clergy such as Rev. Mark Matheny, pastor of St. Luke's United Methodist Church, and Deacon Henry Littleton, administrator of Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School, also present.
But when you notice a couple of Sunni Muslims at the funeral, walking over to greet a Shia Muslim who is also attending, you realize that there was something special about Stanley Engelberg.
All of those people and more attended the funeral services
for Stan, who died March 21 at age 67.
I first met Stan in the Saturday morning Torah Study class at Temple Israel. He didn't speak frequently, but he often helped clean up the breakfast dishes afterward. He didn't stay for the religious service following the class, because he was off to volunteer at the Memphis Jewish Home & Rehab in Cordova, where he helped provide enough participants for the Sabbath service.
Philip Evans, who also participated in that service, says Stan would spend hours there after the prayers, sometimes entertaining a visiting child. He wandered the halls, visiting those without family, often known to them not by name but by the phrase with which he so often introduced himself, "What can I do to help?"
A few years ago, my wife and I became involved in an interfaith committee with members of Temple Israel, Balmoral Presbyterian Church and Masjid As-Salaam, the mosque on Stratford Road. When we went to services at the mosque at 1:15 Friday afternoon, there was Stan, quietly present in a corner of the mosque, then speaking quietly with people at the social hour afterward. It turned out he was a visitor at many Memphis mosques.
When there was a street-corner fight in which some Muslims were injured, Stan was the Jew who heard about it at a mosque social hour and spoke quietly to some other people. "What can we do to help?" he asked. With participation from the Memphis Jewish Federation and Masjid As-Salaam, and major help from Balmoral Presbyterian Church, Idlewild Presbyterian Church and others, reassurances were given.
As Nabil Bayakly, a professor at LeMoyne-Owen College, wrote afterward: "What might have been a disaster turned out to be a wonderful experience in interfaith relations."
Stan worked for 25 years at Goldsmith's department store, which later became Macy's, and later worked at Crye-Leike. At the department store, he formed a lifelong friendship with Sylvia Goldsmith Marks, who was about 25 years older than he. As Sylvia got into her 80s, Stan took her to dinner weekly and drove her to events at Temple Israel and charitable events elsewhere.
He often spoke of his family, but I didn't meet them until after his funeral. He was always there for us, I was told. He was in so many places that scarcely seemed possible.
"He wanted to connect with everyone possible," said his daughter, Blair Billings. "He would offer anyone a ride anywhere."
Leonard Engelberg, Stan's cousin, said it went back to the days when he and Stanley were city champions, as a tennis doubles team, at Central High School. "We went to all the YMCA dances. The Engelbergs talked with everyone. Stanley made friends with everyone," Leonard remembered.
As Karen and Mike Kestner wrote to The Commercial Appeal, "Stan was like a quiet gentle breeze. Always content to remain in the background but his calm demeanor brought comfort to anyone who was in his presence."
He was so quiet many didn't know his name. He was a shining example of what is best about Memphis.
Edward Ordman is a member of Temple Israel and professor emeritus of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Memphis. Visit his Memphis Inter-Religious Group at MemphisIRG.org