John Tishman, whose company built World Trade Center and other skyscrapers, dies

John Tishman, an influential developer who oversaw the construction of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers and Chicago’s John Hancock Center, has died at 90.

Tishman, who donated to a variety of Jewish philanthropies, died Saturday of respiratory failure at his home in Bedford, New York, The New York Times reported.

In addition to its involvement in building some of New York and Chicago’s tallest buildings, Tishman’s company, Tishman Realty and Construction, also erected skyscrapers in Detroit and Los Angeles.

Tishman studied electrical engineering at the University of Michigan and served in the U.S. Navy before joining the family company in 1948. Tishman’s grandfather, Julius, had founded the building firm in 1898.

In 2011, Tishman published a memoir, which he wrote with Tom Schachtman, titled “Building Tall: My Life and the Invention of Construction Management.”

Tishman, a New York native, gave to the UJA-Federation of New York and State of Israel Bonds, among others.

His wife, Suzanne Weisberg, died in 2005 after more than 50 years of marriage. He is survived by their two children and three grandsons.

Wally Marks, Developer, Social Justice Activist, 78

The great Rabbi Leo Baeck, for whom our congregation is named, taught that “optimism becomes a demand for the heroism of man, for his moral will to struggle. It is an optimism which strives to realize morality in practice.” And isn’t that the story of Wally’s life? Wally was an unrepentant, stubborn, Leo Baeck-style optimist. He believed in us — in humankind. He believed we humans are redeemable … that we deserve the benefit of the doubt, that we’re built to transcend our basest impulses, that we all truly want and are ready to be led to live in mutual honor and in peace. And beliefs that noble demand an awful lot of their possessor. If you truly believe that all of that can happen, how can you rest until you’ve done whatever you can to make it be?

And so Wally set out to make it be — first, in the little corner of the world he impacted through his great success as a developer, and then in every other little corner of this city and this world that he could reach as a restless learner and philanthropist and activist.

Wally asked the kinds of big questions that demanded lengthy, thoughtful, reasoned responses … and then, of course, when I sent those responses to him, he apologized for taking up so much of my time. But that was just his gentle, humble good nature speaking … for in his heart of hearts, he believed very deeply that there was nothing of greater ultimate importance than weighing and acting on these global matters of life and death, rich and poor, war and peace. He believed that our deliberations and determinations and donations could change the world. And his belief made me believe it, too — just as it did for so many of you.

Viennese psychiatrist Victor Frankl theorized that God accesses us through our conscience. He wrote: “Conscience is ineffective if it is only me speaking to myself. Conscience is experienced as a dialogue, not a monologue.” Wally was blessedly plagued by that noisy dialogue in his conscience. God would not let him rest. Even when I would visit him during the early months of his illness, he never wanted to talk about his treatment or his prognosis. All he wanted to do was hear about my latest mission to Israel or talk about the Iraq War … until one day, a few months ago, when he had become very gravely ill. I came to visit, and instead of being peppered with questions about Gaza and Sderot, Wally told me that he couldn’t keep all of the details straight anymore. He could no longer read the books or debate the issues. At first, I was bitterly saddened. It seemed that Wally was being robbed of being Wally. But then I realized … Wally wasn’t being robbed of being Wally. God was just letting him rest. The raging debate going on in his conscience — about wealth and power, peace and justice — was quieting. He had done his part — more than his part. And as the noisy dialogue of his conscience subsided, Wally’s curiosity shifted to the big question of how to die. And his seeking was now only for a loving smile, an affirming touch.

No one has ever died more graciously or gracefully than Wally did, surrounded in love and deep honesty throughout these weeks and months by his precious Suzy; his sister, Marlene; his children, Laurie and Mark, Wally and Carol, Amanda and John, and Wendy and Gary; and his grandchildren, Ruby, Zoe, Aaron, Jonah, Samantha, Austin, Jackson, Nick, Amy and Mary. Wally left his conscience’s noisy dialogue to all of us — and most especially to all of you — and he knew that it was in most capable hands. He knew that you — that we — inspired by his example, will live our tribute to him, not just think it or speak it to ourselves. With Wally’s simplicity and clarity, we will act on Emily Dickinson’s words:

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one’s pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Kenneth Chasen is senior rabbi at Leo Baeck Temple in West Los Angeles. This is an excerpt of a eulogy he delivered on April 17 at Hillside Memorial Park.

Too Hip to be Jewish

Alex Dwek, a London-born real-estate developer, sits with a friend in a dimly-lit cafe on New York’s fashionable Upper West Side, sipping white wine and chatting up a young lady he’s just met. The three of them, all 30-something, fashionably dressed and single, have just emerged from an evening class nearby, where they studied “The Artist’s Way: Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self.”

“The teacher says we all have art in us somehow, and we have to recover it,” Alex explains. His companions, Richard Bakst and Lori Mark, nod enthusiastically. “It’s a way of getting in touch with yourself,” adds Richard.

This could be a scene from any one of hundreds of dimly-lit cafes dotting Manhattan. But there’s one crucial difference: Alex, Richard and Lori have come here hoping to meet other Jews. That, in fact, is what this cafe is here for.

