Joan Gries Sitver, celebrated life-long leader in the Phoenix Jewish Community, passed away in her family home on July 1, 2020 at the age of 77.
She was born January 25, 1943 in Worcester, MA to father Hans Gries, a Holocaust survivor from East Berlin, Germany and professional pianist, and mother Helen Epstein Gries, a homemaker, student of English literature, teacher, and fellow leader in the Jewish Community, and later a realtor and business owner whose parents came to America from Poland often saying that in America, Jews can be anything, even teachers!
Always honoring close connections to her family and heritage, Joan became a teacher herself earning a BA and MA in Education from Arizona State University and several additional Certifications throughout her career, served as President of the Phoenix Holocaust Association and Chair of the annual Community Yom HaShoah Ceremony, was serving as the current chair of the Brandeis National Committee Roz Fischer Concerts & Conversations Series, enjoyed playing the piano and teaching piano to her kids and grandkids, and was continuously engaged with the Jewish Community, including once serving as President of ORT, just as her mother had.
Joan was always a bright, shining light; generous and kind to all, and dedicated herself completely in everything she did. As a teacher she brought in her own creative lessons and incentive prizes for her students, advocated for students and fellow teachers serving as President of her District’s Teachers Association, and spent countless additional hours tutoring her students and many of her friends’ children for free whenever asked.
Joan was a proud member of Beth El Congregation for over 70 years where she served as a Board of Director, Chair of the Ritual Committee and current President of the Beth El Women’s League.
Joan was also a life member of Hadassah and served on the Boards of both the Bureau of Jewish Education and Brandeis National Committee Phoenix Chapter, and was always willing to do extra work and fill in when needed in her groups and at Beth El. Joan was a regular participant of the Passages Lecture Series and Valley Beit Midrash programs. She attended Adult Jewish Education classes at the JCC, and, this year, submersed herself in the BJE’s Wise Aging program.
In addition to her organizational work, Joan loved mahjongg, playing in two weekly group games and volunteering to teach mahjongg at Beth El twice a month, and loved reading, once being in two book clubs at the same time.
Over the years, she and her husband Mort of 51 years, held season tickets to the Phoenix Theatre Company, Arizona Opera, Black Theatre Troupe, Arizona Theatre Company and Arizona Jewish Theatre Company and are sustaining members of the Theatre Artists Studio. She also enjoyed the Phoenix Art Museum, Musical Instrument Museum and walks through the Phoenix Zoo and her neighborhood.
Joan also believed strongly in equality for women and all people and was proud to speak up and advocate for others.
Most of all Joan loved her family and will go on through them in many ways every day.
Joan is survived by her husband Morton Sitver; three children: Joe (Anita Kay) Sitver, Amy Sitver (Darin Starr), and Julie (Josh) Blumenreich; six grandchildren: Ethan, Esther, Lilly, Emily, Alexander, and Benjamin; and her brothers Spencer (Patty) Gries and Mitchell Gries.
Services were held privately at Beth El Cemetery on July 6, 2020. Shiva is being observed privately with morning and evening services open to the public on Zoom, through Sunday morning. Contact Beth El Congregation for details.
Joan’s family is very grateful for the outpouring of love and support Joan received recently, and that has been extended to the family in this time of great loss.
Donations in memory of Joan can be made to Beth El Congregation, Phoenix Holocaust Association or the American Cancer Society.
Joan’s family moved to Phoenix when she was only two years old and she has been an active, passionate member and leader in the Community ever since. JN