A Gandhian Quaker

Reviewed by, Priscilla Prutzman, Executive Director, CRC

Lee Stern (1915 -1992) played an instrumental role in the founding and growth of Creative Response to Conflict (CRC). A Gandhian Quaker Convict and Peace Teacher – Lee Stern: World War II Conscientious Objector by Caroline Besse Webster is the biography of Lee’s life of nonviolent social change.

Lee grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. Doing a report on Mahatma Gandhi in sixth grade, and later receiving from his father a subscription to Gandhi’s magazine “Harijan”, Lee became passionate about nonviolence. Lee continued his interest in Gandhi following the news of Gandhi’s salt march to the sea protesting the British tax on salt in 1930.

After witnessing a slaughterhouse at the Chicago stockyards, he became a lifelong vegetarian. Lee was a member of the communal Ahimsa Farm and he was a member of the Cleveland branch of The Fellowship of Reconciliation (founded in 1915 in the US). While Lee had Jewish parents, he became a Unitarian and later a Quaker, first being accepted by the Cleveland Friends Meeting. There is quite a bit in the book about Lee becoming a conscientious objector during World War ll, consequently, he spent over three years in prison in Milan, Michigan. His position was an unpopular position even among the Cleveland Friends. After his release he joined the Society of Brothers, (the Bruderhof), a pacifist religious community.

Lee married Ruth Hoeniger and lived at Pendle Hill a Quaker study and retreat center, in Wallingford, PA. Their two children Aminda and Christopher were born at Pendle Hill.

Lee and Ruth Stern lived at the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) in Upper Nyack , New York for eleven years . Later Lee started working with the Quakers in New York City and was the administrator for the Peace and Social Action Program(PSAP) of the New York Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. This was the overseeing group – Quaker Project on Community Conflict (QPCC), which did nonviolent marshall training in the sixties and early seventies. In 1972 the Children’s project of QPCC was founded and was soon named Children’s Creative Response to Conflict, which became CRC in 1992. Because of Lee, CRC moved to Nyack and became part of the FOR in 1978. By 1992, CRC became a separate 501-C 3 non-profit and is still housed at the FOR.

Lee and Ruth retired to a Quaker community in Sandy Springs , Maryland and Lee continued to work with the Alternatives To Violence project, (AVP, also founded by QPCC) which gave nonviolence training to those in prison and to CRC where Lee was very active in the Capitol area branch of CRC.

This is a very interesting history of an important part of the nonviolence movement.
CRC has published this excellent biography by Caroline Besse Webster.

It is available from the CRC bookstore or by calling the office 845 – 353 -1796.

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