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In memoriam: Hal Saferstein was generous FFRF supporter

Doreen and Hal Saferstein

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sadly reports the death of longtime FFRF member Harold L. (“Hal”) Saferstein, M.D., at his Scottsdale, Ariz., home on Jan. 19. He was surrounded by family when he died at age 89, following a five-year battle with cancer. 

He was born in Elizabeth, N.J., and earned his medical degree at the University of Illinois, Chicago. He practiced dermatology in Wheeling, W.Va., for 30 years until retiring to Scottsdale in 1992. 

Hal and his wife Doreen joined FFRF in 2001. They were among many major donors to the expansion of Freethought Hall, and their names are on a plaque in the lobby. Hal also made it a generous habit to typically gift at least one Lifetime Membership a year, and sometimes as many as five!

At heart a philanthropist, Hal supported a wide variety of causes too numerous to mention. He had a passion for the opera and symphony, as well as a flair for writing clever poetry. A longtime Steelers and Suns fan, his primary hobbies included poker and bridge, tennis and traveling. In his later years, he championed the separation of church and state.

He and Doreen were both Lifetime Members of FFRF. Hal also played an instrumental role in the founding of the Humanist Community Center in Mesa, Ariz. Hal was a beloved figure among humanists and freethinkers in Arizona.  

In 2008, Hal helped fund five FFRF “Imagine no religion” billboards in the Phoenix area.

He said of the billboard message: “I once prayed to an invisible deity when my wife was desperately ill, but I’m quite certain she was saved by modern medicine and some caring health workers. My life took a turn for the better when I freed my mind from religious belief.”

In the June/July 2008 issue of Freethought Today, Hal wrote the column, “Why we chose humanism.”

He wrote: “Why did we practice Judaism for 40 of our 48 years of married life? The reason is the same for us as for almost everyone: Our parents were Jewish! Had they been Muslims, we would have grown up as Muslims. Our religious choice is almost always decided by our birth rather than by any intellectual decision based on a study of religious choices.

“I realize now that I was always a skeptic, doubting the existence of a god, angels, devils or miracles. Having a scientific education, I was hesitant to accept the supernatural without evidence. I did not believe that prayer accomplished anything and was, for the most part, bored by the repetitious ritual.

“When we moved to Arizona, we joined Temple Chai in Phoenix. My wife liked the service and the music. We were disappointed in the less-than-friendly atmosphere, but stuck with it until we learned about humanism. I was turned off by the almost frenzied religious enthusiasm of some members. After encouraging my wife to attend some of our humanist meetings, it was she who suggested we resign from the Temple. We have found our new humanist friends to be much warmer and caring.”

Hal was preceded in death by his wife of 61 years, Doreen Kaufman Saferstein, and is survived by sons, Aaron (Lynn), Bennett (Sandra),  Eric (Georgiann), and two granddaughters, Shira and Amy. 

In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory may be made to FFRF, the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix or Saint Mary’s Food Bank of Phoenix.