Karen Lou Gelender died peacefully at her home in Castro Valley, Calif., on June 3, 2020.
She was born in 1949 in Paris, France, where her parents, Herman D. and Charmion Kerr Stein (both of blessed memory) were working for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee with Holocaust survivors. She grew up in Scarsdale, N.Y., but particularly enjoyed spending time in the Adirondack Mountains among the trees and wildflowers.
Karen’s life was marked by her passion for teaching and social justice. She was a lifelong activist and community organizer, with her work beginning as a teenager in the 1960s when she traveled to the South to fight for racial justice and voting rights with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Deeply committed to building a more equitable world, Karen never hesitated to lend a helping hand or stand up against injustice. She carried this mission into the communities in which she lived and the classrooms in which she taught.
Karen began her teaching career at the street academies in Philadelphia and then later in Cleveland. From there she became the director of the Cleveland Urban Learning Community, an alternative high school program of St. Ignatius High School, where she met her future husband, Mark, a teaching colleague. They moved to San Francisco after marrying in 1977 and started a family.
Karen’s commitment to motherhood was unparalleled, and she worked to instill values in her children which echoed her own. She believed in fairness, kindness, speaking up in the presence of wrongs, and had a strong sense of tikkun olam, which her parents instilled in her. Karen organized a march in the Bay Area in the 1990’s called “Eracism,” for which she was inducted into the Shaker Heights High School Hall of Fame.
As an enthusiastic teacher of more than 50 years, Karen was beloved by her students of all ages. She was the director of the Tennyson Parent Nursery School in South Hayward, Calif., for more than 10 years, and in the last part of her life, taught English learners and students in the “Adults with Disabilities” program at the Castro Valley Adult School. Karen’s dedication to her students and her desire and ability to respond to their needs by developing a meaningful curriculum made her a master teacher.
Karen was a resilient force of life with a big, beautiful smile. Few who met her could forget her. She is survived by her loving husband, Mark Gelender; sisters, Dr. Shoshana Bennett (Henry, OBM) and Naomi Stein; children, Shayna (M. Clare LePell), Jake (Jill Dellich), and Amanda Gelender; grandson, Franklin Marley Gelender; nieces, Elana Bennett, Beth Gelender, Marissa Greene (Marcus) and Candace Wahba; nephew, Aaron Bennett; father-in-law, Robert Gelender (Sara, OBM); sister-in-law, Lori Wahba; brothers-in-law, Jeff and Gary Gelender; great-niece, Anna Greene; great-nephew, Harris Henry Bennett; and many relatives, friends, colleagues and students.
Donations in Karen’s honor can be made to a memorial scholarship fund for graduating Castro Valley High School seniors working on racial and social justice. Please contact email@example.com.