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The American Jewish Committee (AJC) of Orange County, the local affiliate of the oldest Jewish human rights group in the U.S., recognizes and honors its lay leaders and active members annually.  Past honorees have included AJC presidents, board members and generous supporters, a list that reads like a Jewish “who’s who” of Orange County..

This year the Orange County chapter of AJC will present its Samuel Gendel Community Service Award to Jean Stern and Linda Weingarten Stern on September 18 at a dinner at the Fairmont Hotel in Newport Beach.  James Swinden of the Irvine Museum will be the keynote speaker, and several Orange County elected officials will attend the event.

“We are very honored to be asked and are looking forward to the event,” the Sterns said.  “It will be a proud moment for both of us.”

Linda Weingarten Stern was born in Belmont, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston.  She holds a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and an MBA from Santa Clara University.  Her field is agriculture economics, and she worked for many years in the USDA and the International Trade Commission, in Washington D.C., and for Calavo Growers, the California avocado company.

Linda has a long history of community service in Orange County.  She served as director of development of the Jewish Community Foundation.  She resigned from her position only because she wanted to be more involved in Jean’s career.  Interestingly, she met Jean through her association with the Foundation, as the late Les Bursten, who served on the Foundation board, was Jean’s next-door neighbor.  Les played cupid to Jean and Linda by arranging a blind date for them.

Linda continues to actively promote the mission of the Jewish Community Foundation as a member of the board of directors.  She is also a Hadassah life member.

Linda has been a long-time advocate and volunteer at Heritage Pointe, the Mission Viejo home for seniors living in the Jewish tradition.  She regularly visits residents and serves as a volunteer to take residents to medical appointments.  From 2004 to 2006, she served as a member of the board of directors of Heritage Pointe.

As a well-educated Jewish woman, Linda has long participated in and supported the programs of the Bureau of Jewish Education, serving as a board member and was co-chair, with Aviva Forster, for BJE’s annual fund-raiser, “Dinner with a Scholar” for four years.

As a dedicated proponent of community art education, Linda participates in activities and programs of the Irvine Museum and serves as secretary on the board of directors of the Historical Collections Council of California, a non-profit affiliate of the Irvine Museum that distributes grants for worthy art education projects to museums throughout the state.

Jean Stern was born in Casablanca, French Morocco.  His father, Frederic Stern, was Hungarian, and at the age of 21, in 1925, he ran away from home and joined the French Foreign Legion.  His mother, Sultana Ifergan, was born in Mogador, Morocco.  A Sephardic Jew, Sultana’s first language was Arabic.

In 1955, at the outbreak of the Moroccan Revolution, the Stern family left Morocco as refugees, sponsored by the Jewish Federation.  At the time he left Morocco, Frederic Stern was an art dealer, and Jean, along with his brothers Louis Stern and George Stern, became second-generation art dealers in the Los Angeles area.

Jean holds a BA in history and an MA in art history.  He was a college instructor in art history before taking a position in 1978 as curator, and later director of the Petersen Galleries, in Beverly Hills.  In 1992, he met Joan Irvine Smith, who was building a world-class collection of California Impressionist paintings.  She hired Jean to open and be executive director of the newly founded Irvine Museum.

Now, 19 years later, The Irvine Museum is the leading American museum specializing in the art of California from 1870 to 1950.  Working closely with Mrs. Smith’s eldest son, James Irvine Swinden, Jean and the museum have organized 17 major traveling exhibitions throughout the country and one that toured Europe.

In his career, Jean has authored or written essays on more than 30 art books and has presented more than 250 lectures on topics ranging from American and European paintings to ancient Jewish coinage, which he has presented at synagogue groups and at the Bureau of Jewish Education “Dinner with a Scholar” event.  He considers himself a Sephardic Jew, an Ashkenazy Jew, a Moroccan Jew, a Hungarian Jew, a French Jew and, most of all, an American Jew.

American Jewish Committee (AJC), established in 1906 by a small group of American Jews deeply concerned about pogroms aimed at Russian Jews, determined that the best way to protect Jewish populations in danger would be to work towards a world in which all peoples were accorded respect and dignity.  More than 100 years later, AJC continues its efforts to promote pluralistic and democratic societies where all minorities are protected.  AJC is an international think tank and advocacy organization that attempts to identify trends and problems early — and take action.  Its key areas of focus are: combating anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry;  promoting pluralism and shared democratic values; supporting Israel’s quest for peace and security; advocating for energy independence and strengthening Jewish life.

Founded more than 25 years ago, the Orange County chapter exists to serve more than 100,000 Jews through programming, advocacy, and coalition building within the community. The chapter aims to advance the mission of the American Jewish Committee.  The hallmark of the Orange County chapter of the American Jewish Committee is building human bridges of mutual trust and understanding within the Jewish and general communities.

Rabbi Marc Dworkin is the executive director of AJC in Orange County, and Susan Glass is the president.  For more information on the dinner, contact AJC of Orange County at (949) 660-8525 or ocajcconsultant@ajc.org.

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