Henry’s is a familiar face at Mount Zion, and yet another lifelong member of our community. Together with his family, his life has revolved around social action and social justice. In fact, his story over the past half century can be seen as a veritable Forrest Gump of Jewish Minnesota – spanning the globe, and interwoven with deep friendships that have included Paul Wellstone, Marv Davidoff, Rabbi Goldstein, Al Vorspan, Earl Schwartz, Debbie Friedman, Rabbi Amy Eilberg and many others.
Henry received his undergrad degree in Psychology from the U, and later studied Social Work in graduate school. He and former wife Lisa are the proud parents of Hannah, and in turn, granddaughter Aria. Hannah herself has followed in Henry’s footsteps in many ways. And as it turns out, variations on family names Shalit and Aria go back centuries in Henry’s family. His professional career seems to include a continuum of social work, beginning with his role serving youth in his early years, to more recently working with Alzheimer’s patients, all intertwined seamlessly with his guitar music, and his passionate involvement in social action and social justice.
Our own connections go back several decades, to the mid-80s when Henry and I were co-chairs of the Temple’s Social Action Committee. Suffice it to say that, at that time, our committee meetings could be held in a phone booth. Thankfully, that effort has grown manifold in the years since, to include the synagogue’s relationship with Jewish Community Action and many other facets throughout our community.
Henry and I often fondly recall a time, a couple years back, when he managed to spill a large amount of red wine on his khaki slacks, at the Food for Thought before Shabbat services. Though realizing its utter futility, I retrieved and gave him the handy Tide pen that I kept in my car. Less than a half hour later, Henry walked back into the room without a spot on his pants. Simply put, I was shocked, but pleased, to see that my little pen had done its job. Only to have Henry later ‘come clean’ so to speak – and tell me that he had gone home for a new pair of khakis.
We crossed paths recently at the JCC, his slacks still clean.
I actually first lived in a drawer in an apartment at the Commodore Hotel in St. Paul. My parents were living there when I was born, and they fitted a drawer as my bassinette. We then moved to a house that they had built on Bohland Avenue in Highland Park where we lived for many years, next door to the cardiologist Dr. Milt Hurwitz and his family. We competed with our gardens.
My father was Dr. Hyman Shalit Lippman and he began as a pediatrician, but then became interested in children’s mental health issues, and had a long career in child psychiatry. Early on, he went to Vienna to study with Anna Freud (Sigmund’s daughter) – this is before the Freuds had fled to London.
After he returned, he became Director of Wilder Child Guidance Clinic, and was there for 35 years. He was very noted in many organizations, and had several prominent students, including Whitney Young (eventual head of the National Urban League). One of the innovations he was known for was to educate social workers as well as doctors, showing that they could also serve an effective role. He was also a pioneer in promoting family therapy, to include and work with the entire family when possible, in addition to just the child.
How about your mother?
He met my mother (Adelaide Hirsch) when she was a teacher, and one day she came in with one of her students, and family, to the Clinic. She had grown up in Mason City, Iowa and then Watertown. Her family had been in the furrier business, but they were wiped out by the Depression, and my mother had to leave Hamline University. She eventually went back and got her teaching degree in Saint Cloud and taught 4th grade here.
But when I was a teenager, my Dad had a stroke and I went to live with my father’s brother, Dr. Manny Lippmann, in Minneapolis and my sister went to live with my mother’s brother Herman and Edith Hirsch who lived in Iowa. So growing up I tended to feel close to my dad’s family and my sister tended to be closer with my mom’s.
What was your Jewish life like growing up?
When I was born, my parents joined Mount Zion so that I could have a Jewish education, and I’ve been a member my entire life. I’ve taught Religious School, and have been active in many ways since, largely education and social action. And I’ve also been involved in many different congregations, including an Orthodox shul during the three years my wife and I had lived in Fargo. And I have led services at the Chateau Nursing Home and other places over the years.
I had my Bar Mitzvah at Mount Zion with Rabbi Gunther Plaut, and some of the other people that were important in my life included Rabbi Jerrold Goldstein, (Librarian) Don Singerman, and (Education Director) Alan Bennett.
Alan recommended a book on the subject of determination and free will that I still remember – Bravo My Monster, by Tarkov. But reading and writing have never come easily to me, as I had dyslexia, and so I’ve had a lot of help over the years.
And in past years, Holly Callen was the cantor, and the cantors then did pretty much all the singing, while the congregants sat and listened, so now I really appreciate that cantors have promoted having the congregants take part. Though Don Singerman and I did used to sit together and sing softly and harmonize with the cantor. And there is a lot of music in my family, including my uncle Sidney Lippman who was a composer and songwriter. He wrote several number one records, including Nat King Cole’s hit song “Too Young”, and also “’A’ – You’re Adorable”, that was sung by Perry Como.
And Rabbi Goldstein had quite an influence on me. He had been arrested with a group of rabbis, and clergy of other faiths, in a demonstration that had been organized by Martin Luther King Jr. in St. Augustine Florida. And he was also an early questioner of our involvement in Vietnam. During high school he encouraged me to join something called the Mitzvah Corps, and we traveled to Spanish Harlem and stayed with Rabbi Schoolman as we tutored and worked with low income children on various activities.
Is that where you began your interest in social action and justice?
Well my social action career began with civil rights, and I was also involved in a peace organization when I went to U High. So I was very connected from the start. I was invited to join the Freedom Riders (1961 movement), with my friends Zev Aelony and Marv Davidoff, but my dad thought it would be too risky for me to go. I felt bad about not going, but at the same time, knowing myself, I could have very easily have done things that might have been dangerous.
And in later years I was part of Ambassadors for Friendship, where they would exchange residents between different countries and the US, but you didn’t know where you were going until a couple months before you went. I ended up going to Berlin, but I had mixed feelings about that, since members of my mother’s family had died in the Shoah. We had a great experience, but I remember having an Aliyah in Berlin and it brought tears to my eyes.
What about your professional career?
I’ve done a lot of things. Early on, I worked with the Saint Paul Youth Services Bureau for several years, working with troubled children, including some who would appear before Archie Gingold (z’l, then Mount Zion member and juvenile court judge). I liked to work along the lines of my dad’s philosophy, to the extent I was able to interact with families as well as the children.
And I organized activities at the David Herman nursing home in South Minneapolis, that was owned by Mount Zion members (Sansby). And then I moved to Saint Paul and was with the Sholom Home for many years, with its activities department as well.
And I have also spent time at Stillwater Prison and Lino Lakes correctional facility.
Wait a minute. Spent time … or done time?
Spent time! With the Social Services Department.
And I still see a few Alzheimer’s patients.
But for several years now I have been a docent at the Science Museum of Minnesota. I started when they had the exhibit on the Dead Sea Scrolls, but since then have done dinosaurs, butterflies, the Mayan Culture, King Tut, and other special exhibits. And currently there are two exhibits, including the return of the exhibit on Race that was first put together by (former Human) Robert Garfinkle.
According to one author, “Moments of ethical truth and true ethical actions are ones in which we listen to the stirrings of Divine being.” (William James, the Will to Believe)
Henry doesn’t just listen. He continues to harmonize.