Herman Stern’s generosity to Chabad on the Palisades was typical both of his devotion to education and his commitment to others, said those who were close to him.
Stern suffered a stroke in early ‘005, which led to his death in February of that year at the age of 91. After a long career in real estate, which continued until his stroke, he bequeathed his fortune to Chabad. He had no children, and his wife Lily had died the year before.
"He was one hell of a businessman. Everything he touched made money," said Miriam Stern, his secretary of ‘1 years at 841 Seventh Avenue Corp., the company he founded. The business owned about 15 properties, including shopping centers and office buildings. Miriam Stern, no relation, said that her employer was a very educated man and showed it in his business dealings.
"People would love to come and sit and speak with him because he had something to teach everyone," she said. "He liked surrounding himself with young people because he felt it kept him young."
His gift to Chabad which is being used to expand the group’s schools, sanctuary, and social hall reflects that interest. The new sanctuary, which Rabbi Mordechai Shain, executive director of Chabad on the Palisades, in Tenafly, expects to be completed with one year, will be named in Stern’s honor. The current sanctuary, built nine years ago, is dedicated to the memory of Stern’s parents, Yaakov and Esther.
"It’s a big thing he did there," said Miriam Stern. "It was the right thing. For the time that he lived in Tenafly, he found a home there. [They] made him quite welcome; they became his family. They surrounded him. It was the right thing to do because these people were his family."
But Stern was affiliated with other Jewish groups as well. Every Sunday, he and a group of friends attended Shacharit services at Temple Emanu-El in Closter. Afterward, they went to Foster’s Deli in Bergenfield or another restaurant for brunch and discussions.
"He could tell us things [about] whatever subject was under discussion," said Uzi Goldfeld, a friend of ‘0 years from Temple Emanu-El. "The club," as the Sunday meeting came to be known, met for 15 years and continues today. But without Stern, it just isn’t the same, Goldfeld said, "The flavor is not there."
Goldfeld said that he understands the reason for Stern’s donation. "He always said he wanted to see the continuation of Yiddishkeit, [and] Yiddishkeit can only be from the education we bring up our children with. He wanted Lubavitch to have the funds necessary to expand."
Bernard Weinflash, a member of "the club," said Stern "merits this kind of recognition."
He said that when Stern recited the Yizkor prayer at Chabad, he felt like he was back in Germany as a child with his grandparents at his side.
"Roots are important," Weinflash said. "He felt that Jewish education had to survive."
Miriam Stern said that her employer never called in sick and showed up at the Manhattan office "no matter what. I mean that, no matter what. Because he did it, especially at his age, meant we couldn’t call in with a cold," she said with a laugh. But he lived a full life, she said "lived it up to the very end."
"He was unique," Goldfeld said. "That’s a summary: He was really unique."