Attorney Stephen Anderer, who was also the president of the Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery, has died at 52.
The morning of the day he passed away, Wynnewood’s Stephen Anderer was at one of the places he loved best: the Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery just off Conshohocken State Road.
Anderer, who was president of the cemetery association, had worked for years to restore dignity and care to the once-neglected burial ground, where an estimated 1,000 Jews were buried.
“He was weeding, mulching and manicuring,” said Anderer’s law partner, Mark A. Momjian, of Anderer on that morning, marveling at his friend’s tenacity and passion. “He treated every shred of grass with reverence. Cemeteries for him were like walking into a narrative of great historical importance.”
In 2015, Anderer told Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Kristin E. Holmes, “We want to tell the story of the cemetery. It’s the story of Jewish immigration at the turn of the century, particularly poor Jewish immigrants. This is a beautiful place to tell that story.”
In fact, the cemetery project seemed to synthesize Anderer’s many interests.
“He did not let any topic of erudition escape him without reflection,” said Momjian, quickly adding, “I don’t want you to think he was an egghead — he wasn’t.”
Rather, Momjian said, he was a humanist.
“He believed in critical inquiry, diversity and multiculturalism, and this idea that we share these common denominators. He believed that the celebration of those denominators is the way we reach each other in so many intimate ways beyond everyday discourse.”
A former altar boy born in Philadelphia, Anderer converted to Judaism as an adult. His interest in his new religion was, to Momjian’s eyes, “a marvel to observe. He took an interest in the historical and doctrinal aspects, and in the way that Jewish custom and Jewish law merged. He had this rapturous relationship with Judaism at the time of his conversion. He embraced his religion with a reverential awe.”
That embrace included his psychologist wife of 24 years, as well as his daughters Samantha, Arielle and Meredith, all of whom were Bat Mitvahed and confirmed. Momjian said Anderer was “floating on air” when each of his daughters was Bat Mitvahed. “You could see the pride, the gaiety, the sheer ebullience.”
Anderer was able to use his Jewish knowledge in professional moments, too. A leading expert on family law and child custody, Anderer had both a law degree and a doctorate in clinical psychology. He was, according to the Inquirer, “the commonwealth’s leading expert on parent coordination, a mediation process aimed at reducing stress on families and children in high-conflict custody cases.”
Momjian laughingly remembered one custody case between two parents — one Jewish, the other Christian — during which Anderer, representing the Jewish parent, surprised the entire courtroom by listing all the Jewish holidays and elaborating on their origins and meaning so that his client would get to spend more time with his child.
Anderer was a board member of the Support Center for Child Advocates, and was honored as its Advocate of the Year. Six years ago, Anderer and Momjian left their longtime firm of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis and began a new venture: the law firm of Momjian Anderer L.L.C. He also taught at his alma mater, Villanova Law School.
Along with his commitments to the Jewish community and his professional obligations, Anderer was an athlete who both rowed and played football for Yale University as an undergrad and continued to stay active in swimming.
“He was a physical giant in terms of his heart and athletic ability,” said Momjian.
On the day of Aug. 28, after doing some of the work at the cemetery, Anderer went to Avalon, N.J., to compete in the Cedar Island 5K Swim. It was on the third leg of the swim when he was pulled from the water and taken to a dock for treatment from paramedics, who were unable to save him. The cause of death was atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. A funeral was held on Aug. 31.
“He was an extraordinary person,” said Momjian, “a father and husband unequaled from my view. I knew him for over 20 years, and I know how much he will be missed. It’s just heartbreaking.”
Contributions may be made to the Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery, 1130 Vaughan Lane, Gladwyne, Pa. 19035, or to Friends of Stephen J. Anderer Fund, 20 Valley Stream Parkway, Suite 280, Malvern, Pa. 19355.
Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0747