Mandell ‘Bill’ Berman remembered as giver, great father

Ian Thibodeau

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the year Mr. Berman was born.

Metro Detroit developer and philanthropist Mandell “Bill” Berman was a busy man, but he wasn’t too busy for faith or family or the city of Detroit.

Loved one and friends will gather Tuesday at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield to honor Mr. Berman, who died Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016, at the age of 99.

Mr. Berman was “a name of national renown in the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Yoni Dahlen of Shaarey Zedek. “Bill’s influence on the community went well beyond the Jewish community,” said Dahlen, who will officiate Tuesday. “He had his hand in so many things.”

Mr. Berman graduated from Detroit Central High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree and MBA from Harvard, and served in the United States Navy during World War II, according to a statement on Berman’s death from public relations firm Marx Layne and Co.

When Mr. Berman returned from the war, he started a real estate development company with his brother, which they ran in the Midwest until the late 1970s. Mr. Berman used his wealth to bolster Detroit, the region and the Jewish community, Dahlen said.

He was a past president of the Council of Jewish Federations of North America, a co-founder of the Jewish Education Service of North America and a board member of the American Joint Distribution Committee. He also funded fellowships and studies aimed at ensuring and studying Jewish continuity, according to the Marx Layne release.

The research Mr. Berman helped support looked at “anything and everything” in the Jewish community, Dahlen said. Mr. Berman’s philanthropy was innovative because he helped build data and knowledge to help his faith community rather than pay for another building.

He and his wife of 66 years, Madeleine, gave abundantly to the secular community too, according to Dahlen and their daughter, Ann Berman Feld.

Mr. Berman sat on boards for the Michigan Humane Society, the Detroit Zoological Society, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Michigan Opera Theatre. He also was the first chairman of Detroit’s Skillman Foundation.

Also recipients of Mr. Berman’s philanthropy: the Detroit Institute of Arts, College for Creative Studies, Wayne State University, American Promise Schools, Beaumont and Ford hospitals, and Forgotten Harvest and Gleaners food banks.

“He certainly hoped that the Jewish community would continue,” said Ann Berman Feld, Mr. Berman’s daughter. “He absolutely loved Detroit. And he believed education and culture were the tickets back.”

Berman Feld, president of the Mandell L. and Madeleine H. Berman Foundation, said she’ll continue her father’s legacy in the community. She and her brother, Dr. Johnathan Berman, have much of the same spirit that drove her father, she said.

“So many people have taken up his cause,” Dahlen said. “He was so passionate.”

And with the numerous endeavors Mr. Berman was involved in, Berman Feld said her father was never too busy for family.

“My dad was an absolutely great guy,” she said. “He always made time for us, no matter how busy he was ... he always showed interest.”

In addition to his wife, daughter and son, Mr. Berman is survived by three grandchildren.

The funeral will be held at Shaarey Zedek on at 11 a.m. Tuesday. Arrangements are being made by the Ira Kaufman Chapel.

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Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau