Stephen Shashoua, interfaith campaigner and former Director of 3FF
We mourn the passing of the “man of many hats”, the indefatigable Sir Sigmund Sternberg, who over his long life influenced so many lives and relationships. Others are better positioned to illuminate about his early life as a Hungarian refugee, fleeing Hungary in 1939 and finding refuge in London, his successful business practice, his philanthropy, his Jewish community work, but I will focus on his interfaith activism.
When I joined the Three Faiths Forum in 2004, I was introduced quite quickly to where he had been, what he had done, by simply opening a filing cabinet starting at “A” to peruse files containing photos of Arafat, Blair, Clinton. I would then pass into the hallway to his self–styled “ego wall”, which showed medals and awards from a Papal Knighthood to a Legion D’Honneur to the Templeton Prize to the First Lifetime Award for Responsible Capitalism. He always said that while he was honoured, it was about what the awards allowed him to do.
That “doing” ranged from helping resolve the conflict around the Carmelite convent at Auschwitz to setting up the International Council of Christians and Jews to helping orchestrate the first Papal visit to a synagogue to Founding the Three Faiths Forum with Rev Dr Marcus Braybrooke and the dearly missed Sheikh Dr Zaki Badawi. As a result, he wore many hats (see his tie depicted in the National Portrait Gallery), throughout he was a constant and tireless connector, strategist, and innovator. It was well known that he and his dearly missed wife, Hazel, following a day of working, an afternoon break, would go to three events per evening – networking over cocktails at one, dinner at another, and coffee at the third. This schedule would be kept 3-4 days per week.
While you can read about his accomplishments in his books or Who’s Who, none of us will ever really know how much he has been a catalyst – as a connector, an influencer, a mentor, and to quite a few of us, a miracle man. Sir Sigmund has taught us so many things – his gritty tenacity, his vision, his connecting mind, his charm, his tenderness, his sheer chutzpah. I feel personally so lucky to have had the chance to work with such an amazing human being.
Sir Sigmund was a man of great vision, which is what pushed him to reach out, to reach further, to take risks. He of course wouldn’t see himself as a risk-taker, it was more of an opportunity to “do good” that he jumped at. The faith and interfaith sector in the UK and globally owes a debt of gratitude to him – we would simply not be where we are without his will, his constant efforts to reach across divides. He knew we were still a long way off from living his vision of interfaith becoming part and parcel of society, but he edged us closer.
What is not known enough are the chances Sir Sigmund’s gave to others to shine. In this, I offer heartfelt thanks on behalf of former and present Three Faiths Forum (3FF) for creating the vision, which we work and strive for. Throughout he has encouraged us, removed barriers, and allowed us to stand on his huge shoulders.
Sir Sigmund Sternberg (Sigi) will be sadly missed, but will live on in the hearts of all those he has influenced and loved as well as in those organisations who owe their existence to him – who pay it forward.
Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones at this sad time.