Shirley Max, 89, partner in Jewish activism

Shirley Max, 89, partner in Jewish activism

Shirley Max, 1925-2015
Shirley Max, 1925-2015

Shirley Max, a leader and activist in the Greater MetroWest Jewish community, died July 3 at Overlook Hospital in her hometown of Summit.

She was buried at Beth Israel Cemetery in Woodbridge on July 6, the date of her 90th birthday.

East and West Coast members of a family that included their daughter, Wendy Siegel; son, Douglas Max; and five grandsons had gathered in Summit several days earlier for what was supposed to have been her birthday party. 

Max served in leadership positions at several Jewish organizations, including as founder and first president of the Summit section of the National Council of Jewish Women, a vice president of what later became Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, and a member of Interweave, an interfaith organization in Summit.

Born Shirley Biller in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1925, she married World War II army veteran Robert Max in 1948. 

Bob Max, captured during the Battle of the Bulge, survived torture during 90 days in a Nazi slave labor camp.

After meeting as students at Ohio University, Shirley and Bob worked together at the campus chapter of Hillel, then spent a lifetime in joint participation in many aspects of Jewish life.

After moving to Summit in 1957, the Maxes became involved in the Reform Temple Sinai, then left to become founders of the Reconstructionist Congregation Beth Hatikvah.

She served as a volunteer at the former Waldor Memorial Library in Whippany and was a member of the federation board.

She also served as a lay member of the Joint Chaplaincy Committee of Greater MetroWest and the MetroWest CARES committee. 

The couple’s partnership extended into the realm of business. 

Together they formed LR Communication Systems, a firm that trained people in writing, speaking, and communications.

As he addressed mourners at her funeral at Beth Hatikvah, her bereaved husband likened their working relationship to that of “Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside,” two celebrated heroes of collegiate West Point varsity football teams of the 1940s: fullback Felix “Doc” Blanchard and halfback Glenn Davis.

While she managed the company’s office, Bob was “Mr. Outside,” the public face of the company.

After they retired, the Maxes created Computer Action Learning, an Internet-based communication skills training company.

She also served as a helpmate when her husband served as president of the Jewish Historical Society of MetroWest, now the JHS of NJ.

In a letter of condolence, JHS board members wrote: “It isn’t often that when people get together for what is viewed as a sad occasion that they come away uplifted by the message that life is precious and that we should live every moment accordingly. Shirley did.”

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