This is Makor, one of the hottest new hot spots on the New York culture scene. The brainchild of zillionaire philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, it’s meant to be a sort of Jewish drop-in center for the young and hip. That’s proving controversial.

To a visitor, the five-story townhouse resembles nothing so much as a Hillel House for grownups. There’s a performance space and adjoining cafe (beer and wine, no booze) in the basement, a reading room and lecture hall at ground level, art gallery and screening room above that, and two more floors of classrooms.

Makor’s goal is to attract under-40 singles, who don’t generally frequent Jewish institutions, by offering cultural programs they can’t resist. “We try to bring them higher Jewishly as they move upward through the building,” says Makor’s creative and rabbinic director, Rabbi David Gedzelman.

And if some end up married, well, Makor won’t object. That was a key motive behind the project’s conception, though it’s downplayed lately, having evoked too much smirking. “This isn’t a dating service,” Steinhardt insists. Still, “a measure of the health of a future Jewish community relates in part to Jews marrying Jews.”

For Steinhardt, 59, the community’s health is a personal crusade. A Wall Street legend, he retired in 1995 to pursue Jewish continuity full-time. He created his own organization, the Jewish Life Network, and hired a stable of young rabbis to dream up new ideas, which are then spun off. One grants seed-money for new day schools. Another enlists young Jews in social-justice projects. Steinhardt is an avowed atheist and a political skeptic. Mostly, he’s a sworn contrarian.

Makor, like many Steinhardt initiatives — including Birthright Israel, his best-known — had naysayers howling from day one. Skeptics (your correspondent included) considered it an overpriced JCC for spoiled yuppies. Costing $11 million to build, requiring a staff of 28, it targeted a population that was already richly served by innovative synagogues and no less than two community centers, including the renowned 92nd Street YMHA. Who needed another facility?

As usual, Steinhardt has the last laugh. Five months after opening, Makor draws between 1,000 and 1,500 people a week, staffers say. Its mailing list tops 12,000 names. Monthly Sabbath dinners are always sold out.

“It gives you a good time,” says Alex Dwek, sipping his wine. “Saturday is always packed with people dancing and everything. Sunday you can come for brunch, meet people and hear good jazz. It’s a place where you know you’re going to meet Jewish people. Maybe as a soulmate, maybe not.”

Equally telling, Makor has won a reputation as one of New York’s leading venues for jazz and alternative pop music. Under Gedzelman’s supervision, the basement cabaret, open six nights a week (closed Fridays), books acts as diverse as the Klezmatics, the Christian McBride Band, bluesman Derek Trucks and Pharaoh’s Daughters, an Israeli fusion group.

“It just sort of showed up on the scene a few months ago, and it’s got tremendous buzz,” says Simon Moshenberg, a Columbia University junior who wandered in on a recent Saturday night to hear jazz banjoist Tony Trischka. “They’re booking really great acts. People are coming to hear the music.”

Success prompts new waves of criticism. Makor’s programs are so popular, critics wonder what’s to prevent non-Jews from coming. What if Makor ends up promoting intermarriage instead of fighting it?

The complaint circulated in whispers along Manhattan’s west side for months. Then, last month, the debate exploded into public view in a hostile cover story in the mass-circulation New York magazine. The article, titled “Goy Vey!,” took shots at the Makor phenomenon along with “Kosher Sex” author Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Its bottom line: trying to make Judaism popular and hip is bad for Judaism.

That’s an argument rippling through Jewish continuity debates for years. Traditionalists warn that reaching out too eagerly to the unaffiliated risks perverting Judaism. Liberals say refusing to adapt means abandoning most of the next generation.

Makor may be the boldest, most expensive effort yet to test the limits of outreach. “If we want to reach the broadest range of Jews in their 20s and 30s and give them opportunities for Jewish connection and exploration, we first have to meet them where they are,” Gedzelman says.

Will it work? The jury is still out. About half of Makor’s monthly attendance is for the cabaret, half for the upstairs programs. It’s not clear how many music fans actually wander upstairs. Gedzelman is planning a study of his clientele, which should help clear that up.

The study will also show how much of the clientele is Jewish. Gedzelman thinks audiences are 20 to 25 percent non-Jewish at the cabaret, far less upstairs. “We don’t see it as a problem,” he says. “In order to reach the Jews we want to reach, the cafe context has to include the open society.”

The debate rages on, even down at the bar. “I find it strange here,” says Andrew Hahn, a graduate student in Jewish philosophy. “It’s secular, yet it’s Jewish. It doesn’t fit. What keeps it Jewish? It makes sense in Tel Aviv, not here.”

A few feet away, Emma, a non-Jewish filmmaker who won’t give her last name, has the opposite problem. “The whole thing seems narrow-minded and bigoted to me,” she says. “If I’d known what the purpose was, I wouldn’t have come. But now that I’m here, it’s really great.”

Her friend Martine, a Jewish psychotherapist, suffers no such qualms. “I’ve been hearing about it a lot, and I’m glad I came,” she says. “And, hey, if I could meet a Jewish guy here, that would be great.”

J.J. Goldberg writes a weekly column for The Jewish Journal