Personal stories in the Jewish community intertwine as we remember legends in our time. This is the story of connections with Murray Shusterman, through B’nai B’rith, that you may not hear otherwise.
The news came from Israel, in an e-mail from Mort Naiman, on a mission with his new job at the Sachnut/Jewish Agency. Mort is known to many in the Jewish world as the longtime JFed pro of Minneapolis.
“Heard about Murray,” was the shocking and brief word from Morty. Murray Shusterman, 104, pillar of leadership and support for Israel in the American Jewish community passed on December 5, 2016.
My first call was to Yossi Puder, Executive Director, StandWithUs Mid-Atlantic Region, just coming off his Tuesday night December 6 successful first SWU Philly community fundraising dinner. “Murray’s life should be celebrated” remarked Yossi as he recounted the days that Morty, Yossi and I looked to Murray’s special warm, engaging brand of leadership as we were the “three amigos” – front line community professionals for B’nai B’rith District Three in the early 80’s.
With all the titles that Murray earned in perhaps three generations of devoted service to the Jewish community and Israel, Yossi, Morty and I will always know him as Mr. B’nai B’rith, Senior Vice President, and Supreme Court Justice of B’nai B’rith International.
When I began my professional career in the Jewish community in 1978 as BB Regional Director in Cincinnati, OH, Jack Spitzer of Seattle, WA, beat Murray and Herb Setlow of New Haven, CT., winning the BBI Presidency in a tight race
That year, interviewing for my first Jewish community professional … and B’nai B’rith position, in a dream state I was flown by private jet from Cleveland to Indianapolis to be checked out by BBI VP Gerry Kraft. Wouldn’t you know it, in 1982 as I was working with Murray in Philadelphia, Gerry beat him out for the BBI top spot.
I met Murray in 1980 when B’nai B’rith brought me to Philadelphia. There in his role as Philadelphia’s key representative to B’nai B’rith International, that same year Murray also became the Founding President of the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem.
After decades not working or connected with Murray it was wonderful to see him a half dozen years ago, at the Crystal Ballroom at a wonderful ADL program organized by Barry Morrison, long-time ADL Regional Director. While I idolized Murray as a pillar of the Jewish community, I was warmly pleased that with his sharp mind he remembered me. By the way, Barry was the BB Regional Director in Cleveland who guided me to the flight to Indianapolis … and FOLLOWED me to Philadelphia.
The last few years I’ve visited with Murray several times, amazed at how sharp he always was, although noticeably getting more tired each year. It was amazing to meet him in his office, in the age of his hundreds he made it to his Center City office three times a week. Once visiting Fox Rothschild with Yossi, I must admit that I was a bit jealous that Murray had a bigger smile for Yossi, who worked closer with him in our B’nai B’rith days.
Visiting with Murray the last few years in Boca in December, we had discussions about B’nai B’rith, its direction, and perhaps how I could get BBI leadership interested in young leadership programs that are my passion. Murray didn’t think so.
I did have the chance to put a big smile on Murray’s face, as I took him to lunch on a beautiful sunny day in Boca … and we called Morty to catch up on life in Minneapolis, and remember B’nai B’rith days.
Murray will probably be remembered most for his leadership for Ben Gurion University of the Negev, and for his recent million-dollar gift. But it will always be a special honor for me seeing him at the November BGU brunch these last few years. Especially a few weeks ago, on November 20, on the way out he said, “good to see you Lou.” He still called me by my name.
It is a special honor to be remembered by a legend and pillar of the community. I’ll miss you Murray.