By Ellyn Wexler
Susan and Brad Stillman model the behavior they learned from their parents.
“Everything we say goes into our children’s hard drive….And one day, they’re going to access that information,” said Susan, quoting Lori Palatnik, founding director of Momentum, an organization that strengthens women’s Jewish identity and connection to Israel.
“We don’t force our kids to do as we do,” Brad added. Instead, “We set the example, and we’ll see what happens.”
The Potomac couple’s four children, ranging in age from 16 to 23, have grown up amid their parents’ myriad volunteer efforts in the Washington area’s Jewish community. By aiming for a kind of balance between child-rearing responsibilities, day jobs and night-time volunteer meetings, the Stillmans feel they have managed to put a positive spin on such activities, Susan explained.
“We volunteer independently, with separate points of entry, but we have always supported each other,” Brad noted. “We managed to tag-team, so at least one of us was around,” Susan said. “Somehow, it has all worked out.”
Their marriage, Susan said, “has made each of us a better person. We push each other out of our comfort zones.” “And in the right direction,” Brad added.
All six Stillmans will be watching — virtually — at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 9 when Susan and Brad will be celebrated as the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington’s Sara and Samuel Lessans Community Leadership 2020 honorees.
“The Stillmans are an extraordinary couple who embody Jewish values every day through the work they do for our community,” said Ron Halber, the JCRC’s executive director. “They are passionately engaged in so many Jewish agencies that positively impact the lives of thousands of people in our community and beyond.” (Also being honored are Liza Levy and Chris McCannell.)
Susan Stillman, who grew up in Montgomery County, credits her parents for her community activism. “Dad was involved in Zionist causes; he now lives in Israel,” she said. “Mom was president of the sisterhood and the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington, and taught art to Jewish Federation of Group Homes residents.” Susan thinks her summers at Camp Judaea in North Carolina reinforced her Jewish identity.
A Chicago suburb was the setting for Brad’s upbringing; his family also was active in Jewish causes. That spirit was nurtured at his Wisconsin summer camp, URJ Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute, as well as in social action youth groups, he said. After earning a juris doctorate at the DePaul University College of Law, Brad relocated to the Washington area for a job and met Susan on a blind date. They have been married for 25 years.
Susan’s community leadership began at Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County where she served as membership chair. She subsequently co-chaired the Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington’s book festival for two years and was on its book selection committee. In addition, Susan has been a city leader for Momentum and on The Friendship Circle of Maryland advisory board.
Brad is the chief executive of the American College of Gastroenterology. His current volunteer commitments include serving as board vice chair of the Capital Camps and Retreat Center, on Momentum’s finance and budget committee and on the University of Maryland Hillel board. He took part in The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s inaugural Jewish Community Leadership Program, and has been on its Strategic Planning and Allocations, and Jewish Life and Learning committees. He also has chaired the Bender JCC board.
Susan, who earned a master’s degree in social work from Boston University, was an oncology social worker at Johns Hopkins Hospital for seven years; is a blogger and freelance writer. For now, she said, her “full-time job” is negotiating the couple’s special needs son’s “transition to the adult world of disability.” After this “hiatus,” she plans to “figure out my next steps … I look forward to doing more.”
To register for the virtual Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington’s Sara and Samuel Lessans Community Leadership awards event, visit https://jcouncil.org/events/jcrc-2020-celebration.
Ellyn Wexler is a Washington-area writer.