The Late Steven Lowenstein – A Master at Distinguishing Differences Within Seeming Uniformity
Steve Lowenstein was an esteemed social historian. He excelled at uncovering differences within apparent uniformity.
He developed an acute awareness of the complex interrelations between diversity and uniformity as he labored tirelessly until his final days to write an exhaustive demographic history of German Jewry. Furthermore, he wrote The Jewish Cultural Tapestry which detailed an array of local Jewish customs or minhagim.
Early Life and Education
Steven Lowenstein had an exceptional career that encompassed multiple directions. After studying at the University of Judaism and writing several scholarly books about German Jewish history, he made headlines when he switched tracks entirely by becoming a social worker on Skid Row – offering new perspectives to subjects he had long studied.
He applied his finely tuned sense to writing as well. One of his key works was an analysis of German Jewry’s demographic history that demonstrated, contrary to what other scholars believed, Jewish society in late 18th-century Germany was more diverse than previously assumed.
Kayse Jama, founder of the Center for Intercultural Organizing (CIO), received the Lowenstein Award this year from the Lowenstein Trust Board. This annual financial prize recognizes those who have dedicated themselves to empowering others through life-enhancing initiatives.
Steve’s work on Jewish history provided a fresh approach to familiar topics. For instance, his 1994 book entitled, The Berlin Jewish Community: Enlightenment, Family and Crisis 1770-1830 showed that their socio-economic profile differed greatly than previously believed by scholars.
Steve also used this new approach to studying Jewish life abroad. In 2000, he published The Jewish Cultural Tapestry which explored an impressive variety of local Jewish custom or minhagim (rituals or practices). Its framing — gefilte fish and cholent on one side and malawach and couscous on the other–captures something of Steve’s vast cultural appetite as well as his attention to difference while showing his great sense of humor.
As general counsel, Steve provides clients with assistance on transactional matters related to various industries. Additionally, he regularly advises large corporations and their boards of directors regarding corporate governance matters.
Achievement and Honors
Steven Lowenstein was renowned in Jewish history scholarship. As an author and member of various boards for different organizations, Lowenstein also was known for being a loving husband and father to his family.
He was married and had two children: Dr. Ruth Lowenstein Glasser and Kenneth Lowenstein, as well as nine grandchildren. His work, The Jewish Cultural Tapestry, showed an extensive knowledge of Jewish tradition and narrative from five continents – demonstrating how unity could exist despite differences.
Late in his life he took great pains to complete an exhaustive demographic history of German Jewry. Based on research done by Professor Osiel Oscar Schmetz before him, this magisterial work never saw publication during his lifetime, yet is being edited for publication posthumously.
Lowenstein was an expert at reconciling seemingly dissimilar aspects, melding his native fluency in German with an interest and enthusiasm for Yiddish culture and language – creating ambitious pedagogy plans at YIVO as part of this task.
His academic crowning achievement was the demographic history of German Jewry. To that end, he spent decades laboriously combing through documents and manuals regarding births, marriages, deaths, conversions, immigrations and conversions in German Jewry.
He brought fresh perspective to familiar topics, like studying Berlin’s Jewish community in the late 18th century – something he did in 1994 in The Berlin Jewish Community: Enlightenment, Family and Crisis 1770-1830 – showing more socioeconomic diversity than had been thought possible at that time.
After an esteemed career as an historian, he took a risk and left his comfortable position to study social work. Working alongside drug addicts on skid row was particularly life-altering; the experience gave his life new vitality.
His book The Jewish Cultural Tapestry revealed his immense knowledge of Jewish traditions and narrative across five continents, as well as how he could differentiate among seeming uniformity.
Steven Lowenstein lived life with an expansive view. His passion was his family and community involvement; he leaves behind Marilyn as his partner; children Dr. Ruth Glasser and Rabbi Yaakov Lowenstein with spouses Kenny and Penina as well as nine grandchildren to carry on his legacy.